At 73, the lines on Gulzar’s handsome face are a bit pronounced. His famous one-day stubble is generously sprinkled with his favorite color, white. When asked how he manages to keep his kurta-pyjama so spotlessly white, he smiles and says that everything is possible if you have the will. Yet, one can easily label this quiet and gentle man a ‘revolutionary’. How? Rina Singh who has translated his selected poems into English (1994), responds as follows:
Picture Credit: 11th Osians-Cinemaya Festival of Asian and Arab Films 2009
“A poet is a conch-shell that gives voice to the emotions. A lyricist sings of dreams. A visionary is a painter who plays with rainbows. A thinker ponders upon human relationships like a monk who holds counsel with the trees of the forest. A rare blend of all these is Gulzar. Noteworthy about his creativity is his extremely good taste – both in his written words as a lyricist, a poet, a dialogue writer of outstanding merit, and in the visuals he conjures up as a filmmaker of growing eminence,” writes Gulzar’s close friend and confidante Bhooshan Banmali, in the inside jacket of Silences. It is an apt summing up of the humane spirit that underlies all creations of Gulzar – poet, writer, lyricist and filmmaker. He remains unfazed by awards, state, national and international that he is picked at random as if like pebbles off a crowded beach. This includes the Oscar for his lyrics for the winning song, Jai Ho in Slumdog Millionnaire.
The 11th Osians-Cinefan Festival is bestowing its prestigious 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Cinematic Contribution to Gulzar in Delhi on October 24. The tribute, says the press release, “focusses on Gulzar’s creativity and contribution to entertainment that goes beyond cultural, linguistic and other boundaries.” Born Sampooran Singh to a Sikh family in Dina (now in Pakistan) in 1936, he changed his name to Gulzar somewhere along the way. But he skirts attempts to ferret out the name he was christened with. “I want to free myself from any kind of religious or communal association. That is the only way to survive in this country where brainlessness is symbolised by caste and communal identity,” he says, flashing his gentle, magic smile.
Remarkable is the manner in which Gulzar has served as an inspiration for audiences across generations. . His films, dialogues and songs have swung from the romantic lyricism of a mora gora ang layi le in Bandini to that of Aandhi, Parichay and Kinara, to the youthful moods of a Bunty Aur Babli (2005), Omkara (2006) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Asked to name his personal favourites as director, he says, “Izaazat for its mood, Kitaab for its nostalgia– it had a lot of my own childhood, Machis for its theme and Namkeen for its lovely relationship and well-etched screenplay.” His lyrics are legendary for their ability to transcend the mundane and reach the soul of love. His favourites are mera kuch samaan pada hai (Izaazat), roz akeli aaye (Mere Apne) and phir se aayee o badre (Namkeen).
He gives credit for his love for Urdu and poetry to his Urdu teacher in Delhi’s United Christian School where Urdu was the medium of instruction till Independence. Much of his poetry is a nostalgic trip to his childhood where he talks about a tree on his way to school, or, of an empty can rolling on the streets. He wanted to take up literature but was not allowed to. His eldest brother asked him to do his C.A. “I did not take the exam. I came home with laddus on the day of the results telling them I had passed. But I also told them to free me from the responsibility of further studies. They asked me to join the Navy I hated the uniform. So, began to work in a motor servicing garage in Mumbai and met a lot of poet friends in films through Progressive Writers’ Association by becoming a member. The thirst for poetry remained. It got a trigger through the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and friendships with Basu Bhattacharya, Salil Choudhury, Debu Sen, Shailendra and Sukhbir, a prominent Punjabi-Hindi poet.”
The biggest surprise about the Gulzar story is that he never wanted to step into films. It happened almost by accident brought about through nemesis that rewrote the story of his life. “I wanted to teach in school so that it would give me the time to read and write the two things I loved to do. One day, Debu Sen, a friend who was assisting Bimal Roy in Bandini, took me to Bimal-da who in turn, introduced me to S.D. Burman. The reason was that S.D. had had a tiff with the film’s lyricist, Shailendra, who walked out of the project, leaving some tunes unwritten into. One of these had to be vaishnava in spirit. S.D. had reservations about me because my foundation lay in Urdu poetry. But I rose to the challenge and my first song was born, mora gora anga lai le, mohe shyam anga dai de, that turned out to be a hit. By the time the song was done, S.D. and Shailendra had made up and I was left out. Bimal-da felt sad for me and asked me to assist him in Kabuliwallah. My life took a new turn.”
Tagore has always been a favourite with Gulzar, since he read Gardener, a Tagore short in translation. “One single-minded aim was to read Tagore in the original,” explains Gulzar. He learnt to read and write Bengali. He speaks the language fairly well. “My love for everything Bengali is visible across my life. I married Raakhee, a Bengali, perhaps in the hope of picking up the subtle nuances of the spoken language. I named my daughter Meghna, after a river in Bengal, now in Bangladesh. I have read my favourite Bengali writers and poets in the original.” Among his favourite poets, he names Tagore, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Jibananda Das, Romanian poet Marin Sorescu, Ghalib (on who Gulzar made a brilliant serial), Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Nadim Qasmi. Film-makers he respects are Satyajit Ray and Aparna Sen. He has dedicated his book of short stories, entitled Michelangelo and Other Stories (2002) to Raakhee who he calls “the longest short story of my life.” “Filmmaking is not just one art of expression. It is an assembly of arts. It is this complex form that makes it more fascinating than other forms of expression and perhaps, that is one good h reason for me to make films,” he sums up.
Article by Shoma A. Chatterji