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In Brief
First take
Better or Verse
Life line
playing with words
Latest Gulzar
Director's cut
Bosky 's kids-corner
By Heart
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SHOMA A. CHATTERJI of Dignity-Dilogue met the Poet, lyricist, dialogue-writer, director and father-Gulzar.


"To name oneself is the first act of both the poet and the revolutionary", wrote Erica Jong. This aptly describes Gulzar, a poet as well as a revolutionary. Gulzar is a name he gave himself somewhere along the way and he refuses to ferret out the name he was christened with. "I want to free myself from all religious or communal associations. That is the only way to survive in this country where brainlessness is symbolised by caste and communal identity", he says, sitting comfortably in his office, with a beautiful portrait of Meena Kumari almost filling the wall behind him.

At sixty, the lines on his handsome face are rather pronounced and his famous one-day stubble is generously sprinkled with his favourite colour, white. What makes me label such a quiet and gentle man a revolutionary ? This is best answered by Rina singh who has translated his poems into English, eloquently titled Silences, which opened to rave review. Speaking about Gulzar, Rina writes :

The Indian film world, which he has chosen as his milieu, is such that it calls for a very tough hide indeed. His poetry reveals that he has not only failed to develop such a hide but he remained more thin skinned than most people.

His films, with their soft lyricism, melodious music and a strange undercurrent of pain, have their own special rhythm and are his evocation to love in all its myriad manifestations. Even in his latest film Maachis, this sensitive director unspools a tale of love against the backdrop of terrorism. Therefore, what could have evolved into a strong political film changes tracks to turn into a tragic statement of love making it an unwitting victim to terrorism in Punjab.

"A poet is a conch shell that gives voice to the emotions. A lyricist sings of dreams. A visionary is a painter who paints with rainbows. A thinker ponders upon human relationships like a monk who holds council with the trees of the forest. A rare blend of all these is Gulzar. What is more noteworthy about his creativity is his good taste-both in his written words as a lyricist, poet, and in the visuals he conjures up as a film maker of growing eminence", writes Gulzar's close friend and confidante Bhooshan Banmali, in the inside jacket of the book.

Yet Gulzar's name finds no place in a Special Issue (Focus on Directors) of Cinema in India, a now-defunct mouthpiece of the National Film Development Corporation which was published in 1991. He remains unfazed. Knowing him, he may either have forgotten the incident or remains unaware of it. All the National Awards he keeps picking up for his lyrics or documentaries do not seem to make much of a difference to his modest lifestyle. Nor is any sense of disappointment evident when many of his directorial ventures turn out to be commercial flops. We find the name of his dubbing theatre inconspicuously appearing in the list of credits of a socially relevant documentary made by an activist, offered, of course, gratis. But ask him about these things and he clams up at once, by flashing one of his characteristic smiles.

Born in Dina (now in Pakistan), a part of Jhelum district in 1934, Gulzar imbibed his love for Urdu and poetry from 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 an empty can rolling on the streets. "I was not a good student at all and was frightfully scared of mathematics. In a business family, I was the black sheep and by the time I entered college, I was given up as a lost case by my father", says Gulzar as he reminisces about his youth.

He wanted to take up literature but was not allowed to. His eldest brother, who was bestowed with his guardianship, asked him to do a C.A. course. Gulzar says, "I simply did not appear for the exams. I came home with laddoos on the day of the results telling everyone that I had passed and asking them to free me from the responsibility of further studies. I was also given the option of joining the Navy, which I hated because I hated the uniform. So I began to work in a motor servicing garage, and made a lot to poet friends in films after becoming a member of the Progressive Writers Association".

Gulzar's thirst for poetry and writing was an ongoing one, spurred on through his association with the Indian Peoples Theatre Association and friendships with Basu Bhattacharya, Salil Choudhary, Debu Sen, Shailendra and Sukhbir, a prominent Punjab hindi poet.

"This may surprise you but I never wanted to work in films. I dreamt of a teacher's job, since that would give me room for my twin loves, reading and writing. The, destiny brought about a strange turning point in my life. During the making of Bandini in the early Sixties, S. D. Burman, who was composing the music for the film and Shailendra, who was writing the lyrics, had a tiff, while there was this tune that needed lyrics. Debu Sen, who was a kind of assistant on the sets took me to Bimalda who introduced me to S. d. Since Urdu was my main languages, S. D. had some reservations about whether I would be able to infuse the song with the right Vaishnav spirit that was called for. I took up the challenge and my first song for Hindi cinema was born : Mora gora and ley le, mohe shyam ang daye de which became a big hit. Sadly for me though, when the song was over, Shailendra and S. D. reconciled their differences and I was left in the lurch. Bimalda did not like this at all, but S. D. was adamant about not taking me for the rest of the songs. However, during this film I met one of the closest friends in my life - S. D.'s son R. D., who would wander about the sets in shorts and sneak out for a cigarette now and then".

Tagore had always been a hot favourite with Gulzar, even since he read a translated short story called Gardener, "and since then, on single-minded aim I had was to read Tagore in the original", explains Gulzar. He learnt to read and write Bengali and speaks the language fluently. "My love for everything Bengali makes itself strongly felt in every sphere of my life. I married Rakhee, a Bengali girl, perhaps so that I would be able to pick up the subtle nuances of the spoken language. I named my daughter Megha, after a river in Bengal now in Bangladesh, and I have read all my favourite Bengali writers and poets in the original". But you can almost tangibly feel the invisible wall he erects between himself and you the minute he expects questions on his broken marriage to Rakhee. They are still good friends and Meghna is one subject the 'mother' in Gulzar never wearies of, because "Rakhee is the father", he says laughingly.

Trying to be a functional single-parent 'mother' to daughter Bosky has been one of the happiest phases of Gulzar's life. "I learnt to tie her plaits, to get her ready for school because she lived with me throughout the week when she was small and spent the weekends with her mother", he says wistfully. Meghna is now a beautiful young woman who, at 22, after a short stint in film journalism has opted to assist director Sayeed Mirza for his latest film Naseem. She is very possessive about me", says Gulzar. He sounds euphoric and suddenly a new Gulzar emerges from behind this ambivalent main; the father, who basks in his daughter's love; a Gulzar who is larger, than the poet, the lyricist and the dialogue writer.

One of his greatest tragedies had been the loss of R. D. Burman who was a close friend and a regular composer in his films. But he is happy to have found a successor in Vishal Bharadwaj who has scored the lilting tunes in Machis made after R. D.'s demise. among his favourite poets are Tagore, Subhas Mukhopadhyay, the Jnanpeeth Award winner, the late Jibananda Das, Romanian poet Martin Sor escu, Ghalib (on whom Gulzar made a brilliant serial), Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Ahmed Naadim Qasmi. Film makers he respects are Satyajit Ray and Aparna Sen.

Among his own films, he picks "Ijaazat for its mood, Kitab for its nostalgic elements, Maachis 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 own favourites are, Mera kuch samaan pada hai (Ijaazat), Roz akeli aaye (Mera Apne), and Phir se aayee o badre (Namkeen).

He would love to be remembered as a good human being and a true poet. "There is always an inherent silence in a poem. The poet hides that silence and yet he is loud enough to be echoed by those who share his heartbeats. Silence is an echo of my voice", he writes, in the preface to his book. Gulzar reminds of Albert Camus' hero in The Outsider. But there is a difference-in the empathy he infuses his films with, and the pain he feels within himself, as a man and as a poet. His silence is eloquent. That is the real Gulzar who hides behind those black framed glasses, the one-day old stubble, the grey hair and the modest smile.

text courtesy :Shoma A.C. site editor : YASHWANT VYAS