In one of the most memorable songs penned by Gulzar sahib i.e. Mera Kuch Saamaan the last stanza makes a mention about 116 moon lit nights (ek sau solah chaand ki raatein) that were spent together. Why is it 116 and not any other number? Did Gulzar sahab try to indicate that the couple was together for four months (with four new moons)? Or is it just a random number? The significance is not in the number but in the fact that somebody kept a count of it. For someone to keep count of it the emotional value and the worth of that togetherness must be enormous!
So when it is said that of the 101 years of Indian cinema Gulzar has been a part of it for 55 years its not mere statistics but an emotionally loaded statement which underlines the emotional value cine lovers attach to the name and works of Gulzar who has contributed to cinema in various capacities as lyricist, screenplay writer, dialogue writer and as a director.
It is said that Meena Kumari had the habit of collecting pebbles and assigning names to them and also giving them some characteristics. She used to introduce her pebbles to everyone on the set. While everyone laughed at it Gulzar, it is said, saw all those humans that Meena saw in those pebbles.
When Pluto was considered as not a planet Gulzar wrote a poem on the abandonment and in an interview he said it reminded him of his own position in his family. Gulzar sees life even in non-living objects and also feels for them. Such is his sensitivity.
He was once slapped by Ritwik Ghatak with great affection. But the slap was a bit hard. Gulzar sees it as a melodramatic expression of love. Even when hit hard he sees the beauty in it and he sees melodrama which is intrinsic to Ghatak in that slap which he calls as expression. Remembering his troubled relationship with his father he says there was some beauty in the way his father abused him. His reference is to the language used while abusing. Gulzar saw poetry in everything and everything he did got a poetic touch.
Meena Kumari was a poet who wrote in the pseudonym Naaz. She left her diary of poems with Gulzar before dying which Gulzar has published with some modifications. To see the original and the modified gives a glimpse of what make a genius a genius.
He not just sees poetry in everything but also has the ability to turn anything into good poetry.
In an interview to Nasreen Munni Kabir he said that his temperament matches to that of poetry to a great extent.
In the very same interview to Nasreen Munni Kabir, Gulzar sahib says, “If I want to show you a sunset in my film, I would have to go through many processes to do that- a camera lens, different focal points, etc. whereas if you read a poem of mine that describes a sunset, it would be a first hand description of how I had imagined it.” This personal imagination which makes the same image look differently with every new description new poem new expression holds so good while looking at the image of moon that Gulzar has repeatedly used several times but differently.
In one of his non-film albums Visaal with Ghulam Ali one of his couplets reads, “Chaand Jitney Bhi Ghum Huye Shab Kay, Sab Ke Ilzaam Merey Sar Aaye.” These stolen moons can be seen in his various creative writings in different forms. Like the song from Omkaara begins he can say, “Main Chaand Nigal Gayi,” changing the gender. He has internalized moon in different ways and given extremely different descriptions. It is a beggar’s bowl once (Merey Apney), then in another place a bag, in another place a fifty paise coin (Aandhi) and in another place a ‘theeka’ (Bunty Aur Bubli)
Similarly one can see variations in the way Gulzar describes water/wetness and also the sun.
Gulzar sahab is of the belief that some of the lyricists who are senior to him were not lyricists committed to the film medium where they are expected to write according to the character, according to the story, according to the subject. Gulzar makes his lyrics rooted in the characters in the story in the situation. The “lai le” in his first song “Mora Gora Ang Lai Ley,” (Bandini) is the rural touch Gulzar gives because the character is based out of a rural setting. The lyrics of the man who used words like ‘saundhi’, ‘sila’ etc writes the song, “Goli Maar Bheje Mein,” (Satya) when the story the character demands for it. The expression in such a context also becomes, “Khaali si rikshaw.” It shows not just the range of the creative writer but also his understanding of the characters his understanding of the story his understanding of the situation.
In the film Namkeen directed by Gulzar sahib the daughter asks, “Yeh Kaun Sa Shabd Hai?” and the mother reacts saying, “Shabd Nahi, Lafz Bolo.” This suddenly shows the difference between the two characters and helps in understanding the two worlds the two characters belong to and gives us a texture of the characters. While the women in his films Mausam and Hu Tu Tu do abuse in films like Kitaab the child says, “Pehle Kehti Thi Doodh Piyunga Toh Badaa Ho Jaaunga Ab Kehti Ho Padhoonga Likhoonga Toh Badaa Aadmi Banoonga,” and in Maasoom the child asks, “Main Paidhaa Hee Nahi Hoti Toh Kya Hota?” not just define the characters but are also organically coming out of the character who is shaped by the atmosphere in which s/he lives. Because it is true to the nature of the characters the character Anand referring to a fat man as “motey” in the film Anand doesn’t come across as demeaning because the character is a playful character.
The shift from ‘lafz’ to ‘shabd’ is also suggestive of the erosion of the language Urdu in independent India. Gulzar mentions that the language he uses is Hindustani which was also a language that Gandhi was in favour of. But because Hindustani as a language is not existing now the language is called Urdu as it is more close to Urdu than to Hindi.
In the post independent India Hindustani eroded and so did Urdu with more and more Sanskritization of Hindi and labeling of Urdu as Muslim language, which is not true. The sanitization of Hindi is well reflected in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee film Chupke Chupke for which Gulzar wrote the screenplay and dialogues. The role played by Urdu writers in Bombay cinema- Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Jaan Nisaar Akthar, Krishan Chander, Rajendar Singh Bedi, Javed Akthar and also Gulzar- is enormous in keeping Urdu alive in the independent India where it was being branded as a Muslim language.
Gulzar says that Hindustani is a language which adopts local flavor. Gulzar who locates himself in the Hindustani tradition has adopted himself to the changing times. He believes that with time sensibilities also change and with it poetry also changes. Gulzar’s lyrics started incorporating the English terms such as “personal se sawaal” and terms like, “email”, “beedi,” “ashtray” in his works. But in the same breath he utters “beedi” and also words like “gilaaf” and ‘lehaaf” to ensure that language does not erode. The line is contemporary and rich with heritage.
Gulzar knows the tradition he belongs to and has consciously made efforts to keep it alive. Metaphoric to this would be his film Kitaab. The central story of the film is based on a short story by Samaresh Basu. But Gulzar while adapting it he fits the story of Basu within a story of his own- Daadi Aur Das Paise and writes the screenplay. Within his work he invokes the story of another writer. This is metaphoric of an entire tradition a culture being within Gulzar sahib.
Looking at the films of Gulzar one is to find that Mausam is based on The Judas Tree (AJ Cornin), Parichay on Rajkumar Maitra’s novel, Namkeen based on Samaresh Basu’s novel, Angoor on Shakespeare’s play, Ijaazat based on Subodh Ghosh’ story, Kushuboo on Sharatchandra Chaterjee’s writing. These show us that within Gulzar is a tradition and that Gulzar knows the legacy to which he belongs.
This can be seen even in his lyrics. In the song, “Dil Doondta Hai,” Gulzar is taking a flight from a couplet of Ghalib which originally is Jee Doondta Hai which became Dil because of the composer Madan Mohan. He invokes Ghalib even in his song Satrangee Re from the film Dil Sey. The song Chaiiyya Chaiiya from the same film is taking off from Bulleh Shah, the song Raah Pe Rehtey Hai from the film Namkeen has the line, “khush raho aye ahl-e-watan hum to safar kartey hai,” where Gulzar is invoking Wajid Ali Shah and in the song Zeehaal-E-Muskin from the film Ghulaami,Gulzar invokes Amir Khusro. These can be seen Gulzar’s tribute to all of them and also as Gulzar identifying and revealing the tradition that he belongs to.
Gulzar had once said that all the languages that he has within him become his. He had also said that he has inherited from Tukaram, from Bulle Shah, Fair and Namdev and that he belonged to the tradition of all these writers and that all of them are a part of his consciousness.
So Gulzar has been one among the several Urdu writers who has kept the tradition and language of Urdu alive in India. The relationship between Urdu and Bombay cinema songs can be best described with the line of Gulzar: Woh Yaar Hai Jo Kushboo Ki Tarha Jis Ki Zabaan Urdoo Ki Tarha. Not just through his songs but also through his tele serials Gulzar has kept the Urdu tradition alive. The most famous of his tele serials being ‘Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki’ and ‘Mirza Ghalib.’ Both Premchand and Ghalib were celebrated Urdu writers.
In the poem that Gulzar as an introduction to his tele-serial Mriza Ghalib after describing the locality of Balli Maaran- where Ghalib’s house is located, Gulzar in the last two lines lifts the poem to a higher level. These minor touches which life the work to a higher level is seen again and again in many of his lyric writing. Take for example the song from Sadma, “Aye Zindagi Galey Laga Ley,” where after questioning life, “Humney Bhi Terey Har Ek Gam Ko Galey Sey Lagaaya Hai,” adds the question, “Hai Na?” which throws the ball in the court of life and asks life to answerable and holds life accountable. Just the question “Hai Na?” lifts the lyrics to a higher level. Similarly in the song “Tujhse Naaraaz Nahi Zindagi” the usage of the word “Maasoom” before “Sawaal” adds great beauty and depth to the lyrics.
These small additions which add beauty and make the lyrics tasteful are like the pinch of salt added to food. Salt is something that adds taste and hence Gulzar refers to ‘Ishq’ as ‘Namak’ which when added in the right amount makes the food (read life) tasteful and food (taste) without it is bland and tasteless. The usage of ‘Namak’ too is like that pinch of salt which adds not just taste but also depth and takes the lyrics to a higher level.
In the film Hu Tu Tu at one point Aadi’s father shouts saying, “Tum Sawaal Bahut Kartey Ho” to which Aadi politely responds saying, “Lekin Jawaab Bhi Toh Nahi Miltey.” This again shows that Gulzaresque touch which lifts the scene to a higher level and also shifts the weight. This and the use of “Hai Na?” in the song, “Aye Zindagi Galey Lagaa Ley,” are like a hit back in tennis, a game Gulzar plays daily, which throws the ball in the oppositions court so well that the opposition is left with no answer. In both places with just a small twist Gulzar adds great value to the existing.
In the film Masoom when tension erupts between the husband and wife is changing the saree and the husband enters the room and the wife covers her body and runs into the bathroom. These small Gulzaresque touches take the narrative to a different level.
Such moments come repeatedly in his films which make us wonder if the screenplay written by Gulzar can be called screenPLAY or should they be renamed as screenPOESY for they are more poetic than dramatic.
Gulzar had made his entry into cinema by working as an assistant director to Bimal Roy. He was suggested as a lyricist to Bimal Roy by Shailendar. But Gulzar considered cinema to be inferior to literature and hesitated to write. So Bimal Roy is said to have asked Gulzar to assist him and only later under circumstances he got into writing lyrics and screenplay and dialogues. But when he started to write he wrote in such a fashion that his scripts became kings and the films became heavily script centric and to an extend shifted the weight of the film from director to the screenwriter.
Even as a lyricist he added to the storyline. In adding and underlining he became a co-writer of the film. For example Dil Sey is a film where the Sufiyaana undertone of the film comes out only in the lyrics written by Gulzar. By bringing out the Sufiyaana element Gulzar also becomes a co-writer of the film and not just lyricist.
Gulzar was closely associated with the Progressive Writer’s Association which believes in literature for social change. He says that his association with the PWA did have a great impact on him and calls himself a “soft communist” though he diverged from the ways of expression from that of PWA writers. These influences come out while writing lines like, “Din Khaali Khaali Bartan Hai…” in the song “Ek Akela Iss Shehar Mein,” written for the film Gharonda, where he continues to say, “Aur Raat Hai Jaise Andha Kuaan,” making the hunger and thirst particular and universal at the same time and extending the hunger and thirst to more than starvation to existential starvation and deprivation. There is an auditory imagination to the double use of the word “khaali khaali” for when spoke into an empty vessel there is a slight echo. The bartan used in the song also echoes with its emptiness making the word “khaali” echo once. The soong, ‘Theek Thaak Hai” from Merey Apney is also a reflection of the deep social concerns of Gulzar sahib.
His non-filmi album on Kabir Abida Parveen is also a reflection of the progressive nature of Gulzar and also his efforts to keep a tradition a legacy alive.
The progressive nature of Gulzar is reflected also in his women characters who are quite independent and strong. In the film Aandhi there is a lady who follows the will of her heart, in Namkeen there are four women living their own ways, In Ijaazat there is a women who doesn’t want to marry and another lady who moves out of marriage and remarries. In Mausam the girl is a sex worker and holds grudge against the man who had betrayed her mother. Merey Apney is about a widow’s truggle. Sanjiv Kumar is said to have famously said about Gulzar, “Har Baar Kehta Hai Meri Film Hai, Magar Hoti Hamesha Aurat Ki Hai.”
Gulzar’s progressive nature is seen also in his depiction of handicapped people in Koshish and challenging the education system in Kitaab. Gulzar’s initiative to work, in real life, with children and for Aman Ki Aasha (for the betterment of Indo-Pak relations) are also reflection of his progressive nature. His poem for Aman Ki Aasha says, ‘Aankhon Ko Visa Nahi Lagta, Sapnon Ki Sarhad Hoti Nahi,” and another poem appeals, “Inn Lakeeron Ko Zameen Per Hee Rehne Do, Inhe Dil Pe Na Utaaro.” Being a victim of partition and having had nightmares of partition riots for over two decades when Gulzar writes these lines it not just makes great impact but also shows the craving one has to find his land his home back.
Like his experiment with the form which led him to inventing a new form called Triveni he did his experiments in the world of entertainment too. He cut two non-filmi albums with Abishek Ray titled Udaas Paani and Raat Chaad Aur Main. These two albums have Gulzar reciting poems with the music and aalaap of Abhishek Ray in the background. This has been the most unique of non-filmi albums amidst a lot of mediocre and below average music albums the late 20th century and early 21st century saw. The experiment was also seen in his album with Vishaal Bharadwaaj, Bhupendir Singh and Chitra titled Sunset Point. These are unique gems in the world of entertainment like Gulzaar’s films and teleserials.
Gulzar worked closely with music directors of generations from Salil Chaudhary to AR Rehman and Abhiskek Kapoor and Vishaal Bharadwaj. But his closest association was with RD Burman.
It is said that when Gulzar went to RD Burman with the song, “Mera Kuch Saamaan,” RD Burman looked at the free verse and said, “Get Times of India tomorrow with you and I will compose for that.” This episode speaks of the faith Gulzar had in his poetry for he was not demoralized by the words of RD Burman. The song went on to win the national award for best lyrics that year.
RD Burman once told Gulzar that when he composes songs he has the face of the singer in his mind. Meaning while he is composing slowly a face emerges before his mind’s eye. Sometimes of Lata sometimes of Asha sometimes Kishore. RD Burman added to it, “While composing some songs the face that appears before my eyes is of yours.” The experience is similar to several cine lovers whose mind’s eye sees the face of Gulzar when they hear any reference made to the songs of Bombay cinema.
Gulzar’s father on discovering his love for poetry had said that he will have to live a life dependent on his siblings. Gulzar had a great zeal to prove his father wrong and he did. In one of his poems he tells his dad his fear of poetry drowning him someday hasn’t come true and says he is still afloat and also expresses his desire to keep floating and never returning to the shore.
Stay afloat a paper boat carrying poems. Take along with you my congratulations…
[Originally written for the Sunday Magazine of Vijayavani, a Kannada newspaper. Published on 20 April, 2014 to mark and celebrate Phalke award being conferred on Gulzar]