In the Name of ‘Gulzar’ Gul ne kaha gulzar sey, gulshan meain phir lao bahar (The bird requests the gardener bring back the garden to life)
This is how one would greet the enigmatic fellow-peddler of ideas and images, though all comparisons end there. The latest addition to his endless list of honours is Lifetime Achievement Award from the London-based South Asian Cinema Foundation. Nothing in comparison to the US Academy Award for Best Original Song ‘Jai Ho’, and Grammy for Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or other Media for Slumdog Millionaire theme song (2008 and 09 respectively) or the Padma Bhushan (04), it is nevertheless an acknowledgement of his untiring efforts to excel, from the quotidian to the highest. What is remarkable is the effortless ease, the modesty with which he, having accepted crowning glories, wears them out fast and apart, and sets out again humming Musafir hu yaron na ghar hai na thikana bas chalte jana hai (I am a traveler without a house or address, friends, so have to go on and on).
Adored, envied, criticised, ridiculed, and labelled mediocre, opportunist and even a fraud, he has endured it all, and managed to stand apart, spotless like the trademark white kurta-pyjama he sports in public. A poet, lyricist, short story writer (Sahitya Akademi Award for Urdu (02) for both the young and the adult alike, playwright, scriptwriter, documentary and film producer and director both for the small and big screen, Gulzar seems to have indulged in almost all areas of creative communication, and creates a niche for himself beyond comparison. He has directed 20 feature films, penned lyrics for 96 films, cut 13 discs and also won 4 National Awards for direction, lyrics, screenplay as well as 20 Filmfare trophies for work in different fields, including 11 times for lyrics.
A lot is suddenly being made of the information that a young guy called Sampooran Singh Kalra worked in a garage, and a paint shop before the lyricist in him was discovered by film-maker, Bimal Roy to pen a song for his under production classic, Bandini. The words and the composition of Mera Gora Ang Laile by SD Burman is now history. And a new Sampooran Singh in the form of Gulzar was born. This song also laid the foundation of a lifelong bond between RD Burman and Gulzar on the one hand, and Bimal Roy’s first assistant and then son-in-law, Basu Bhattacharya and Gulzar. So there is nothing sensational about his having worked in a garage. Many other in front and behind the camera names came from similar backgrounds. Hasrat Jaipuri, for instance, had been a bus conductor like comedian Johnny Walker, and Gulzar’s professed idol, Shailendra had been a lowly-paid railways employee before Raj Kapoor pampered him into writing for his films.
He then joined the intellectually-charged atmosphere Bimal Roy Productions as an assistant director and the real apprenticeship got underway. Impressed by his writing skills, through odd assignments, Roy invited him to do a screenplay of Samresh Basu’s Bengali novel, though the film never got made. And the next, Do Dooni Char proved a damp squib at the box office. Gulzar’s first foray as dialogue writer came with Hrisihikesh Mukherjee’s Aashirwad. Subsequently, Gulzar wrote the scripts of almost all Hrishida films. The next obvious was to turn director which he did with Mere Apne (1971). Parichay, Koshish (72), Achanak (73), based on a KA Abbas story Khushboo (74), Aandhi (75), Mausam (76), Kinara (77), Kitaab (78), Angoor (80), Namkin (81) and it seemed the tide will never ebb. Later attempts like Meera (81), Ijaazat (86), Lekin (90), Libaas (93), Maachis (96) and Hu Tu Tu (99) did not bear the earlier midas touch. And since then the waves have remained stationary, though the lyrical journey has taken on the supersonic speed.
There is so much more, both personal and professional, about Gulzar’s exciting life that can be talked and written about. What’s most gratifying about the man, despite all singular and collective achievements, is the characteristic humility which is almost invisible even in lesser human beings in Bollywood. There have been two very interesting, though divergent books have sought to capture his life in words as well as in frames, daughter Meghana’s pictorial Because He Is… and Saibal Chatterjee’s Echoes and Eloquences: The Life and Cinema of Gulzar. In his Introduction, Saibal argues that Gulzar “writes poetry to shield his deepest thoughts from unwanted probes although the lines he conjures up express his beliefs and ideas with amazing eloquence. His films are in a way similar though they certainly do not contain any autobiographical elements, there is nothing in them that exists without a clear reason”.
Gulzar’s original poetry is contained in two volumes, Raat Pashmene Ki and Pukhraj a selection which has been rendered in English by diplomat-author Pavan Varma while his stories can be found in Ravi-paar, and Dhuan in Urdu which fetched him the Sahitya Akademi Award. There has also recently been an English rendering of his film lyrics in English, though one hasn’t seen it. Daughter Meghana has also made a 30-minute documentary on her father for Sahitya Akademi.
When one asked him during a recent encounter, how he managed to indulge in so many forms of creative expressions simultaneously, he said: “Basically it is a need for expression. And that is why I have been using various mediums. Sometimes you manage to say what you want to say through a poem but when you find the form inadequate you resort to fiction, so the same thing becomes a short story. Now when that expands further and becomes big it takes the form of a screenplay, though it sometimes becomes a long short story. This is because I haven’t learnt the art of writing a novel.”
By Suresh Kohli