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Gulzar: Man who never set boundaries for himself

He is still the most relevant poet in the Hindi film industry, to say the least. Gulzar aka Sampooran Singh Kalra’s Midas touch can make any song rise above the ordinary. His latest Dum ghut-ta hai in Drishyam creates a mood that grips you.

bollywood Updated: Aug 18, 2015 16:57 IST
Rohit Vats
Rohit Vats
Hindustan Times

Mod pe dekha hai wo boodha sa ek ped kabhi?
Mera waaqif hai bahut saalon se main use jaanta hoon.
- Gulzar

He is still the most relevant poet in the Hindi film industry, to say the least. Sampooran Singh Kalra’s Midas touch can make any song rise above the ordinary. His latest Dum ghut-ta hai in Drishyam creates a mood that grips you. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe the same person has written Main aa riya hoon ki jaa riya hoon in Dedh Ishqiya, but then that’s Gulzar for you. Finding the extent of his range is like trying to catch a squirrel with a ring rope.

He never chased the spotlight; it was the other way around. Interestingly, the enigma of this 81-year-old poet-director is more or less intact. Gulzar’s respect among his fans is something that makes them overlook his cynicism.

I got a chance to witness that "infamous" pretension when I interviewed him about his book Pluto. He makes you conscious of your knowledge, of your background and of your aspirations. He would answer you, but he would also keep testing your peripheries.

While responding to one of my queries, he said, "You're expressing your opinion, I am expressing mine. If you don't like Pluto, call this something else and then read. We may differ, no?" You see that. He will drive his point across without misplacing a single word. That grinning face and the white kurta can leave you dumbstruck. Well, that's also his style. Take a look at what he does in one of his songs.

Bin batti jab cycle ka challan hua tha
Tab humne kaise bhukhe pyaase bechaaron si acting kit hi
Hawaldar ne ulta ek athanni dekar bhej diya tha
Ek chawanni merit hi, wo bhijwa do.

Mera kuch saamaan starts from this point. Just notice how a fun moment leads the listener into the sea of melancholy.


Tujhse naaraaz nahi zindagi, hairaan hoon main.

Isn't it difficult to categorise this song according to its mood. It keeps shifting and that's the thing which makes it special. Gulzar makes you imagine the situation.

Gulzar was born on August 18, 1924 in Dina (now in Pakistan).

I remember the TV footage in which a reporter sought his reaction after his name was announced for 2013's Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Gulzar came out of his house and said he was happy, but his expression changed the moment he was asked, "Isn't it late for you to receive this award?" He retorted, "Fir kab milna chahiye tha?"

He is not subtle in his interactions, but his songs tell an entirely different story. Who would have thought of these lines:

Chaand se hokar sadak jaati hai
Usi sadak pe aage jaake apna makaan hoga.


Dheere jalna, zindagi ki lau pe jalna
Kaanch ka sapna gal hi naa jaye
Soch samajh ke aanch pe rakhna.

This is the catch you feel while writing about Gulzar: How to set the parameters to evaluate his work? Should it be personal or should it be independent of any personal beliefs?

Watch: 24 of Gulzar's very best songs

There are many filmmakers who left the business of movie-making once they became obsolete. Gulzar stopped directing films without any external pressure. Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj candidly explained the situation in one of his interviews, "For the first four-five years (after Hu Tu Tu), we tried (to convince him), but then we gave up because he said, 'How long will I make these films? I want to focus on the literary side.' Then one could see (the result) as he’s writing books and poems now. He’s done with films because he wants to concentrate on literature."

Take a look at some of the films he has written lyrics for after Hu Tu Tu (1999): Fiza, Asoka, Aks, Filhaal, Leela, Saathiya, Pinjar, Maqbool, Raincoat, Bunty Aur Babli, Paheli, Omkara, Guru, Yuvraaj, Slumdog Millionaire, Firaaq, Kaminey, Veer, Ishqiya, Haider, Kill Dil and Drishyam. Over all, he has written for more than 53 films and albums in the past 15 years. Mostly high on quality. Not that he hasn’t written average songs, but even his average is better than others.

You can blame Jhoom Barabar Jhoom as a film, but you can’t do the same to its songs. Have you heard a better “item” number than Kajra re? Probably this is the reason behind his success and relevance. He never compromised on his quality. You can interpret Namak ishq ka in as many ways as you want, but as a stand-alone song it will never seem vulgar to you.

The journey that started with Mera gora rang lei le (Bandini, 1963) continues in all its glory, and in all possibility Gulzar’s repertoire is not yet short of deadly creations. Yes, we miss the director of timeless films such as Mere Apne, Koshish, Parichay, Mausam, Aandhi, Kitaab, Lekin, Ijazat and Maachis, but it’s fine as long as his pen is producing mesmerising songs.

And before you move on to other articles, here’s a Gulzar trivia for you: Gulzar produced just two films in his career. Name them.

(Interact with the author at Twitter/ @nawabjha)

Read: Pluto lost its status as planet, I lost mine in family, says Gulzar

Read: Gulzar on how an 80-year-old Urdu poet stays relevant in Bollywood

First Published: Aug 18, 2015 09:58 IST