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Updated: April 9, 2013 16:00 IST

A king and his many crowns

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Gulzar. Photo: AP
Gulzar. Photo: AP

Interview Poet-lyricist-filmmaker Gulzar, who was conferred the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration recently, talks about the varied colours of his canvas.

From the written word to moving images, from deep felt poems to catchy songs, from screen to stage, Gulzar is known for a range of expressions. But, as he points out in this interview, to be versatile is neither an easy nor an unconscious move. It springs from a deep seated conviction and analysis of his motives and requirements. Excerpts from a conversation with the poet-lyricist and filmmaker.

Something that has always intrigued me about your creativity is your ability to move from one medium to another with such ease — at least it so appears to us, the readers of your work. Whether it is from films to songs, to your poetry, your fiction, or then, even your translations, the shift from one medium to another, seems to happen smoothly, without much deliberation.

No, it is not all that simple. It is not so easy either. Most certainly, one has to prepare or gear one’s self specifically for a particular medium/form, although at times, the shift may come also as a sheer relief…You see, the mental state keeps changing constantly… A rather tedious monotony of a form begins to set in if you have been continuously working in a particular medium for long, and to get rid of that monotony…while you are in such a state, you might hit upon a poem, may be yours …or something else which may be interesting, I promptly get ready to get into translation. And in this very way, when I decided to read Tagore in Bangla, I got caught up in translating him. As for writing a film script, that is a long process and happens over a long period of time …it comes off and on, keeps churning in the mind that is constantly engaged in working out how an idea can be visually represented. In this, the written word is merely jotting down what you may have visualised…there is less writing here, well in a way there is a lot of writing but all of it has to visually come alive. In fact even thinking has to be all visual! How the scene may progress is what one is gripped with and that has to be jotted down then. The process is distinctly different from other kinds of writing. We call this ‘screenplay writing’ but this writing is actually more of picturising… I have now more or less moved away from directing films but then, I am more into theatre these days. I have tasted the wonderful joy of its live experience. In theatre, if one has to climb a mountain and say, get into a camp, one knows that there is no mountain there, there is no camp…

It is in fact more than just visualising…one has to create the experience of the mountain when it is not there!

Yes…in a film one actually goes to the mountain and enters the camp but in theatre…the actual mountain cannot be presented; no such set can be created! As I work with Saleem Arif who is a thorough professional and trained at NSD from where he is also a gold medallist … he manages to express a lot through gesture, he may also use narration but he is very good at creating body language: he’d present a shivering character and there would be a change in the style of his walking, his gait and somehow he would manage to create the feel of mountain climbing. In theatre what is in the centre is body language!

Indeed the movement of each character on the stage must also be meticulously co-ordinated with the dialogues …

Yes, each movement of the character needs to be focused upon, of which the entry and exit are very crucial. This is more peculiar to theatre than a film. Actually if you indulge in all these mediums, you taste the specific beautiful features of each medium…it’s like if you start enjoying the taste of fish, you will want to have more of it at different times, wouldn’t you?

But let me add…there is also a need to save one’s self from getting into a medium one is not able to handle! For instance, I am very clear I do not want to eat “baingon” (brinjal) after having tasted it … I realised I can’t handle that taste!

You talked about film-scripting and then theatre, the primary use of the visual in one and the use of body language in theatre. What when you write fiction? Don’t all these features enter into that as well? The visual, the use of gesture, etc. too are quite a part of writing fiction…

Yes they are, most definitely. Specially, in fiction, the movements of the characters cross through the mind, their body language too makes its impact somewhere but what is primary in fiction is language, the expression in words of what may have passed through the mind. But when one writes a poem, and we both share that, do you realise how you see colours? They actually appear in front of you. Strangely, that doesn’t happen when you write fiction. While writing fiction, you seem to be concentrating on the flow of the theme, the plot, some suspense and the movement of the characters, some drama……

The poet sees the trembling dew on the leaves of grass and while he notices the shine, he is not seeing it as an effect of the sun rays…there is no thought element in this…this is a feel.

If you are not in the mood to write a poem at that time and you were to have a ready canvas in front of you …you will start mixing the green colour and pick up the paint brushes…

The fact is that the two mediums are in touch with each other, they merge into each other…Those trembling leaves of grass that become the subject of your painting or a poem, also have a rhythm right there demonstrated through their trembling…dha dhoom, da dhoom…di da…dha dhooom…as you see them tremble, a tarana begins to play itself in your mind…and so there you are…

You are then in contact with yet another medium, music…!

Yes and then it is a matter of choice…yours may be that of words, someone else’s music! Let me give you an example: “Chaand chura ke laya hoon, chal baithe church ke peechhe” when you say this, notice how the sound of “ch” runs through this line…this is how you travel from music back into words, you hear the sounds and in that, the choice of words will matter, the choice of the instruments, of the vocal, the sounds etc…

So we are talking about the inevitable dialogue of one medium with another. When boundaries of form or the medium are imposed on creative expression, we actually create a lot of constrictions on expression.

That is why I say, no matter what the medium may be, the source is in that same creativity. You have to exercise your choices: what medium, what tools, etc.

Or how the medium may have chosen you?

No, the choice is one’s own. Let’s not philosophise this…you make your own choice consciously. You pick up a tool or a medium because you have worked with it, you have developed the skills involved.

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