Poet, lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar on why his lyrics seem to have stood the test of time.

Pick up 100 Lyrics of Gulzar, translated by Sunjoy Shekhar, and you will find most of your favourite songs in it. English translations of Gulzar’s songs give an interesting perspective leaving you thinking “Why didn’t I ever notice the lyrics of this song earlier?”

A case in point is the popular Chhaiya Chhaiya (“Dil Se”). “On the face of it, it’s just a love song. But it is not so; it is essentially a Sufi song about eternal love for the Divine. Only Gulzar saab can turn a complicated philosophy into a popular mainstream song reaching out to every individual,” says Sunjoy. According to him, one of the reasons for Gulzar’s popularity is his versatility and ability to change with the times.

Around the story

But Gulzar says, “Songs come from the scripts, film and the character. It is knitted around the story. Beedi Jalaile had to be written in the language of the character, which is the U.P. Avadhi. It would have been absurd to write the song in Marwari or any other dialect. I do have a knack of different Indian dialects. I am a listener and a collector of Indian folk music, and I am still learning. I guess that’s why I am able to write such versatile lyrics.”

In a career spanning five decades, Gulzar has lived the changes in Indian film music. “From stalwarts like Madan Mohan and S.D. Burman in the 1940s and 1950s, to Vishal Shekhar and Shankar Mahadevan, the music has evolved continuously. There was a definite change in the 1980s and the 1990s when Rahman came in with his own style of mixing our folk songs with western music. His style of music is very fresh and separate and stands out.”

He feels that people still admire the melody and songs of the 1960s and 1970s. “Earlier, composers like Madan Mohan and Khyayam knew a lot of Indian classical and folk music. The generation today has a very low understanding of the culture and heritage of Indian music. Even if they do listen to some folk music, they listen only to the notes and not the words. They are more interested in item numbers! However, I feel that pop music does not have to be meaningless. They can include folk music and words in their songs, as they are independent and not restricted by the character or script.”

No need for nostalgia

However, he gracefully accepts that music changes with the rhythm of life and that you cannot be nostalgic all the time. “In today’s world when people are living in 20-storeyed buildings, you cannot write a song like Main tulsi tere aangan ki. Where will you plant a tulsi on the 20th floor? In a world where news travels in the blink of an eye with e-mails and mails go by couriers, people will never relate to a Dakiya dak laya. How can you write such lyrics when there are no dakiyas?”

The one change he cannot accept is remixes. “The original songs are beautiful and pure. Don’t pollute those times and music. It’s like repainting Ajanta and Ellora to suit modern times! I am very fond of today’s generation, and I think they should change their poetry and songs to suit today’s taste, but not repaint old ones.”

As for his personal favourites, he laughingly asks how could there be a single or even a few favourites, when the favourite changes with mood, time and company. However, he does name some of which Dekhna mere sir se (“Bunty aur Babli”) stands tall. A few others are: Mera kuch samaam, Chhod aaye hum who galiyan, Aasman ke aage ek aur aasman hoga. For a man who has won the Padma Bhushan and recently the Oscar for Jai ho, his modesty comes across as a breath of fresh air. Truly, if ever there was a legend, Gulzar is he!