It is rare to hear chaste Urdu spoken at a public event in London; even rarer for a speaker, who is no stranger to English, to stick to his linguistic terra firma.
“Punjabi would still be better,” quipped Gulzar, poet, lyricist and filmmaker settling down to a Q&A session after receiving the South Asian Cinema Foundation's lifetime achievement award at the Nehru Centre for excellence in cinema.
And allowing himself a little “parochialism,” as he put it, Indian High Commissioner Nalin Surie said he was particularly pleased to honour a “son of Punjab.” And then, turning to the organisers, he complained: “Why did it take you so long to recognise his achievement?”
It might have a seemed a bit unfair to the non-Hindustani speaking members of the audience, but for the Indian diaspora, it was a chance of a lifetime to brush up their rusty Urdu and Hindi. And they grabbed it with both hands, bombarding Gulzar with long-winded questions in their hybrid Hindustani until the moderator ruled that enough was enough.
In his hour-long “interaction,” Gulzar — in his trademark white kurta-pyjama, shawl and dark glasses, and looking none the worse for his age — recalled how he worked in a motor garage in what was then Bombay before he got a break in films with Bimal Roy's Bandini in 1963; paid tribute to his friends in the Progressive Writers' Association (PWA) and the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), particularly late Shailendra, who “pushed” him into cinema; denied that his controversial film Aandhi, which was briefly banned, was about Indira Gandhi; insisted that he and Rakhee were still “together;” and vehemently rejected the idea that there was such a thing as the “golden age” of Indian cinema, saying that as much “trash” was made “then” as is being made “now.”
Asked how he felt getting an award from a little-known body after winning the Oscar, Gulzar said it was like coming back home and being recognised by his own fraternity. The Foundation, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has previously honoured Adoor Gopalakrishnan, M.S. Sathyu, Saeed Akhtar Mirza and Girish Kasaravalli.
A retrospective of Gulzar's films is also being held.
Keywords: South Asian Cinema Foundation