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An endearing enigma

SURESH KOHLI engages Gulzar, the poet, in a conversation.

From Munshi Premchand to Tagore...Gulzar in new shades. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf.

HE HAS been a sort of an enigma in many ways. Adored, envied, criticised, ridiculed. Called mediocre, opportunist and even a fraud at times. But 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 , playwright, scriptwriter, documentary and film producer and director, Gulzar seems to have indulged in almost all areas of creative communication, and create a niche for himself beyond comparison.

In the eye of the proverbial storm for his recent adaptation of Premchand's works on Doordarshan, and the commemorative film he is making for the Sahitya Akademi, he shares here a few words.

Question: How do you manage to indulge in so many forms of creative expression?

Answer: Basically, it is a need for expression. 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.

Q: You have been trying to resurrect literary classics into cinema. Beginning with Mirza Ghalib, and then Tehreer Munshi Premchand Ki, and now one understands you plan to work on Tagore. Tell us the kind of difficulties one faces in translating written text?

A: Ghalib is different than working on the works of Munshi Premchand and Rabindranath Tagore. This is more working on what they have written. Ghalib was a biographical. That is scratching under the skin to discover the man behind the name. To try and trace the steps that led him to the greatness the man went on to achieve.

To trace the environment, his thinking and psyche - these have been matters of curiosity, study, learning, and this interest has been with me for a very long time, in fact, right from the beginning. I did a lot of research on Mirabai, for example.

Q: Coming to Premchand, were you apprehensive about the responses considering he was a comparatively modern writer?

A: Not particularly. I have never bothered about how people will react to my films. The important thing has been how do I feel about it and then how I convey it or share it with others. The audience comes later. With Premchand, there was another motivation also. I have been writing a lot for children. I felt we have been a little unfair to this generation whom we accuse of not reading books, they don't read good literature. In our times, the medium was only books, and a little bit of radio. This generation has computer, television, cinema and other mediums. So expecting them to stick to books alone is very unfair. I thought literature has to go to themin their medium because future literature will be available through those mediums.

But the classics that we talk about, well very little of it is available except for a few films that exist. Every language in this country is a treasure house of immortal literature.

Q: How did the idea come up?

A: It cropped up during an interaction with Doordarshan authorities. Somebody had to take the plunge. So I took it. I wanted to do Tagore. But they said you first do Hindi because the Bengali directors won't be able to do justice to that language. So I took it up as a mission. I did Tehreer Munshi Premchand Ki which is doing very well. There is no space for any more ads in the programme. They have eliminated the titles; the recaps to accommodate the ads.

Now I wish they take out DVDs, or whatever other medium they can think of. The programme must reach the students otherwise the very purpose will be defeated.

Q: And now you have been offered Tagore?

A: At one level, I can say that my taking to writing was because of my reading of Tagore. He is another writer who has that kind of appeal. And the first book I read was `Gardener'. It changed the course of my life.

Therefore, I am now taking up Tagore for television. It is a kind of mission and if I am not talking too much, it might stop people from asking too many questions about my motivation.

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