In conversation Movies

‘Legendary love stories haven’t ceased to happen, they occur in all ages’

Gulzar on how a simple question from filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra triggered the modern retelling of a legendary romance

On a lazy Mumbai afternoon, in the study of his home, Boskyana, veteran lyricist-poet-writer-filmmaker Gulzar talks to The Hindu about Mirzya, what it means to write from the heart and why he considers Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra a great filmmaker. Edited excerpts from an extensive interview:

There is a definite structure to the soundtrack of Mirzya. You seem to have distilled the entire film in the six interjecting couplets sung by Daler Mehndi.

Ek khaaka to dimag mein rehta hai [There is always a template in mind]. While writing, it begins acquiring a countenance of its own. These pieces tell you what the story is. It is obvious that they will be placed in the rightful spots as the narrative progresses. While writing the screenplay, you keep filling it up with musical interludes and songs to create a greater structure.

You seem to have brought the thought a full circle through these interludes, from “Ye waadiyan doodhiyan kohre ki, in mein sadiyan behti hain; Marta nahin ishq o Mirza, sadiyan Sahiban rehti hai”, where you are talking about eternal love to the martial tenor of love in “Mera Mirza sher jawaan” to eventually “Pha paaye na ishq da” about love’s futility.

These are legendary words from the past. Like Heer Ranjha, Waris Shah… These are ballads…

Ae rassi lammi Mirzya”… This rope of love is too long, don’t put its noose in your neck… “Ho Sahiban te na labhni, tu fer na jammi Mirzya”… You won’t come together with Sahiban so don’t seek a rebirth…

There is a method in this construction. We are not telling the classic story of Mirza and Sahiban, but one which is an echo of it. The past is only a reference, an image that is thrown occasionally. We are narrating today’s story. It’s not about a reincarnation or rebirth. The whole idea is that legendary love stories have not ceased to happen in contemporary times, they keep occurring in all ages.

Gol gol ghume zameen, aave na jaave kahin…” again talks of the eternity in love…

Mirza na aata hai na jaata hai, ye waqt gol gol ghoomta rehta hai [Time keeps moving in circles, but Mirza doesn’t come or go anywhere]. These stories are also such. They keep returning…

What is it like doing both the screenplay as well as the lyrics of a film?

There is a big advantage. Even otherwise before I write songs for a film I ask for its full script. Or else I don’t take it up. Haath mein script aayegi tabhi gaane likh paaunga [I can write songs only if I get the script in hand]. I go through it again and again, find the nuances of the film and the characters. You also have to match the language of the film. It can’t be that the character speaks in one language and sings in another. If two-three films of mine release at the same time and if all of them feel like they are from the same lyricist then something is not quite right. The language of all has to be different if they are different stories. With Vishal [Bhardwaj] and Shaad [Ali], whose films will be coming up, the stories and atmosphere are different so words will also have to be different. Wo apne aap ho jaayega [It happens on its own]. I won’t have to make an effort at it. If you notice in my own films the blending of songs is distinct. They narrate stories and scenes. I try and do the same for other filmmakers as well but it is not entirely in my hands.

You have written the scripts of your own films. You have written lyrics for other filmmakers but have done dialogues for a rare Saathiya or Chachi 420, of late you haven’t done a script/screenplay for other filmmakers.

Kam kaha hai logon ne to kam likheen hain [Fewer people have asked so I have done fewer of them]. Unless there is something different in the subject there is no sense in accepting it. It’s not a matter of challenge, there’s no creativity in it. There has to be scope for creativity in it for me.

So there was that possibility in Mirzya

Neither did [filmmaker] Rakeysh [Omprakash Mehra] ask me to write nor did I offer to write. It started from a question.

Rakeysh asked me why Sahiban broke Mirza’s arrows? That’s the popular belief. When Sahiban got to know that she and Mirza were being chased by her brothers she broke Mirza’s arrows, one by one. He was a great archer but got killed at their hands and then she also killed herself. This is the difference from other love stories like Laila-Majnu, Shirin-Farhad.

Rakeysh asked me why would she do that? I told him that he will have to ask her. What was in her mind? What was in her heart? Only she can reply. He said we will have to find out. I said we will do that. Unless you go deep into the fable, the characters and the situations you wouldn’t get to know. When you reach the depth of the character you get to know her mind. You have to find her, reach her, know the details, work out all the circumstances. That’s what we did. And it’s not that what she did would have happened only back then. It may happen even today.

That intrigued Rakeysh even more. He kept asking, I kept writing and we grew into the film. It is a very lovely way of growing into a film together. He asks very good questions. Aur prashn pravritti hote hain [questions are the reflection of a person’s attitude, instincts, disposition].

Is Mirzya a musical?

Having a number of songs does not make a musical. Music is in the way you narrate the story. Nowhere does the hero sing, nowhere does the heroine sing. We found another device: Ek gali hai loharon ki [There’s a street of ironsmiths]; in the neighbourhood in Rajasthan in which the story is set. It is a beautiful fantasy street that narrates the story and everything, all the action that happens outside of it is for real. They are perennially pounding iron, the fire keeps raging. Imagine the activity of so many ironsmiths in that one street. There is a glow of that fire. Here nobody talks, everybody sings or dances or narrates or recites. This street is the chorus, the sutradhar that keeps taking the story forward. Om Puri is one of the ironsmiths. Here the horse shoe is fixed. Mashq wala paani chhidakta rehta hai gali mein [the waterman keeps sprinkling water]. All these incidental sounds become music. They have been used musically by Shankar Ehsaan Loy. You have to make the general activity into a musical: music, poetry and songs… It is a new approach to the entire screenplay. It will feel fresh, goes well with the kind of musical treatment we had in mind.

Your films have this non-linear device, the flashbacks. Rakeysh uses parallel realities in his films…

Somewhere we match.

Yet your films are more feelings-based, his seem thought-oriented.

I would go by emotion [rather] than logic. I will create an emotion and get away with it. Mere paas dil hi dil hai, dimaag to hai bhi nahin [I only have a heart, no mind of my own]. I may be a better narrator but Rakeysh is a better filmmaker. The writer in me always dominated but Rakeysh is a greater filmmaker. His sense of visuals is superb. He has come from the advertising world, where the entire focus is the visual. And he is a master at it. The visuals of the legendary tale that he has merely sprinkled in the narrative, those flashes, the vision of it, he has created a sense of wonder about the world. When we think of Laila-Majnu, we imagine them in typical Muslim costumes. The image has come to us through films. But think of that period, how would you know what they wore? The beauty is in creating a fantasy. It is new, fresh. He hasn’t followed previous images. His images look from some ancient time, very tribal in nature.

The eternity of love apart, there has also been a change in the man-woman relationship.

The change is in what you wear, the way you live, in your relationships. A different period means a different culture. So your behaviour pattern will also have to be different. Speed has altered; the rhythm of life has changed. There is such a lot of gadgetry. Earlier, it was like someone has gone to the city, there will be no news, close ones will wonder when he will be back. Now you can talk on the phone anywhere, any time, any moment. You fly in planes. When will you come back from abroad? Well today if you tell someone in the morning to come, they can reach by the evening. This is the speed of life. But the speed of a heartbeat is still the same. Dil aaj bhi usi rafter se dhadakta hai [the heart still beats at the same pace]. That is eternal. Aapke aansoo usi rafter se behte hain, nabz waise hi chalti hai [Your tears fall at the same speed, the pulse moves the same way].

In your love stories, the personal has always had a social context. There is also primacy given to the woman. Will we see that in Mirzya too?

The woman in my subjects is not a stock character. She has her own individuality, self-respect and spine. That respect will reflect in all my stories. I won’t ever look down on them. So is the heroine here. She takes her own decisions and is forever upright.

The social context in the film is of today. The maharaja in the film is a Rajya Sabha member. The state has already taken over. The children have made hotels out of those palaces. It is a very modern day story. I would take the example of Maharaja Arvind Singhji of Udaipur. I have known him. His is a well-educated family. I think both his son and daughter have done MBAs.

Coming back to the songs, “Ek nadi thi do kinare thaam ke chalti thi…” seems to capture the dilemma of the woman.

That song has come out very well. There is conflict in it. A river has to have two banks, but here it symbolises two lovers. She has to hold on to the two and that’s the struggle, it is narrating symbolically. The heart is ruling over her, has bound her in chains. It is not in her control. When you are with two lovers, and in love with both, what do you do?

With such lyrics you turn feelings very tactile. There are many such unusual visual evocations in Mirzya too — “Dhoop se jal gayi chhaanv” … “Aag se paudha nikle”… Is visuality very crucial for you as a writer?

It makes it easier for the listener to understand. That is what poetry is all about. How you bring in the image. Lafz kehne se to nahin chalte na [Words don’t work just by their usage]. What is being said is a straight and simple thing. The heroine is saying, ki ab main jawaan ho gayi hoon, [I have grown up now]. But she expresses it as dhoop munder pe chadh gayi hai, jitni chhanv thi wo saari jal gayi hai [sunshine has climbed up the wall to have burnt the shade]. The images and the way you say it, that is poetry. Otherwise there won’t be any difference between prose and poetry.

My most favourite song is ‘Aave re hichki’. I told Shankar “is gaane ka khatra hai, ye chal jaayega [this is a dangerous song, it will become very popular]… I had said the same when they composed ‘Kajaraare’. Someone woke me up in the sleep, the girl says. Who is the one who awakens? “Piya jagawe, jeeya jagawe aur diya jagawe” [the lover, heart and the lamp awaken]. She talks of the dryness [of emotions] inside her: “Saawan mein sookhe naina, talaiya sookhi, keekar sookha aur bheetar sookha re”. All these images portray a rural background, they belong to the folk world. The language has to match the film, subject, characters. You can’t use a Ghalib ghazal here.

Is that the reason you have used rustic Punjabi…

I tried writing in Hindi, but it didn’t catch the flavour. “Doonge dard judaiyan de, kad lende ne jaan…” [The wounds of separation run deep and take the life out of you]... “La chingari ishq di, aag lage ye aasman… [With a spark of love set the whole sky afire]…” It’s image for an epic tale of love. The imagery also comes from that. There is no fun in the translation in Hindi. The words to break away a dimension to make it larger than life.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 5:18:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/%E2%80%98Legendary-love-stories-haven%E2%80%99t-ceased-to-happen-they-occur-in-all-ages%E2%80%99/article14928947.ece

Next Story