THROWBACK THURSDAY Cinema

Gulzar, a specialist in poetry for children

In the early 90s, as a pre-teen keeping my fantasy world alive with Doordarshan's cartoon characters, two names I got instantly enamoured of were ‘Gulzar’ and ‘Vishal’. Mowgli of Jungle Book was for me more a creation of the combined imagination of this lyricist-composer duo — through the slightly-cheeky jingle ' Jungle-Jungle Pataa Chala Hai' — than Rudyard Kipling. Gulzar, who turns 82 today, became for me a supremely-gifted children’s poet whose jingles for Doordarshan were a part of my weekend routine.

The reason he was able to strike an instant chord with children like me was that he never let the innocuous child in him die. This was the child who, in his early Delhi days, devoured detective novels like Sultana Daaku and Behram’s Fort at as furious a pace as he blitzed through Tagore, Sarath Chandra Chattopadhyay and Premchand. It was this child who, at 41, would make a uniquely personal statement through a self-produced Kitaab (1977), among his artistically most accomplished but commercially least successful films.

This was the film where Gulzar brought the nine-year-old precocious kid in him alive through Babla, the lead character, who learns to appreciate both Chandamama and Devdas; one who, despite finding little empathy among his family members, sees the lives of the less-privileged with deep affection. Babla is a ponderous poet-prodigy, with the ability to create nonsense rhymes, trapped in the body of a schoolchild.

Gulzar has spent nearly 53 years writing poetry, short stories, lyrics and screenplays. His total output — as a poet and lyricist — comes to more than 600 songs and an equal number of poems. A considerable portion of the songs, 30-40 of them, are targeted at children. Here are a handful of the songs and jingles he has written for children:

In film

Humko Mann Ki Shakti Dena - Guddi (1971)





A unique prayer song which, rather than seeking solace in the presence of an imagined divine, chooses to make children introspect. ' Doosron ki jai se pahle khud ko jai karein' (Before I desire the victory of others, please allow me to develop enough self-esteem) is the most poignant refrain in it. The song also seeks to create a spirit of inclusiveness (' bhedbhaav apne dil se saaf kar sakein'); tolerance (' doston se bhool ho to maaf kar sakein') and confidence (' khud pe honsla rahe'). A prayer that celebrates the humaneness within each individual rather than extolling the virtues of a God entity.

Saare Ke Sa-re Ga-ma Ko Lekar - Parichay (1972)





The film, with a storyline similar to The Sound of Music, had four children at its centre. There was enough scope for Gulzar and R.D. Burman to recreate ' Do Re Mi' into ' Saare ke sa-re', a song designed to teach the seven surs to the children. Gulzar chooses mundane lyrical motifs like Savera (Morning); Reshmi kiranein (Rays of sunlight) and Dhoop (sunlight) to get the seven surs across. The repeated use of 'lalalalaalaa' seems intentional — to highlight the names of the surs, with particular stress on pancham, the lines are kept deliberately simple.

Masterji Ki Aayi Chitthi - Kitaab (1977)





What happens when an entire class of creatively-gifted primary school students is entirely left to their devices? Enjoyable nonsense poetry! Babla, the lead character, takes leaps of imagination by making a cat wear jhumka (earring); giving a mosquito a long moustache on which it carries a whole mountain; and forcing a cheetah to blush. A song made more likeable by the lyricist’s experiments in rhyming and onomatopoeia through phrases like ' dhink-taka-taka-dhum', ' agarbatti-magarbatti' and ' if agar is hai but par what matlab kya.'

Lakdi ki kaathi, kaathi pe ghoda - Masoom (1983)





A song that personifies a hobby horse and makes it indulge in escapades. Gulzar’s childhood connection with Delhi gets revived through phrases like ' Chalta hai Mehrauli mein, par ghoda apna Arbi hai' (the horse moves in Mehrauli but it is Arabian in origin). Just observe the way a young Jugal strokes at his imaginary beard while singing this line. Contrary to what the pseudo-Indologists would want us to believe, didn’t the horse originate in the Arab world?

Ek Dafa Ek Jungle Tha - Sadma (1983)





Gulzar, Ilayaraja, Kamal Haasan and the tale of Rangeela Geedadh (Dyed Wolf). Words and phrases like ‘ loafter’, ‘ leechad’ and ' de dhana dhan' add a distinctly oral flavour to this tale of a wolf getting accidentally dyed and posing as a king in the jungle.

Zindagi Zindagi - Chatran (1988)





Pavan Jha, one of the most authoritative voices on Gulzar who maintains a well-researched website on him, says Chatran was a recreation of The Adventures Of Chatran, a Japanese comedy (adventure drama) revolving around the episodes in the life of a cat named Chatran.

A song whose highlight is the opening poetry, bringing out the contrast between the quiet night (which the poet calls the daughter of the sky) and the chaotic day (the son) while laying out the foundation for human life. The rest of it is a typical R.D. Burman-Asha Bhonsle-Gulzar ghazal-like creation of the 80s, harking back to ' Roz Roz Aankhon Tale' and ' Mera Kuch Saamaan.'

Aasmaan Ke Paar Shaayad - Rockford (1999)





A teenager with a poet’s heart entering the boarding school to explore new horizons. He wants to find the new universes, the joyous unknowns, stepping away from his comfort zone. He wants to give the wings of his fantasy their full flight.

Billu-Pillu (1998)





A dubbed version of Phil Roman’s film Tom and Jerry (1992). Another of Gulzar-Vishal songs that plays more on sound than lyrics.

Pangaa Na Le - Makdee (2002)





Vishal Bharadwaj’s directorial debut, one for which he took cinematic inspiration from Gulzar, his mentor. The quote ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world’ applies to the rebellious prankster Chunni (Shweta Pandit), the movie’s lead character. For, her the world is one playing pahiya (wheel) whose lever is in her hands and using which she can engage in her adventures. It is this ‘devil-may-care’ attitude that helps her save an entire village from the hold of a fake chudail (witch).

The experiments with sound using phrases like ' taun taun' and ' waun waun' remind you of R.D. Burman’s ' Masterji Ki Aayi Chitthi' from Kitaab. Moving from one supremely-gifted composer to another, Gulzar had re-invented his artistic pahiya by making Chunni more intelligent than Babla two-and-a-half decades back

Neeli Aasmaani Chatri - The Blue Umbrella (2007)





Bindiya (Shreya Sharma) is smitten by the sky-blue umbrella, a little stick of joy that has come her way like an angel figure. In this song, she expresses her admiration for her companion. She compares the umbrella, which for her is a breakaway piece of the sky on a stick, to a magical aircraft (' udan khatola') which can also take the form of a flying wheel (' hindola'). While imagining an umbrella’s relationship with the rains, she says it perhaps want to be re-united with its source, the sky, the reason it takes an instant attraction to water falling from the heavens. The use of words like ' shaitaani' (impish) and ' paaji' (shameless creature) for the ' chhatri' (umbrella) only make the song more colloquial.

Outside of film

Vishal Bharadwaj is said to have met Gulzar for the first time in the winter of 1989 when the latter visited New Delhi for a documentary on Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Their creative partnership began next year for the Doordarshan series Daane Anaar Ke. In the next two decades, Vishal went on to collaborate with Gulzar for a majority of his albums and, quite expectedly, got inspired enough by him to turn into a film-maker himself.

Here is a look at some of the jingles written by Gulzar, most of them composed by Vishal.

Potli Baba Ki (1991)





A puppet series co-written by Gulzar. It tells the stories of Arabian nights — like Alibaba And The 40 Thieves and Aladdin And His Magic Lamp — with an Indian touch. The tune begins with a combination of a bulbul thara-like string instrument and flute used to give a syncretic feel. The music here was by Kalyan Singh Barat.

The ‘baba’ at the centre, ‘Chhenu vaali Jhunnu ka baba’, who narrates the tales, is from a village called Ghungar. In his ' potli' (bundle) are hidden fairy wings, temple bells and trinkets from temples and mosques he has visited, says the song. The baba has a mysterious condition due to which as he tells the stories he has collected, he progressively gets younger.

The Jungle Book (1993)





Mowgli became a household name thanks to this series and thanks to the simple title song. Gulzar is said to have had some difficulty in getting the word ' chaddhi' approved by the Children’s Film Society but ultimately, his creative instincts had the last say.

Guchche (1993-94)





' Kahaani le lo' here sounds like a hawker selling stories. A subject-heavy story can step on a banana peel and slip; a feather-light story can fly at the blow of a butterfly; a story that is too sour can be conditioned with sprinkling of salt — the song plays with all these imageries.

Alice In Wonderland (1993-94)





Just like Jungle Book, the Indian version of this is said to have been dubbed from its Japanese version. The phrases are of great alliterative value — ' tap-tap topi-topi', ' ulat-palat galat-salat taain' and ' jhubali jhinak jhaain' have such a pleasant effect that they make the child in you want to hum them.

Sindbad Jahazi (1994-95)





A series than images Sindbad as a 8-9 year-old sailor. The song imagines his adventures on a ship as he negotiates his way through the high seas in quest for some hidden treasure.

Danu Danasur (1996)





An Indian recreation of Denver: The Last Dinosaur. Gulzar tries to see how a cute dinosaur will be visualised by a child — he calls him ' chipkali ke naana', ' chipkali ke sasur' (the grandfather/ancestor of lizards). The dinosaur's build to him looks like a combination of musical instruments like tanpura and manjeera. Even the creature’s sleep has a certain rhythm to it, says the poet.

Gulzar has also re-written, translated and adapted for stage popular tales like those from Panchtantra ( Bosky Ka Panchtantra), Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Bagha ( Gopi Gayen Bagha Bayen) and Pinocchio. His constant re-invention of language and skills has ensured that it is extremely difficult to pigeonhole him into one category. However, for those of us, brought up on Doordarshan of the 90s, he will always remain the baba with magical tricks in his poetic potli.


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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 1:51:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Gulzar-a-specialist-in-poetry-for-children/article14576159.ece

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