APPRECIATION Magazine

‘Not worthless after all...’

Gulzar. Photo: R. Ragu

Gulzar. Photo: R. Ragu

Many summers ago, when Gulzar wrote ‘Qatra qatra milti hai, qatra qatra jeene do’, the world nodded its approval of the song from Ijaazat that talked of enjoying life, drop by drop.

Nobody, least of all Gulzar himself, would have realised then that these little drops would one day add up to a vast expanse of artistry that has redefined cinema and lyrics and extended the frontiers of Urdu.

When Gulzar heard recently that he had been chosen for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the man whose felicity for words is unparalleled was for once left fumbling for the right ones. He had won awards for lighting a beedi (as he said, half in jest referring to his song in Omkara ) or penning a children’s number ‘Lakdi ki kaathi’ ( Masoom ) but on this occasion he was bereft of words.

“I thought of Meghna (his daughter) first. She could not go with me to the Oscars. I hope to take her with me when I go for the award function next month. Next day Rakheeji came home and cooked something special. Friends kept calling; I kept returning calls… My phone bill must have gone up.”

When the excitement subsided, Gulzar thought of his father who had once expressed disappointment that one of his children had taken to writing. “ Hamare ghar meerasi kahan se aa gaya ” (How did this family lead to an entertainer/singer?) his father wondered.

The family had migrated from Pakistan to settle near Old Sabzi Mandi in Delhi. Business or enterprise was considered a better job option than wielding the pen.

“I thought of Abbu. That meerasi apni jagah to pahuncha (the entertainer/singer has found his place). I never called my father abbu when he was alive. Now when I think of him, I call him so. The night the call came I missed him. I thought if he were here he could see his son is not worthless after all.”

Then came thoughts of the one and only Bimal Roy and associate Debu Sen. Roy gave Gulzar his first break when he asked him to pen a song for Bandini . “Debu took me to meet Bimal da when he asked me to write ‘Mora gora ang laye le’. His son has been my assistant. We have always been close,” remembers Gulzar.

His journey has not been without detractors, or even well-meaning but trenchant criticism from close friends. Among the doubters was his best friend R.D. Burman. The two worked magic in many films but Pancham did not always think highly of Gulzar’s skills.

When Gulzar showed him the lyrics of Qatra Qatra , the latter said, “ Yeh kya katra katra laga rakha hai. Aese koi gaana banta hai ? (What is this drop by drop? Is this how you write a song?), even as he set about setting the lyrics to a tune on his harmonium. A few minutes later, he found himself humming the lyrics. Not to be outdone, Gulzar insisted he would change the lines; of course, he did not.

Another song from the same film (‘Mera kuch saman’) also has a similar story. “When R.D. Burman heard the song, he said, ‘ Achcha scene likha hai. Ab gaana sunao! ” (That’s a good scene. Now give me the song.) When I insisted that this was the song, he retorted, ‘Tomorrow, you will pick up a newspaper and say this is poetry!’”

Again ‘Mera kuchh saman’ stayed the course, unobtrusively mocking all those who accused Gulzar of giving a physical dimension to everything.

Gulzar never said much to his critics. His pen did. Like it did earlier in the late 1960s. ‘Humne dekhi hain in aankhon ki mehekti khushboo’ ( Khamoshi ) was rendered memorably by Lata Mangeshkar though the director wanted to use a male voice. His argument was: how can a woman sing a song that is about a woman’s beauty? A middle path was found and the song was ‘shown’ playing on radio in the film. Once again, Gulzar had his way.

There is more to the song. His then girlfriend Rakhee believed it was penned for her. Gulzar won’t confirm or deny that. “The song is an ode to a woman’s beauty, particularly her eyes. Who can deny Rakheeji has beautiful eyes,” he says even today.

A similar tale is attached to ‘Naam gum jayega’ ( Kinara ). Lata Mangeshkar believed that Gulzar had written it for her. “It was like an autograph for her,” Gulzar concedes. As was Aandhi for Suchitra Sen?

It is a rare concession from the man, who is happy to note that the winds have changed direction over the past half century.

He says, “ Ek pagdandi par chal kar yahan pahunch gaya. Lambi pakki sadak to wahin rehti hai .” (I have reached her through a road less taken.) The lyricist-filmmaker has come home.

As a filmmaker

A filmmaker with a rare political sensitivity, Gulzar’s approach was clear even in his directorial debut Mere Apne .

Even while narrating stories through Parichay, Mausam and Kinara , the film’s political resonance did not leave him.

In each, Gulzar presented mainstream actors like Jeetendra, Hema Malini and Sharmila Tagore in contrast to their popular image.

And then there was Aandhi , said to be based on the life of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Interestingly, 40 years later, a government led by Indira Gandhi’s party has deemed the same filmmaker fit for the country’s highest film award.

Gulzar, however, said goodbye to direction after the debacle of s .


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Printable version | May 22, 2022 11:02:49 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/not-worthless-after-all/article5928733.ece