Maazi (the past). That’s one element constant in Gulzar’s films, one motif that permeates through his poetry. Almost all his films have flashback as an important component. His protagonists are forever tapping into the recesses of their precarious pasts, trying to find some closure. This perhaps is a reflection of the contemplative state of mind of a poet whose childhood was marred by the death of a mother whose face he doesn’t remember; whose adolescence was scarred by the trauma of Partition; and whose life remained blank, as he mentions in one of his poems , bemaani si cheez tha vo , till he discovered literature, and cinema. This book, written by his daughter, has its own maazi , as it was published first in 2004.
In the 14 years since, Gulzar has written lyrics for more than 40 films, penned poetry collections, translated Rabindranath Tagore’s works into Hindustani and also brought out his first novel. This updated intimate coffee-table ode is only briefly able to capture the versatile artist’s expansive repertoire. Gulzar’s output gives the lie to the romantic assumption that a genius is born with a halo of creativity.
His genius is a product of years of honing his craft through reading, writing and re-writing. Rabindranath Tagore, Mirza Ghalib and Munshi Premchand were no doubt early influences, and Bimal Roy and his team were his mentors in cinema.
However, Gulzar’s creative life also owes itself to the fact that he is a creature of routine; as his daughter mentioned once, the poet never takes his creativity for granted, never compromises on his daily riyaaz (preparation).
Further, one reason that the poet has appealed to readers across generations is he has kept his style tuned to the times. The poetry in Pluto is different from that in Raat Pashmine Ki . He has forever been in the process of perfecting his craft, by putting in those six to seven hours of hard labour, day after day.
This light read is peppered with unpublished poems, adding some intellectual heft. In one, Gulzar calls himself a kabaadi (trash-vendor) who collects bits of dreams and destitutions of himself and others, polishes them into nazm s and sells them in discarded cans.
The book also leaves many questions unanswered, like how did Gulzar, whose medium of instruction was Urdu, teach himself Bengali even before he met Bimal Roy? What explains his fascination for chand (the moon), his lifelong muse? Are there more films, like the unfinished Devdas , that he wanted to make but couldn’t? We get more a glimpse of Gulzar the father than Gulzar the poet-filmmaker — the two identities merging beautifully when we read of poems he wrote exclusively for his daughter.