( A tribute to Gulzar I wrote many years ago for Deccan Herald)
Among the honors conferred this year on the Republic Day is the Padma Bhushan awarded to Sampooran Singh Gulzar. The felicitation comes just a year after he won the Sahitya Academy Award for his short story Dhuaan. Awards at a national level are nothing new for Gulzar and he has garnered three of them for his films - Best Screenplay (Koshish), Best Director (Mausam) and Best Lyricist (Ijazat). But the Sahitya Academy Award for a short story was somewhat of a paradox. Gulzar deserved it much earlier for the poetry he has penned as film songs. In fact, poetry is intrinsic to all the work Gulzar is associated with - the films he directs are lyrical, the dialogues he pens have a flow and his lyrics contain vivid imagery appealing to our sublime senses.
Gulzar was born in 1936 in Deena, Jhelum District which is now a part of Pakistan. After the partition he came to Delhi. He started as a poet and was a part of the Progressive Writers association. Hence his literary roots are firmly grounded in poetry. He joined Bimal Roy productions much later in 1961. As a result, Gulzar appears to have imbibed the best of two rich literary traditions in India - Urdu as well as Bengali. A fact that is amply borne out by the fact that he has translated into celluloid one of Saratchandra’s novels (Khushboo) and two of Samresh Basu’s works (Namkeen and Kitaab). Ijazat is also based on a Bengali short story.
In 1988, Gulzar made the landmark television serial on Mirza Ghalib with Nasiruddin Shah essaying the role of the immortal Urdu poet. The influence of Ghalib seeped in unobtrusively when Gulzar penned a song for a film he directed - Mausam. The song resonates with the flush of falling in love and all the longing it encompasses - dil dhoondta hai, phir wahi fursat ke raat din…baithe rahe tasssavure jaana kiye hue. The best one can do with a transliteration is ‘The heart longs for the days and nights of leisure. Lounging around, doing nothing, a happy emptiness within, playing with your thoughts.’
The Bengali influence is best reflected in the songs from Khushboo - ‘Oh Maaji re…apna kinara nadiya ki dhara hai’. The song succinctly captures the dilemma of the boatmen who make a living from the river. A literal translation would be ‘O Boatmen, our shores are no more than the flow of the river.’ Something that does scant justice to the essence of the song that is replete with the philosophy of life and death.
Almost as a counterfoil for the same film Gulzar penned the coy and teasing ‘Bechara dil kya kare.. sawaan jale… bhadon jale’. (What can the poor heart do, all the seasons are burning)? In fact Gulzar’s penchant to transcend from the sublime to the ludicrous is legendary. He penned a song for Thodi si Bewafai which ‘boasted’ of lyrics like ‘Pink sharara silaooing' ( I will stitch a Pink Sharara). But lest anyone take this as a criticism of Gulzar’s poetic sensibility, it would be prudent to point out that this one is a rare failure. He has often used imagery that seems absurd to etch deeply evocative pictures. Consider this priceless gem from the first film he directed Mere Apne- ‘Roz akeli aaye, Roz akeli jaaye, Chand katora liye bhikaran raat’. (She comes alone and leaves alone, this beggar woman night with her begging bowl of the moon). The deft simile transforms night into an ultimate metaphor for loneliness. The song is hauntingly rendered by Meena Kumari on screen playing an old woman deserted by her family.
Yet Gulzar is widely regarded as the thinking man’s poet lyricist. And not without reason. The very first lyrics he penned for the classic Bandini is an immortal gem: ‘Mora Gora Ang Lai Lae. Mohe saanv rang dai de’ (Take away my fair body and let me trade it for the dark shades of my lover). The song like the film was far ahead of its time and dealt with a woman’s choice to have her lover as well as the price she has to pay for this indulgence. The sensuous song went well with the theme of the film.
The lyrics of Gulzar have displayed an awesome range from being bathed in childlike glee to pathos-laden soliloquies. But what has distinguished them is that they have invariably been in blank verse. Apparently the late R D Burman with whom Gulzar had a long and fruitful association had a really tough time setting to music the award winning ‘Mera kuch saaman tumhare paas pada hai’. The song goes on to request the ex lover to return tangible as well as intangible gifts from the remnants of the spent passion. ‘Ek sau solah chand ki raatein, ek tumhare kaande ka til, gili mehendi ki khushboo, jooth mooth ke shikwe kuch, jooth mooth ke vaade sab yaad kara doon, sab bhijwa do, mera wo saaman lauta do.’ (One hundred and sixteen nights of the moon, and the solitary mole on your shoulder, the fragrance of the moist mehendi, some pet peeves and some empty promises, return all of that, return all the moments I spent with you). Even the most blasé listeners were moved!
Many of his fans believe Gulzar deserved the national award a couple of decades earlier for the most romantic lines ever penned for a film song that featured in Khamoshi - ‘Humne dhekhi hai in aankhon ki mehekti khushboo, haath se choon ke inhe rishto ka ilzaam na do, sirf ehsaas hai ye rooh se mehsoos karo, pyar ko pyar hi rehne do, koi naam na do’ (I have felt the lingering fragrance of those eyes, don’t try and touch it with your hands to brand it as a relationship, it is only a sensation, this thing they call love, feel it with your soul and let it remain at that, don’t cubbyhole it with a name).
A worthy successor to that one is ‘Katra katra milti hai, katra katra jeene do, zindagi hein behne do, pyaasi hoon mein pyaasi rehne do’ from Ijazat. (I can only quench it drop by drop, I can only live it drop by drop, there is life, let it flow, I am thirsty, let me remain thus). A song that unpretentiously sighs the longing of a woman in love. But the two most pithy and powerful lines swathed in passion happen in a song from an inconsequential film Swayamvar. ‘Tumhari nighahen bahut bolti hai, zara apni nazron par palkein gira do’. (Your eyes speak of too many things, please cover your gaze with your eye lids).
Gulzar has an extraordinary gift for capturing the maverick spirit of the wondering heart. One of his earlier songs went ‘Hawaaon pe likh do, hawaaoon ke naam, ek anjaan rahgir ka salaam’ (Write on the breeze, dedicate it to the breeze, an unknown wonderer’s salutations!) In the same vein, nearly two decades later he wrote ‘Ay Zindagi gale laga le, humne bhi har ek gam ko ghale se lagaya hain, hain na…’ ( Hey Life, please embrace me just like I have embraced all the sorrows…)
No wonder, getting the better of the restless spirit featured as the opening bhajan in Guddi, the song that introduced Jaya Bhaduri to movie goers. ‘Hum ko man ki shakti dena, man vijay kare, doosroon ke jai se pehle khud ko jai kare.’ (Give us the strength to capture this mind of ours so that before we capture others we are able to overpower our restless souls.)
Hututu, the last film Gulzar directed was a critical and commercial failure. But as poet lyricist he remains unchallenged in the Hindi film scenario as was evident from two of last year’s releases - Filhaal and Saathiyaa. In Filhaal, the man endearingly implores his beloved to ‘ungliyoon mein pehen lo ye rishta’ (Wear the relationship in your fingers) and the title track of Saathiya, an ode to the tinkling laugher of the beloved, is punctuated with classic Gulzar imagery ‘barf giri ho vaadi mein, un mein lipti simti hui, aur hansi teri goonje, un mein lipti simti hui, baat kare dhuan nikle, garam garam ujla dhuan, naram naram ujla dhuan.’ (In the snow clad valley, you are swathed in wool, your laughter echoes, and you are swathed in wool, and from your mouth emerges smoke, the warm and fair smoke, the soft and fair smoke).
Clearly at sixty-seven, Gulzar is a veteran but his lyrics still have all the passion of an adolescent in love.