The living legend called Gulzar
“Moraa goraa ang lai le, mohe shaam rang dai de, chhoop jaaoongee raat hee me, mohe pee kaa sang de de”, marked the debut of a young man who is famed for having brought words to life. The poetic maestro, veteran lyricist, enigmatic filmmaker and person extraordinaire is how we define Sampooran Singh Kalra better known as ‘Gulzar’. Best recognized as the white kurta pyjama clad, noted Indian poet, lyricist and director. There are few who have stood through the changing winds of the Hindi film industry and offered their genius to several generations of films and Gulzar Saab is undoubtedly high on that list. With a career spanning over five decades in the industry, Gulzar Saab’s words have found ardent fans in every era who swear by his compositions. As the country makes merry on the 100th birthday of Indian cinema, it is only natural to recount the magnificent contribution of this living legend.
Born in 1934, Gulzar was inclined towards literature and poetry right from his school days. His family had to bear the brunt of the partition and leave their home which is now in Pakistan. Having been an Urdu medium student, Gulzar had been exposed from an early age to the rich literature of that language. His family didn’t approve of his desire to be a writer but Gulzar followed his heart and came to Mumbai to do poetry. He started working in a garage to earn a living but pursued poetry in his free time. His artistic journey started with the Progressive Writers’ Movement which was a literary movement in the pre-partition British India, consisting of different writer groups around the world. The groups worked towards inspiring the public through their writings and this in turn was a memorable movement which gave birth to some of the finest pieces of fiction and poetry. He took the pen name Gulzar Deenvi after becoming an author.
Having started his career as an assistant to filmmaker Bimal Roy, Gulzar’s first break as lyricist came through the song Mora Gora Ang from Bimal da’s movie Bandini in 1932. Sachin Dev Burman was the music director of the film and it was the veteran lyricist Shailendra (he penned the other songs of the film) who urged Gulzar to write the particular song. He then began scripting films for directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Asit Sen. Gulzar Saab is accredited with the famous dialogs of landmark films which range from Andaz, Bawarchi, Namak Haram, Chupke Chupke, Sadma and many more.
Though he received fame for his scripts and stories, it was his lyrics that have made Gulzar iconic today. Guddi, Anubhav, Anand, Mausam, Golmaal, Fiza, Paheli, Kaminey, Ishqiya, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Ek Thi Daayan, Gulzar’s filmography as a lyricist cannot be captured in numbers. He has been gifted to redefine the meaning of ordinary things and create words that touch your soul.
His thought-provoking lyrics for songs like Do deewaane shehar mein, Hazaar raahen mud ke dekhi, Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi, Mera kuchh saamaan to the trending numbers of today’s time be it Kajra Re, Beedi, Matru Ki Bijli or Challa have created magic over the generations. Gulzar has worked with the acclaimed music directors from the Burmans, Madan Mohan to A R Rahman, Vishal Bharadwaj, Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy and the likes. Most remembered is his association with R D Burman, whom he calls ‘the anchor in his life’, for some of the finest songs. Their partnership defined a whole era of Hindi film music. After Pancham da’s demise, Gulzar & HMV came up with one of the best ever tribute albums which captures Gulzar’s memories shared with R D Burman.
Having gathered tremendous acclaim as a writer and lyricist, Gulzar turned towards direction with Mere Apne in 1971. His films portrayed the reality that people were either unaware of or preferred to ignore. He also touched upon political themes with strong characters. A versatile filmmaker in the true sense, he went on to make several good films including Aandhi, Mausam, Khushboo, Angoor and many others. It was his partnership with actor Sanjeev Kumar which gave the industry several memorable films.
But Gulzar Saab went away from the big screen space approximately during the period of 1987-1996. Very little of him was seen in the form of films. But that is the period when Gulzar Saab graced the small screen with the outstanding show Mirza Ghalib, a tribute to the legendary poet. The show occupies a special place in television history owing to its direction, music and of course dialogs. Gulzar sprung back to action in cinema with Maachis in 1996. However, he hung up his boots in the directorial field in 1999 post Hu Tu Tu.
But his proficiency with words has always found varied outlets. Remember the childhood jingle, ‘Jungle jungle baat chali hai pata chala hai’? It is the work of none other than Gulzar Saab. The man of many talents has written some of the finest works for children in the form of poetry and television shows. His kid’s collections include songs for several animated series including the Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, Guchche and Potli Baba Ki with Vishal Bhardwaj. He recently wrote the title song for Lotpot’s comic characters Motu and Patlu for Nickelodeon.
He has also written several children’s books which featured the character ‘Bosky’, who draws inspiration from Gulzar Saab’s daughter Meghna who is fondly addressed as Bosky. The collection includes Bosky Ka Panchtantra, Bosky Ki Ginati, Bosky Ke Kaptaan Chacha, Bosky Ki Gappein and several others. His love for writing is also reflected in his poignant short stories that comprise of titles including Chauras Raat, Dhuan, Ravi Paar, Splinter and Other Stories and Kharaashein.
He may have donned many hats but Gulzar remains a poet by heart. Much of his poetry is a nostalgic trip to his childhood. His poems speak of the pain of partition. His first poetry collection Ek Boond Chaand was published in 1962. Some of his published poetic compositions are Kuchh Aur Nazmein, Selected Poems, Raat Chaand Aur Main, Mera Kuchh Saaman, Chand Pukhraj Ka, Triveni, and so on.
The legendary artist has been honored with several accolades including National Awards and over 20 Filmfare Awards. Gulzar was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2002 and conferred with the Padma Bhushan in 2004 for his contribution to the arts. One of his most prestigious awards is the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Jai Ho” (shared with A.R.Rahman) for Slumdog Millionaire. The song also won him a Grammy in the category of Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. In 2014, Gulzar was also honored with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honour in cinema given annually by the Government of India for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.
It is not every day that a country is blessed with a man who changes the course of its arts and culture. Gulzar’s contribution to the various fields of art and the country as a whole are inimitable and he shall always hold a legendary position.