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Gulzar: An inimitable legend

A name synonymous with stirring poetry, Gulzar is much more than just his evocative words – he is an artist with a vivid imagination and piercing insight

It is daunting to write about inspiring achievers. This feted poet with three national awards – best direction, best screenplay and best lyrics – and other laurels for best dialogues, best story and best documentary, is Gulzar, a living legend of Indian Cinema.

He was born in 1936 as Sampooran Singh to Makhan Singh and Sujan Kaur of Dina, in district Jhelum of Pakistan. The family migrated to Delhi after Partition, which seriously impacted teenager Sampooran, who had nightmares for many years. Later, he wrote extensively about those horrific memories on the tragic sufferings of refugees. His childhood was spent in Old Delhi. The little boy, during the day, would regularly borrow books from a nearby shop. One day, the shopkeeper gave him Rabindranath Tagore's The Gardener – this literary gem was to change the course of his life.

Sampooran's parents sent him to Bombay for higher studies. Passionate about Urdu, he eagerly participated in the activities of Progressive Writers Association and Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). At IPTA, he met Shailendra, Sahir and Salil Choudhary, creative names associated with films. Before heading for films, Sampooran did an odd job in a motor garage, but kept a firm grip on his pen, writing with the pseudonym Gulzar.

Gulzar had written a few songs for Choron Ki Barat, Diler Haseena and Shriman Satyawadi with other lyricists. After SD Burman's differences with Shailendra over lyrics for Bimal Roy's Bandini, Roy asked Gulzar to write lyrics for this film. Gulzar wrote one song, Mora gora rang lai le. But, soon, Burman da patched up with Shailendra. Roy was impressed by Gulzar's sincerity and told him, "A film is a director's medium. Join me as an assistant. For heaven's sake, don't go back to the garage."

Roy mentored Gulzar as he remained indebted to him. Gulzar assisted in Kabuliwala (1961), where he wrote a song, Ganga aaye kahan se (Hemant Kumar); and in Prem Patra (1962), Sawan ki raaton mein (Talat Mehmood). Both songs were composed by Salil Choudhary. Even though Bandini was delayed and released in 1963, Gulzar reiterated that thiswas his debut. After Roy's demise, Gulzar assisted Hrishikesh Mukherjee. In Biwi Aur Makan (1966), Gulzar wrote all songs, and Jaane kahan dekha hai (Rafi), became very popular.

A powerhouse of creativity, Gulzar wrote stories, screenplays and dialogues besides assisting Hrishi Da. Poetry was his passion and he wrote unforgettable lyrics for Aashirwad (1968): Jhir jhir barse sawan akhiyan & Ek tha bachpan (Lata) and Jiwan se lambe hain bandhoo (Manna Dey).

Some songs which Gulzar wrote in the 1960s busted charts: In Purnima (1965), Tumhe zindagi ke ujjale mubarak (Mukesh) and Humsafar mere humsafar (Mukesh-Lata); in Do Dooni Chaar (1968), Hawaon pe likh do (Kishore Kumar); in Khamoshi (1969), Tum pukar lo (Hemant Kumar), Humne dekhi hai (Lata) and Wo shaam kuchh ajeeb thi (Kishore). Gulzar wrote melodious numbers for Hrishi da's Anand (1970), Saat rang ke sapne chune (Mukesh) and Jia laage na (Lata).

Interestingly, the story of Guddi was based on a real incident. Gulzar's sister was strongly infatuated by thespian Dilip Kumar and she would cut his pictures from film magazines and paste them in her notebook. Gulzar narrated this story to Hrishi da, who decided to make a film centered on this plot. At that time, Dharmendra was reigning the big screen, so Dilip Kumar was replaced by Dharmendra. And Gulzar wrote this iconic song, Bole re papiha, (Vani Jairam), and a school prayer, Humko man ki shakti dena (Vani Jairam & chorus), that were composed by Vasant Desai.

He then made his directorial debut with Mere Apne (1971), inspired by Tapan Sinha's Bangla film Apan Jan. The film focused on unemployed youth and it was aptly delineated in Haalchaal theek thak hai (Kishore-Mukesh). The most poignant song was Koi hota jisko apna (Kishore).

Gulzar always relished working with RD Burman whom he had met during the production of Bandini. He worked with RD for the first time in Parichay (1972). The duo gave fabulous hits: Musafir hoon yaaro (Kishore), Mitwa boley meethe bain (Bhupendra), Beete na bitaye raina (Bhupendra-Lata). Inspired by Sound of Music, in Parichay, Gulzar brilliantly transformed Do re me into Saarey ke saarey (Asha-Kishore-chorus). They also created magic in Aandhi (1975). Gulzar was at his creative best and Pancham da put his soul into these numbers: Is mod se jaate hain, Tum aa gaye ho noor aa gaya hai and Tere bina zindagi se koi (Kishore-Lata).

They gave as memorable music in Khushboo (1975): O majhi re (Kishore), Bechara dil kya karey (Asha), and Do naino mein (Lata). In Kinara (1977), Naam gum jaayega (Lata-Bhupendra). In Kitaab (1977), Dhanno ki ankhon mein (RD Burman). In Ghar (1978), Aap ki aankhon mein (Kishore-Lata) and Tere bina jia jaaye na (Lata). In Golmaal (1979), Aane wala pal (Kishore). In Sitara (1980), Thodi si zameen (Bhupendra-Lata). In Masoom (1983), Tujhse naraz nahin zindagi (Anup Ghoshal). In Ijazat (1988), Mera kuchh saaman (Asha).

Gulzar also worked with composer Madan Mohan in 1975, for this iconic song in his own film Mausam – Dil dhoondta hai in two versions – Bhupendra's solo and his duet with Lata. In Gharonda (1977), Jaidev composed Do deewane shahar mein. In Khatta Meetha (1977), Rajesh Roshan composed Thoda hai thode ki (Lata-Kishore). With Khayyam in Thodi Si Bewafai (1980), Hazar rahein jo (Kishore-Lata), and with Illyiaraaja in Sadma (1983), Ae zindagi (Suresh Wadekar). With Bhupen Hazarika in Rudaali (1993), Dil hoom hoom karey (Lata). In Satya (1998), for Vishal Bhardwaj, Sapne mein milti hai (Suresh Wadekar-Asha).

In 1987, Gulzar just disappeared from the industry for almost a decade. He produced delightful serials for Doordarshan, Mirza Ghalib, Kirdaar and Sunhare Vark, among others. He resurfaced in films by 1996 with Maachis. His song Chappa chappa charkha chaley became quite popular. And then, he bid goodbye to direction with his seventieth film Hu Tu Tu (1999).

First and foremost, Gulzar is a poet, though he kept writing songs for films: in Saathiya (2002), Bunty aur Babli (2005), Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007), Bol na halke halke (Rahat Fateh Ali Khan-Mahalakshmi lyer) also for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Gulzar immensely enjoyed working with AR Rahman: in Dil Se (1998) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008), where Gulzar and Rahman won several awards included the coveted Grammy and Oscar.

Gulzar had a special bonding with Vishal Bhardwaj, as he said several times that "What Bimal da was to me, I am to Vishal." Gulzar liked Vishal's compositions in Ishqiya (2010), Saat Khoon Maaf (2011), Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (2013).

Gulzar has worked with three generations of composers, having collaborated with Anu Malik in Fiza, Aks, Asoka, Jaaneman and Filhaal. Filhaal was also the first film by his daughter Meghna.

Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj also teamed up for Meghna's film Talvar (2015), and he told Nasreen Munni Kabir in a conversation that "Meghna is a difficult director to work with. She rejected four versions of my song that Vishal composed." He also wrote for Meghna's Raazi (2018), and will write for her next film Chhapak, based on acid survivor Laxmi Agarwal, whose role will be played by Deepika Padukone.

Poetry remains his passion, notwithstanding his countless other awards that include 19 Filmfare trophies (ten for his lyrics) and National Awards for his songs. Conferred Padma Bhushan in 2004, he was given the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award (2013) and also bestowed the Sahitya Akademi Award for his short stories in Urdu.

Now, in his mid-80s, Gulzar Saab still has a youthful zest and a child-like heart, just as in his own verse, Dil to bachcha hai ji. No wonder, he wants to work on stories for children.

Sharad Dutt

Sharad Dutt

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