THE POET PHILOSOPHER
Doesn’t each of us have that one definitive influence—a figure that speaks after one’s heart, as though intuitively peeping inside and gently scooping out the truth? For many like myself, Gulzar has played that part with his lyrics, screenplays and films. His work has a philosophical dimension while being rooted in everyday life and filtered through an empathetic worldview. His characters are intimate friends rather than creatures of fiction, his songs reserves of wisdom and compassion.
When Rajesh Khanna in & as Anand (1971) talks of the transience of existence, he employs Gulzar’s words,“Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath hain jahanpanah. Use naa toh aap badal sakte hain, na main. Hum sab toh rangmanch ki katputhliyan hain, jinki dor uparwale ke haath mein bandhi hain. Kab kaun kaise uthega, yeh koi nahin bata sakta hai.”
The drama of human relationships is Gulzar’s playground. He understands the intricacies and complexities of love, the despair of separation, the poignancy of longing and misgivings about failed opportunities. As he succinctly encapsulates in the song, “Is mod se jaate hain, kucch sust kadam raste, kucch tez kadam rahein” from Aandhi (1975), there are forks to every road in life, and the turn you take shapes your destiny.
Individuals aren’t one-dimensional. They hurt the people they love and can’t find the words to make amends. They keep revisiting the past to make sense of the present. Gulzar, above all others, recognises the relevance of the ‘flashback’ and uses it intelligently. Almost all his screenplays flit back and forth in time, as characters reshape old relationships with the chisel and hammer of experience and often come out wiser and stronger than before.
Very few filmmakers in Hindi cinema have etched as many interesting women as Gulzar has. He infuses these thinking, self-respecting and sensitive women equally with the twin virtues of silence and articulate expression. Aarti (Aandhi) is torn between her professional ambition and her personal feelings towards JK. She's clever, manipulative, passionate and warm all at once, and entirely unapologetic about her choices.
Kajli (Mausam, 1976) is brash yet, strangely unspoiled by her situation. Kusum (Khushboo, 1975) who has pledged her heart to Brindaban in childhood returns the bangles his mother sends her and spurns his proposal, because she doesn't want to be taken for granted. As for Maya (Ijaazat), she's an other-worldly creature, the kind who can exist only in the poet's imagination—such free spirits have no place in the real world.
The influence of his mentors, Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, is palpable in Gulzar's cinema. He started his career as an assistant to Roy and later worked with Mukherjee both as assistant and writing collaborator on several films, and also with Asit Sen. Some of their best films of the late-‘60s and ‘70s were penned by Gulzar—Khamoshi (1969), Guddi (1971), Anand (1971), Namak Haram (1973) and Chupke Chupke (1975). As were Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom (1982) and Ramesh Sharma’s New Delhi Times (1986).
Another major inspiration is literature in general and Bengali culture and sensibility in particular. Khushboo was adapted from a Sarat Chandra Chatterjee story, Kitab (1977) and Namkeen (1982) were based on stories by Samaresh Basu. Gulzar is the rare filmmaker who, despite being a fine writer himself, has consistently translated good literature into cinema, including Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, first as Do Dooni Chaar (1969) and then as Angoor (1982)—the latter is one of the finest comedies of Hindi cinema with constant collaborator Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma reprising the roles of the master-servant twins.
Several mainstream stars did their best work with Gulzar’s sensitive middle-of-the-road cinema and were prepared to deglamorise themselves in order to be taken seriously. Jeetendra did three films (Parichay (1972), Khushboo and Kinara (1979)) with Gulzar in his heyday (the filmmaker seems to have cast the star in his own image—moustache, thick black spectacle frames, plain kurtas and a soft-spoken, cultured personality), while Hema Malini featured in two of these, besides playing the central character in Meera (1979). Vinod Khanna starred in his song-less thriller Achanak (1973) which was based on a story by K A Abbas, in turn derived from the infamous Nanavati murder case.
But Gulzar’s longest and most rewarding association was with Sanjeev Kumar. It is impossible to imagine films like Koshish (1972), Aandhi, Namkeen and Angoor without Kumar’s spontaneous naturalist acting blended perfectly with the director’s delicacy.
Equally successful was his partnership with R D Burman, which extended beyond his own films and together they wove innumerable magical compositions. A mere sampling is enough to put their value into perspective—“Beeti na beetaayi raina” (Parichay), “Naam gum jaayega” (Kinara), “Tere bina zindagi se” (Aandhi), “Aaj kal paaon zameen par” (Ghar, 1978), “Thodi si zameen” (Sitara, 1980) “Tujhse naaraaz nahin zindagi” (Masoom) and “Katra katra milti hai” (Ijaazat).
Unlike many who are unable to keep in step with the times, Gulzar has adapted himself to contemporary cinema as a lyricist who understands the pulse and the mood of the audience, but doesn’t compromise the aesthetic of his output. He has written some of the catchiest numbers of recent times—“Kajrare” from Bunty Aur Babli (2005), “Jai ho” in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and “Ibn-E-Batuta” of Ishqiya (2010).
Personally, watching Gulzar’s films and listening to his poetry and dialogues is like going to school under the care of a benign teacher who is prepared to hold your hand and lead you on your way, without being judgmental or didactic.
Ek puraana mausam lauta, yaad bhari purvaaee bhi,
Aisa to kam hi hota hai vo bhi hon tanhaaee bhi.
Yaadon kee bauchharon se jab palake bheegne lagati hai,
Kitni saundhi lagti hain tab maazee kee rusvaaee bhi.
Do do shaklein dikhti hain is bahake se aaeene mein,
Mere saath chala aaya hai aapaka ek saudaaee bhi.
Khamoshi ka haasil bhi ik lambi si khamoshi hai,
Unkee baat suni bhi hamane apni baat sunaaee bhi.