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Gulzar: Redefining Poetry and Purpose In Cinema

May 3, 2014 | By

Gulzar’s films are not only known for their tight screenplay, witty dialogues and themes that explore intense humanism or burning political issues. They are also famous for their awe-inspiring music.

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Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine As a professional business journalist, Antara spent 14 years covering business stories but alongside kept alive her passion for writing on cinema. She writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema and her articles aim to provide well-researched, complete and accurate information on the legends of cinema for the movie enthusiast. Her articles have also been published in Dearcinema.com and Du-kool.com. Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd
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17 thoughts on “Gulzar: Redefining Poetry and Purpose In Cinema

  • Debasish Bhattacharya

    My best favourite lyricist……. salam Gulzar Saáb….. humne dekhi hai in ankhon ki mehekti khushbu….only you can visualize and pen down like this Sir……

    Among my favourite lyrics penned by Gulzar Sa’ab:

    Mera kuchh saaman…tumhare paas para hai (Ijazat)

    Aaj ki raat charagon ki lau uNchi karlo…..Ho sake to dil ki aaga jal mein bharlo……….Andhere mein jwalna hoga…Aaj akele chalna hoga (Khamoshi 1969)……

    Kabhi chhote chhote shabnam ke qatre……..Dekhe to honge subah savere…..Ye nanhisi aNkhen jagi hai shab-bhar……Bahut kuchh hai dil mein, bas itna hai lab par…… from the song Kabhi pas baytho kisi phool ke pas….. ……Jahan pe sawera ho, basera wohi hai (Film: Basera) ….. Gulzar Saáb ka kalam, Pancham Da ka sur aur Lataji ki gayaki…. deadly combo

    Surmayee sham is tarah aye…. Sans lete hai jis tarah saye (Lekin) /
    Do naina aur ek kahani…..Thorasa badal, thorasa paani aur ek kahani (Masoom) /
    Koi hota jisko apna gham…….. (Mere Apne)

  • Irvind Saluja

    Gulzar sahibji is a man who make anyone visualize the depth of relationship thru his lyrics.. as he writes muhje jaan na kaho meri jaan and on the other he writes musafir hoon yaaron and then he says roz roz daali daali..and khoi hota jisko apna ghaam…
    Antara you have compiled it all so well…i like to read your illustrations again and again..

  • Antara

    Thank you so very much Irvind…. writing about these stalwarts is just so delightful, revisiting their films, their music and their passion for creativity gives me such joy and when that receives such wonderful support from you people, it really makes me feel the effort was all worth it.

    Thanks again!
    I would like your comments on the latest post on Basu Chatterji… Each rare picture used in the article opens in a separate page with one of the evergreen hit numbers from the same film… Please take a look

  • Jyoti

    There is a saying in Hindi… Khoon chakha sher baar baar laut ke aata hai. (Once a tiger tastes human blood, it keeps returning for more.)

    After reading about Sanjeev Kumar and Geeta Dutt, I could not resist looking through your list of articles to see if you have written about any other of my favorites… Gulzar, Sahir, Jagjit, Hrishikesh Mukherjee…

    I was not disappointed. 🙂

    I have no recollection of when I fell in love with Gulzar’s works. I did not even know it was his work when I would pick songs from the mix bag of songs Chitrahar, Rangoli or from the movies aired on DD, Zee, Sony. It was only as a teenager that I connected the dots. My guess is after Maachis.

    Then Marasim(Jagjit Singh’s album) followed. By this time I was already a die hard fan of Jagjit and was into reading Sahir and Majrooh’s works. I think I read Sahir’s non-filmy work for the sheer kick of reading something I knew none of my peers did. But Sahir’s work was so heavy… I had to constantly refer to dictionary and ask adults to explain. It felt like I was preparing for an exam.

    By this time, thanks to amma, I had had an ample doze of Gulzar as a director with Sanjeev Kumar movies… Koshish, Angoor, Parichay, Mausam, Aandhi… and in Hrikesh Mukherjee movies as a lyricist. But I never made the lyricist connection. It was always a Sanjeev Kumar song or a Kishore Kumar song or a RD Burman song. It was even a Hrikesh Mukherjee movie song but never a Gulzar song.

    Gulzar felt like a breath of fresh air. The ease in the language coupled with the unparalleled imagery. I was falling in love with words… his words. Then Zee TV struck the final blow. It aired Khamoshi. I think I was in 8th/9th std. I could not get over the movie. It clung to me like my own personal cloud moving with me wherever I went. With Khamoshi and Izaazat being aired on TV… for me Gulzar suddenly came out of fog like crepuscular rays. When I made the connection… I realized it was Gulzar all along. HM’s movies, RD music, KK’s voice… every song had Gulzar magic.

    I would have to replay Nida Fazli’s ghazals and make a note of the words on paper or Listen to Sahir’s words multiple times to grasp. Gulzar’s words needed no effort. They would transude and ensconce in my mind like they were long lost puppies finding their way back home. And the imagery. Uff! I don’t think I even have words to describe his imagery. Gila gila paani, dekhi hai mehekti khooshbu, Neela aasmaan so gaya, paani mein jalta charaag…

    Over time I made a point to read works of other poets. Internet made searching and reading easier. But my love for Gulzar’s words remained untainted with time.

    Like my friend likes to say… He is GOD. And I agree. 🙂

    1. admin

      Well… I am glad the tiger tasted blood on Learning and Creativity, that the stories the tiger stumbled upon had “meat” and it made the tiger hunt for more! 😀 What can be a bigger prize than this for the “meat”!!!

      I can only say, I agree 200% with everything you have said here – its like you are echoing the feelings and experiences I have had, much like what you wrote under the Geeta Dutt story. Talk about matching wavelengths!

      Gulzar’s songs had been part of everything we did – sharing our song diaries in the school bus, arguing over the meaning of nasheman as the bus took a sharp turn and all of us slid to one side, but with no let up in the debates. Gulzar’s movies were part of growing up, of understanding the deeper realities. I had heard lots of stories from my mother on the political turbulence of the 70s in Calcutta and Mere Apne took me closer to that. I had read Sarat Chandra since I was in Vth and Khushboo made me visualize why Sarat Chandra’s women characters stand apart from all the rest in courage and conviction. I had read Jotugriho and watched the classic Tapan Sinha film which had Uttam Kumar and Arundhati in the lead. But Ijaazat made me see it in a new light. Mausam, Parichay, Koshish, Namkeen, Aandhi, Kitaab – I have watched these films over and over again to the point of memorizing the whole script.

      I could not have expressed it better – I love the way you say “Gulzar felt like a breath of fresh air. The ease in the language coupled with the unparalleled imagery.” Absolutely! Following your comment, I have added a few favorite lines in the article. Gulzar’s poetry touches every corner of life. Tum pukar lo, tumhara intezaar hai or Woh shaam kuch ajeeb thhi – these songs are there still there in my diaries, the ink now smudged as I was in VIth std then and we used those bulky fountain pens.

      Zindagi phoolon ki nahin, phoolon ki tarah mehki rahe (how true!) and Logon ke ghar mein rehta hoon, kab apna koi ghar hoga (the dream of every middle class person), Apni tanhai ka auron se na shikwa karna, tum akele hi nahin ho sabhi akele hain, yeh akela safar nahin guzra … each line is heartfelt, true and eternal. Sahir’s angst has his own place, Majrooh’s lyricism his own, Shailendra’s simplicity is remarkable, but Gulzar stands apart from all of them for consistently making his pen talk to the listener directly.

      Your comment is so engaging, it should ideally be posted as an article in L&C, what say?
      Thank you for all the encouragement you are giving me Jyoti. Keep them coming please!!!


      1. Jyoti

        “Your comment is so engaging, it should ideally be posted as an article in L&C, what say?”

        LOL, What can I say? I am not as much a writer as much a reactor(I know there is no such noun to describe humans). But I find myself reacting to external stimulus. So my response was thanks to your post. Without it, as a stand alone piece, I doubt my comment would hold merit.

        Thanks so much for reading and replying with equal fervor. 🙂 It feels good to know that your comment was read. 🙂


    1. Jyoti

      Saratchandra Chatterjee.

      I had checked all your posts to see if there was one on him. Did I miss it? Now that you’ve mentioned his name… I cannot resist penning my thoughts about him.. somewhere, anywhere.

      Saratchandra Chatterjee and Bimal Mitra… the two authors that taught me to appreciate and accept human foibles like none of the other authors did.

      I never read the originals mind you. But then, I never realized Saratchandra or Bimal Mitra did not write in Hindi. Such were the stories, settings, characters. I had read the stories back to back, so pretty soon I could not distinguish between the plot of one story from another’s. Yet the plots had become irrelevant. The books were all about characters. Characters with flaws. Characters that had their imperfections celebrated by the author rather than brushed under the carpet. They had me wondering, why on earth would any author make the protagonist a lecher or a prostitute, or a megalomaniac. Now I know. These are the characters that have meat. Each character was fleshed out in words in such a way… they came alive and jumped out of the pages. They had me observing strangers around me to try and see if I could spot a character flaw. 😀 Were there other writers who may have done it before or after them… quite possibly. But I knew none of them.

      From the movie point of view… Saratchandra is THE Indian author to hold the distinction of having the his works made into the most number of movies and serials. 40… and still counting. And these are the direct makes based on the original works. There may be more movies, serials that have taken inspiration from him indirectly.

      Saratchandra Chatterjee, an author who ironically has one of his weaker works as the most celebrated of his works… that has been made into 16 movies.

      It’s been 25years since I’ve read those books… or a little more. It’s time to get my hands on them once more and relive the moments.

      1. admin


        You did laugh off my earlier suggestion of turning your comment into an article. But don’t laugh this one off please. This kind of writeup deserves more prominence in the website. With your permission I would like to post this as an article – in the Opinion and Movies section. I can add more details to it and relevant videos – but its got to be your article. All I need is a brief author bio from you and a picture. Please don’t say no. A “reactor” cannot write like this or express with such lucidity… This is a lovely piece and I suppose you won’t mind if I claim it for a post, would you? 🙂

        Now coming to Saratchandra and Bimal Mitra – two of my top authors. I have read Tagore and Sunil and others in Bengali literature and Tagore songs are an integral part of life, music and realisation. But when it comes to stories and novels – Saratchandra and Bimal Mitra are unsurpassed. I have seen my North Indian colleagues pick their Hindi translations from the office library and it made me very happy in a remote sort of way – because these stories and characters are just so familiar to me from my childhood, they are part of my being.

        I haven’t been able to write a detailed article Saratchandra so far (citing time constraints is the most lame excuse but thats what I can think of) but it surely is one that I mean to do someday – probably more than 1 post because a singular post is not enough. But references to Saratchandra have crept into my writings each time I have dealt on literature in cinema or on portrayal of women in films. For example, Sarat Chandra was a master in creating powerful women characters and by interpreting his works, Hindi cinema got some notable examples of women playing roles of substance, rather than simply shedding tears, and singing songs as they do in a typical hero-dominated run-of-the-mill potboiller.


        To do justice to Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novels that are famous for their strong and bold female characters, Suchitra Sen was the first choice – be it the quiet dignity of Achala in Grihadaha or the bold confidence of Bijoya in Dutta and Paro in Devdas or the title roles of Kamallata in Kamal Lata or Rajlakshmi in Rajlakshmi Srikanto – her personality and magnetic screen presence gave an added dimension to these powerful literary characters.

        As you have said eloquently, “Characters with flaws. Characters that had their imperfections celebrated by the author rather than brushed under the carpet.” I was once asked at by an interviewer at Penguin about my favorite male character of Saratchandra. I said, Satish of Charitraheen and Suresh of Grihadaha. The interviewer was surprised. “Not Srikant?” she asked, she had probably expected the staple answer. No, because the courage of Satish, the impulsiveness of Suresh, which is more human, more masculine, appeal to me more than the cold aloofness of Srikant, I said. She said, “Hmmmm” 😀

        I agree with you Saratchandra has had the most lasting influence on cinema, among all Indian authors I guess. Some, as you rightly pointed out, adapted his works for movies and TV, others drew influences – Pyaasa being one of the biggest examples – an unmistakable influence of Devdas. I had once asked Sanjay Leela Bhansali at the IFFI on why he was making Devdas, which the today’s “yeh nahin to aur sahi” generation may not be able to identify with. He said, no such fear, anyone who is in love will empathise with Devdas. The appeal is universal.

        Bimal Mitra similarly has been widely adapted in cinema. I remember the wonderful TV serial “Mujrim Hazir” which was Nutan’s swan song. Thank you for giving me more story ideas.

        Please give me the go ahead for the article. And send your picture and author bio asap. 🙂


        1. Jyoti

          Ha ha ha…

          Do you know, when I took home the book Charitraheen from the library, the serial Shrikant and Charitraheen were already aired on TV… remember… Rama vij and Farooq Sheik Shrikant?

          I had already read Shrikant by then unknown to amma. She saw me reading Charitraheen and looked surprised. Finally when I was done with the book, she asked me what I thought… I remember saying… Why on earth did he name the book Charitraheen (Characterless). There is so much character in his book as well as his characters, he should have named it “Full of character”. Amma laughed and said… probably cause there is no word for “full of character” and said silly charitraheen means shameless.

          I was like … whatever.

          Your comment about Satish made me remember this conversation.

          God… I really do want to read the books now.

          1. admin

            I had asked the same question to my mother and she had laughed and said, Sarat Chandra himself was once asked by someone “You have named the novel Charitraheen. But all the characters are charitravaan. So who is charitraheen?” Sarat Chandra had reportedly said, with all his characteristic sarcasm that the person who reads it is charitraheen! The aghast reader had asked what do you mean and the reply he got was, if you pick up a book with such a title, it doesnt show much about your character, does it!!! Ha ha! I don’t know if my mom was joking, but one thing I do know is that Sarat Chandra had a cryptic sense of humor which comes through in his novels and characters and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had actually said so. Vishnu Prabhakar’s biography of Sarat Chandra Awara Masiha (in Hindi) is one of the best biographies I have read.

            When in the IXth std I wanted to read Charitraheen as I was deeply into Sarat Chandra then, my mother said no. I asked if it was a kind of novel that I shouldn’t read it at my age sort of thing. She said, its not that. You will not understand it now. I took her word and kept it away. I read it when I was in IXth though my mother had repeated what she had said earlier. After I read it, I realised she was right. When in college I read it again, this time it was clearer. The intensive discussions and debates I had with my parents over the characters were actually the eye-openers. The TV serial helped but it had very tacky production values. I remember the Abhaya-Srikanto serial which had Farouque Sheikh. There was another on Shesh Prashna.

            Bengali literature provided enough reading material so I did not venture outside much. Subodh Ghosh (who is also among the most filmed authors – sample Ijaazat, Chitchor, Sujata, Ritwick Ghatak’s Ajantrik) – is also one of my favorite authors. But Sarat Chandra rules above all. I am feeling extremely encouraged by your comments and I am definitely going to write one on adaptation of Sarat Chandra in cinema. Let’s see when 🙂 Thanks for the mega boost!


  • Jyoti


    I don’t know what to say to you about putting that comment as a post. If you think it’ll fit in, then please go ahead. I’d feel honored.

    Coming to other authors, I have not read any other Bengali author. Maybe a stray story or two of Tagore. But no other. I had read Premchand and Mohan Rakesh. I remember feeling so depressed reading Premchand. He was all about realistic portrayals and situations. It was not about the characters but their station and unique situation in life. Jay Shankar Prasad’s characters were on the other hand, if I remember right… larger than life.

    So Sarathchandra and Bimal Mitra were the only ones who made me empathize with their characters. I agree… one post will not suffice. 🙂 Looking forward to your well researched posts in future. 🙂

    1. admin

      Thanks for giving the thumbs up! Unless you give me your picture, I am going to pluck from Facebook (Jai ho FB ka). So you’d better send me the picture and bio asap.

      Completely agree with you “Sarathchandra and Bimal Mitra were the only ones who made me empathize with their characters.” They are so finely etched that you feel you have known them for a long time. Another favorite male character of Sarat Chandra is Ramesh of Palli Samaj (possibly Gramin Samaj in Hindi translation). He is strong yet vulnerable, intelligent yet innocent, courageous, romantic, big hearted and also childlike. The novel makes you detest the superstitions, the class and caste-consciousness, the rigidity and cruel mean-mindedness of the rural society and that precisely was the objective of the writer.

      Datta (Vijaya in Hindi translation) is another favourite novel – light, romantic and yet serious. The characters are just so adorable. I suppose, the 1961 Telugu film Vagdanam by Acharya Atreya is loosely based on Datta.

      Once I do my story on Sarat Chandra I would need your inputs too 🙂


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