Gulzar is a man of multiple identities. He is a poet, a short story writer, a scenarist and a dialogue writer. He also writes literature for children. However, in the collective consciousness of the nation, Gulzar is, above all, a filmmaker and lyricist.
Gulzar is one of Hindi cinema's last surviving links with its golden era. What makes him truly special is that he has managed to move with the times without moving away from his poetic moorings.
Despite being an integral part of big, bad Bollywood, Gulzar soars above its messy mediocrity. His immense popularity, which hasn't come at the cost of pandering to the lowest common denominator, rests primarily on the 17 feature films that he has directed and the countless lyrics that he has penned in a career spanning over four eventful decades.
Echoes & Eloquences is as much a critical appraisal of his cinematic output as it is a biography. It is an attempt to place his films and the fictional worlds they project in the context of his life and times. Gulzar's films aren't autobiographical in the least, but each of the cinematic narratives he has crafted with rare skill and diligence since debuting with the trend setting Mere Apne in 1971 reflects a bit of his unique personality and his worldview.
About the Book
Whether he is conjuring up exquisite lyrics, authoring delectable screenplays or directing profoundly moving celluloid odes, Gulzar, peerless poet, sensitive writer and outstanding filmmaker, is a consummate master of his craft. The world that the man behind the genius inhabits is an magical as his inimitable creative output. This book is more than a mere record of a life lived and a career pursued because a simple biography cannot do justice to the range and depth of Gulzar's labours of love in the fields of literature and cinema. It represents an attempt to grasp some of the truths, values, influences and artistic cornerstones that constitute the vision of a colossus who remains one of Mumbai cinema's last active links with its golden era.
About the Author
A senior editor with the Indian Express, Saibal Chatterjee is a New Delhi based film and media critic who has worked on the staff of leading Indian publications like The Telegraph, The Times of India, Outlook newsweekly and the website of the Hindustan times. In a career spaning over two decades, he has covered entertainment related events and film festivals in different parts of the world and tracked Indian and international cinema with a critical eye. In 2003, he won the President's Gold Medal for the Best Film Critic. He served as a key member of the editorial board of Encyclopaedia Britannica's Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema.
The genesis of this book on the life and cinema of the inimitable Gulzar goes back all the way to the mid 1980s. I had only just begun reviewing commercial Hindi and mainstream Hollywood films for the newly launched Kolkata newspaper, The Telegraph. Like most Indians, I had grown up on a staple diet of Hindi movies, but as a youthful cineaste in a film crazy city, my heart lay elsewhere. I had a special fondness for the likes of Satyajit Ray, heart lay elsewhere. I had a special fondness for the likes of Satyajit Ray, Yilmaz Guney, Miklos Jancso, Akira Kurosawa, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ken Russell and of course, Ingmar Bergman. This list of my favourite filmmakers and a name that did not at first glance quite seem to fit in - Gulzar.
He was one of the few contemporary Mumbai writer directors whose films I could never tire of watching. In my mind, he belonged right up there with the very best although I was acutely aware that Gulzar made his films more with his heart than with his head. The term 'celluloid poets' is often used rather loosely for filmmakers of all kinds, some deserving and some not so deserving. Gulzar was first a poet and only then a filmmaker - that is what set his cinema, crafted within Mumabi's commercial domain, apart. I knew back then that he and his work would constitute the subject if I ever got down to writing a full-fledged book on a Mumbai film industry personality.
So here it is: a book that began to materialize many years later in the wake of a rather casual, tentative conversation at a party in New Delhi. Having wrapped up our principal work on Encyclopaedia Britannica's volume on Hindi cinema- a book jointly edited by Gulzar, Govind Nihalani and this writer - we were celebrating the completion of a rewarding project. I broached the subject: would Gulzarsaab be interested in subjecting himself and his work to a critical appraisal? He gave no clear indication of a commitment at that point beyond what I, in my enthusiasm, interpreted as a faint glint of acquiescence in his eyes. But soon enough, one thing led to another and the book took shape, as if driven to fruition by some unseen force. Even as I was in the process of interviewing Gulzar, his friends and professional associates, those close to him wondered often aloud how on earth he had agreed to let me write a book on him. He had, in the past, apparently turned down countless similar requests from members of my tribe.
The whole world knows that Gulzar has a way with words. He is a wonderful conversationalist, a great raconteur. But drawing him out of his shell isn't always easy. He does not wear his heart on the sleeves of his starched, blemishless white kurta. He isn't particularly comfortable sharing his emotions with non-intimates. He exchanges ideas freely, but not sentiments. In fact, my feeling is that he writes poetry to shield his deepest thoughts from unwanted probes although the lines that he lucidly conjures up express his beliefs and ideas with amazing eloquence. His films are in a way similar - though they certainly do not contain any autobiographical elements, there is nothing in them that exists without a clear reason. Every situation, every character, every dialogues and every twist in the narrative that he scripts reflects Gulzar's personality and worldview.
One of the earliest films that I reviewed as a professional critic was Ijaazat. I loved the bewitching lyricism of Gulzar's storytelling and his completely non-judgmental approach to the making and unmaking of human relationships. In my review, I was unabashedly effusive in my admiration for the film. My then cinema editor, a widely respected critic, film society activist and film director, felt I had gone a tad overboard. He said that the kind of praise I had heaped on Ijaazat would have been more in order for a Kurosawa film. Indeed, Gulzar wasn't, isn't and never will be a Kurosawa. But what he is - a sensitive poet and an honest artist in an industry that is driven primarily by the profit motive - is good enough. It was good enough when he started out in the 1970s, a decade that saw him craft a flurry of successful films. It is good enough even in the new millennium, when he finds himself languishing somewhat on the fingers of the industry, struggling to raise funds for his next film.
To be honest, in purely cinematic terms, Gulzar has never been a path breaker as a filmmaker. He has instead at best been an unwaveringly efficient standard bearer of a school of filmmaking that he was intiated into by the legendary Bimal Roy. Although his early screenplays for Hrishikesh Mukherjee are regarded to this day as the finest in the annals of popular Hindi cinema, Gulzar's own films haven't exactly spawned imitations nor have they rewritten the ground rules of Hindi cinema. They have existed on the periphery of the industry. The reason probably is that Gulzar is really one of a kind, a man whose creative output cannot be imitated by the less gifted. His films, like his poetry, have sprung from a sensibility that is innately unique. It is a sensibility that isn't consciously cultivated. It is purely germane to his personality.
Gulzar has, however, never failed to play the role of an effective creative mentor to first time filmmakers, having written the screenplays for nearly a score of remarkable debut efforts. Among the filmmakers whose first films Gulzar wrote are the likes of Ramesh Sippy, Shekhar Kapur and Prakash Jha. He will always be counted among the most loved writer directions the Mumbai film industry has produced. His importance stems from the integrity of his work: Gulzar has stuck to his artistic credo in the face of ever mounting odds.
Gulzar has several identities: poet, short story writer, creator of children's literature and an outstanding screenplay and dialogue writer. But in the collective consciousness of the nation, he is, above all, a filmmaker and lyricist. His popularity rests primarily on the seventeen feature numbers which he has adorned with words in a career spaning over four eventful decades.
This book is as much a critical appraisal of his cinematic output as it is a biography. It is an attempt to place his films and the fictional worlds that they project in the context of his life and times. Gulzar, as has already been stressed, has never allowed his films to be autobiographical in the least, but each of the features he has made since debuting with Mere Apne in 1971 reflects a bit of him and the value system that his life stands on.
Gulzar's significance as a filmmaker stems from the singularity of his vision. In a movie industry that is propelled largely by the desire for making a box office killing, he dares to make films for the love of making them. He tells stories because he has tangible insights to share with his audience. He writes lyrics because he is a poet forever keen to give free rein to his imagination. Moreover, in an industry that does not encourage filmmakers to use the medium to express their inner feelings and ideas- popular Hindi cinema is a vehicle of formulaic, simplistic stories of love and heroism, good and evil, sacrifice and avarice- he dares to use his tools to articulate his humanist vision and his inner self.
Importantly, Gulzar is also one of the Mumbai film industry's last surviving links with the golden era of Hindi cinema. He carries within his artistic persona the seeds that were sown by mentor Bimal Roy, under whose benevolent and enlightened tutelage he learnt the ropes of the trade and craft that have made him a creative force to reckon with.
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