Gulzar is always looking for the right ‘lafz’

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  1. Author
    sputnik 4 years ago

    Excellent Interview from Gulzar as usual. Loved the following bits.

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    (Smiles) Well, this is a story that has become a part of my life now. Let me say that discovering Tagore was the turning point of my life. When my family moved to Delhi after Partition, I started working in a small shop that had a small lantern and a chimney. There was a small bookshop nearby—from where I used to borrow jasoosi (detective) novels for four annas.

    The man who owned the library got fed up with me because I used to read a book a day. One day, he asked me tersely, “Kitni kitaab padh lega? (How many books will you read?)” I said, as many as you have in your shop. So he gave me a dusty, old, thick copy of Tagore’s Gardener. He must have thought I wouldn’t understand this and I especially wouldn’t be able to finish it off in one day. The moment I started reading Tagore’s poems, woh kahin mujhe lag gayi (they touched me) and I never returned that book. So yes, Tagore made me a thief.

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    For someone who has such an enviable body of work, how do you keep yourself motivated? How do you choose your projects?

    Issi liye toh filmein banani chhod di (This is the reason I stopped making films). There are so many books in my head. See, I don’t have unlimited years. I rely on my conviction and devotion to pursue whatever I’m passionate about. When you find something that makes you feel that only you can do it and nobody else, then you automatically want to do it. Like, now I want to translate the works of the Bangladeshi poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and write a play on the Bangladeshi leader Mujibur Rahman. I recently travelled to Bangladesh to collect material on both these personalities. Now this will keep me going.

    And you write every day?

    Yes. Every day I’m in my study. I write. I read. I research. You have to. Lafz dhoondne ke liye kaam toh roz karna padta hai (one has to work hard in order to find the right words).

    “It’s like Munshi Premchand’s short story Idgah. I read it when I was a child and there was this imagery of Hamid’s dadi’s hands getting burnt as she made rotis. My mother used to make rotis in the tandoor and she also had marks on her arm. When I read the story to my father, he got tears in his eyes and he said, “Jao maa ko sunao (read it to your mother)”. She also was touched. I realized that one story touched all three of us.

    And then that imagery came in ‘Chappa Chappa Charkha Chale (Lohe ke chimte se lipte ko mara tha)’ from ‘Maachis’.

    Yes. As I grew up, my view of Idgah changed from a human perspective to a social one. Reacting to that short story was the first step but learning has to be at all levels. Like I enjoyed Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s stories because of the way he etched relationships in a family set-up. In similar vein, take the story of Cinderella—it affects children even now because of the emotions it evokes of having a stepmother. Like in Masoom.

    You reminded me of Lakdi Ki Kathi…. You know (director) Shekhar Kapur was not happy with the song. Shekhar was adamant on adding a line, “Bibiji tea pee ke aayi”. I didn’t agree and left the song midway. Shabana (Azmi) fired him and told him, “Bachchon ke gaanon pe kabhi Gulzar se panga mat lena (don’t ever mess with Gulzar when it comes to children’s songs).”

    Famous words by Shabana Azmi, considering that even after 23 years ‘Chaddi Pehen Ke Phool Khila Hai’ is a rage all over again with the release of ‘The Jungle Book’. How did you come up with this expression?

    The National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) was making the TV show on The Jungle Book and Jaya Bachchan (chairperson of the Children’s Film Society, India, at the time) asked me to write a song for it. I had met Vishal (Bhardwaj) in Delhi and saw real talent in him. He had moved to Mumbai and this was the first project we worked on. Vishal played some tunes for me, one of which clicked, and I immediately wrote the lines: “Jungle jungle baat chali hai.. pata chala hai.. chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai.” There was a gentleman called Ravi Malik who was at NFDC. When he read the lyrics, he freaked out.

    He came cribbing to me. I asked him problem kya hai? Tumhare office mein kaun chaddi nahi pehenta? (who doesn’t wear underwear in your office?)” (Laughs). He didn’t relent. As a last-ditch attempt to compromise, he asked if he could make it lungi pehen kar. I left the song. Jaya got to know, she called me back. We finished the song and it became a rage. But Malik saab was still grumpy. He didn’t pay Vishal and again came complaining to me that he didn’t understand how I could use this imagery. So I told him that, “Poori story mein Mowgli ne kya pehna hai? (What has Mowgli worn in the story?)” He’s like a flower that blooms in front of all the animals. That is Mowgli’s image. Chaddi was not irrelevant. But the song gave me a peculiar intro. Women with kids in their arms used to come to me and say, “Beta yeh dekho chaddi waale uncle hain.. Inhe hello bolo (This is the chaddi waale uncle, say hello to him).” (Chuckles).

    What’s your magic formula for writing songs for children?
    There’s no formula. It’s quite simple really. Children like to play with a song. It has to be as easy and engaging for them as if they are playing with a ball. I wasn’t trying to philosophize in Lakdi Ki Kathi. It was just instinct. Children like to own the song and then express it as their own. Like, Aao Bachchon Tumhe Dikhayen is also a song for children, but you can’t play with it. The cleverness of Masoom was not in the songs but in the screenplay.

    Can you elaborate?

    In the opening scene, when that puppy comes and he topples the photo frame, the scene that followed showed the attitude of everyone. All the characters were in front of you in just one scene. That was the cleverness.

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    Now I’m also reminded of Ijaazat, when the married couple meet as strangers and she asks him, “Wahin rehte ho?” And he replies, “Wahin pe hoon.. Lekin sab kuch wahin nahi hai.” They come from life and following the characters and their emotional road maps. In Ijaazat, even though they meet after so many years, she can’t stop herself from folding his clothes and keeping them properly in his suitcase. The concern remains even after the distance.

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    So if you were to remake ‘Masoom’, it would be a different story altogether?

    Yes, it won’t be the same because the woman has changed. She might not object to the child because pre-marital relationships are no longer frowned upon. She might even laugh about it with her husband and rib him that you told me about all your ex-es but not about her. The attitude of the conversation will change. She might say we decided to have only two children and now you have another son; I hope there won’t be a fourth one now. To this, he can quip, “Mera koi chance nahin hai.. Tumhara hai toh bata do (there isn’t a chance of that. If there is for you, tell me).” This could be a new and interesting take on a modern relationship.

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    You have etched many memorable characters. Which ones are your favourites?

    Rekha and Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) in Ijaazat. You can see how Rekha’s walk changes after her marriage. Utpal Dutt was brilliant in Libaas (the film hasn’t been released). And how can I forget Sanjeev Kumar in Angoor? The way he says, “Mujhe nanga dekha hai aapne (you’ve seen me naked)” in one of the scenes, only he could do it. Sanjeev and Pancham (R.D. Burman) were the anchors of my films. They would do anything I asked of them.

    What can you tell us about the forthcoming film ‘Mirziya’? How did director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra convince you to write the script?

    For now, I can only tell you that Mirziya is aaj ka (today’s) romance, with an echo of the past. Rakeysh is so involved in each and every line that sar khaa jaata hai (he eats your head). His favourite question is, “But why would he say this?” To which I say, “That’s because this is his nature.” You have to explain again and again to him. Then he agrees.

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    Have you ever been asked to change a word or a line?

    I’m supposed to give options. At times I have to tell the composer what the word means. Like when we were working on The Hundred-Foot Journey, A.R. Rahman was in Los Angeles, I was in Mumbai and the film was being shot in France. We were discussing a song on Skype and Rahman suggested some dummy lines and said we need something like “sanam” here. I told him to stop using that word. He got tense and asked if it has a bad meaning. I said it has the worst meaning. You see, there are certain words, which are clichés, some are bad clichés and some are obnoxious clichés. According to me, sanam is an obnoxious cliché and should never be used again.

    Do you ever get upset when people don’t get your words?

    I left a film because the director didn’t understand the meaning of the word zardi (the colour of yolk) and wanted to change it to haldi (turmeric). I also can’t make songs with hook lines. A star once came to me with a hook line and told me to write a song around it; I had to tell him to leave my office. For the song in Lekin…, Joothe Naina Bole Sachchi Batiyaan, a journalist wrote a big article that Ashaji (Bhosle) has pronounced the words wrong and how can Gulzar let it go? I was asked to clarify. The person didn’t understand the expression. It was not jhoote , but joothe which means something that others have tasted.

    As the tolerant-intolerant, national-anti-national debate continues in the country, do you think writers and film-makers can be political?

    These days people are afraid. People are oversensitive. People are scared to say anything because nobody wants to get into a controversy. In Bunty Aur Babli, we used the word “Oye Ramchandra” in a song. Earlier, we used to have a common character called Ramu Chacha in our films. But these days you can’t.

  2. aryan 4 years ago

    Excellent interview.

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