Triumph of the Will: Gulzar on Meghna Gulzar

It was once-in-a-blue-moon moment. At the 64th Filmfare Awards ceremony, a daughter and father – Meghna Gulzar and Gulzar – bagged the trophies for Best Director and Best Lyricist respectively for a film which reflected their avowed belief in let’s make peace, not war.

Last year,the film, Raazi, which appealed to the masses as well as the mandarins, had entered the Rs 195 crore-plus earning bracket. At the avidly-monitored awards event, it won the trophies for Best Film and the Best Actor (Female) as well.

The next morning, Meghna – fondly called Bosky – caught the first flight out to New Delhi to commence the shoot of Chhapaak featuring Deepika Padukone as the real-life acid survivor Laxmi Agarwal. And Gulzar returned to his desk at his home-cum-office Boskiyana, a landmark since decades at Pali Hill, Bandra.

In the company of sheafs of paper and pyramid-high stacks of books – slim and voluminous – the stalwart 84-year-old writer-lyricist-poet-director was in the midst of jotting notes when The Quint stepped in to ask him of that Big Moment and some more.

Gulzar in his study.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Could you describe the moment?

It was so, so fulfilling. I can’t describe the gamut of feelings I went through. Let me just say, that within me there was a certain mayusi (sorrow).

"I couldn’t give my child a springboard for what she wished to do -- although I’ve been in the film industry for almost half a century. Bosky went through the grind, anchoring shows, journalism, making documentaries and videos, assisting director Saeed Akhtar Mirza." - Gulzar

It was a struggle for her. As a father, now I feel ten-feet tall that she has found her own way, on her own terms. That evening, I told myself if she isn’t awarded, rewarded... (pauses) I can’t find the right word... I would have been disappointed. If she hadn’t achieved what she has on the dint of her own merit, I would have cursed myself for the rest of my life, or whatever there’s left of it. Ek bojh sa tha (there was a kind of burden), which has been lifted. Although I tried to keep my composure at the function, there were tears in my eyes.

Meghna Gulzar as a child.

Do you cry easily?

Quite easily, I’m not a strong man.

Clearly, from the outset Meghna has wished to evolve a distinct identity of her own.

The struggle was way more intense for her than it was ever for me.

"After the Filmfare evening ended, she asked me, “Are you happy now dad? Are you relieved? Now please stop worrying about me.” "

I think Talvar (2015) onwards, she found the right pagdandi, the right path. By following this path, Raazi turned out of to be one of the very few films which has talked of Indo-Pakistani relations in the right perspective, a dignified one if I may say so. At the end of the film, the girl tells her mother that she will give birth to her child, no matter what had happened. Humaneness comes above politics.

Did the whopper commercial success of Raazi surprise Meghna?

You’ll have to address that question to her. The positive outcome of what you call ‘commercial success’ is that Bosky can now make the kind of films she wants to.

During my time, the film industry wasn’t as diverse as it is today. For me to move on from being an assistant to Bimal Roy and then to lyricist, writer and director was relatively smooth.

Gulzar with a young Meghna.

Why haven’t you directed a film ever since Hu Tu Tu (1999)?

For two reasons. One, the final censored print Of Hu Tu Tu which was released wasn’t mine. It had been re-edited by the producer (Dhirubhai Shah) for reasons best known to him. The audience never saw the Director’s Cut. A director has to control the reins, or the final product will be riddled with defects.

Second reason, there are at least a hundred books in the corridors of my mind. There has been a churning within me to narrate these stories. But as you know, books don’t get you your rozi roti. So, to earn my daily bread I continued to write film lyrics with Vishal Bhardwaj which marked another phase after my collaborations with R.D. Burman. Besides Vishal, I’ve written lyrics consistently for Shaad Ali.

"Currently, I’m compiling a collection – A Poem a Day – which I have translated into Hindustani. The poems are by 270 poets in 32 different Indian languages, spanning the time frame from 1947 to today. "

There will be an English version as well. It’s been a daunting job but it had to be done. The vast treasury of Indian poetry has been neglected for far too long.

Was there any inspiration point for your award-winning lyrics from Raazi – Ae Watan?

The script of Raazi was the guideline. If there was an inspiration point, there were these lines from Allama Iqbal’s beautiful poem – Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamanna meri/ Zindagi shama ki surat ho Khudaya meri (My longing comes to my lips as a supplication of mine/ O God! May like the beauty of the candle flame be the life of mine). I worked towards making Ae Watan a universal statement, its underlying text appeals for patriotism and peace, a text which is universal, applicable to all countries.

"There’s a sense of satisfaction because like the song ‘Hum Ko Mann Ki Shakti Dena’ from Guddi (1971), which is used as a morning prayer song in schools, ‘Ae Watan’ is also being sung now, I’m told, in schools in Bhopal."

Is Meghna a hard taskmaster when it comes to the lyrics you’ve written for her films?

That she is, asking for a change of word or phrase which she disagrees with.

Could you talk of Raakhee-ji in the evolution of Meghna?

There you go again. Shouldn’t that question be addressed to Raakhee? I’m incapable of summarising – quite justly -- the indispensable role she has played in our lives. She is there for us every moment, pampering us, speaking her mind and bullying us, in her extraordinary way. She is and always will be the binding force of our family.

Rakhee Gulzar.

Lastly, here’s a broad question. Why is the refined quality of yesteryear’s film lyrics fast-vanishing?

Tell me, where are those kind of films being made nowadays? A lyric has to match the situation in the script. Given the situation in Omkara (2006), for which I wrote Bidi jalaiyle, could I have possibly conceived something on the lines Dil-e-naadan Tujhe Hua Kya Hai? Similarly Goli Maar Bheje was written to match the situation in Satya (1998), and Kajra Re for Bunty aur Babli (2005).

"Neither poetry nor lyrics – or any art form -- can remain static. They have to move with the times. "

After all, you can’t be a 19th century man, riding in a tonga, in the 21st century. Mentally and therefore, creatively, a writer has to be in touch with the times. You can’t wallow in nostalgia beyond a point.

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