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87th birthday interview: “If the stars suit your project, it is okay to cast them. If not, it’s like making way for your own doom” GULZAR tells JYOTHI VENKATESH

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Today is the legendary lyricist-director Gulzar’s 87th birthday. Not many are aware of the fact that Sampuran Singh Kalra, a motor car mechanic who had migrated from Pakistan and looking for a chance to write lyrics is the Gulzar of today.

We wish him a happy 87th birthday, we reproduce this rare interview of GULZAR by JYOTHI VENKATESH taken sixteen years back in 2005 during the release of the music album of Amol Palekar’s film Paheli where he takes time to talk about himself and his body of work.

In a career spanning six decades ever since he had made his debut as a lyricist with the film Kabuliwala way back in 1961, Gulzar has proved his versatility not only as a lyricist but also as a writer and director.

To his credit he has seventeen films as a director right from Mere Apne with which he had made his bow in 1971.

To pay a tribute to Gulzar, Sa Re Ga Ma had even come up with Collector’s Edition 4 CD albums of his songs with the title Mera Kuchh Samaan. Gulzar quips, “As far as the album is concerned, I am neither the compiler nor the seller. It is Sa Re Ga Ma’s choice.”

Excerpts from an interview with the living legend

What is your approach as a lyricist?

I work instinctively. I do not think I should, as a lyricist, set out to analyze and then write a song.

As far as my lyrics in Paheli are concerned, I had to be traditional because of the background of the Rajasthan that the film was based on.

Unless and until the script is ready, I do not agree to write the lyrics for any film. It was a pleasure to work, discuss and write the lyrics for Amol Palekar’s Paheli for the simple reason that Amol is aware of literature as well and folklore.

I had come up with a book of poems earlier and it was Amol who had painted for the cover of the book. 95% of the time, I write the lyrics only after the tune is ready.

Is it true that besides films, you are a keen fan of sports too?

I feel that films aren’t the be all and end all of my life. I am of the opinion that there are bigger contributions to society by people who are not necessarily from the film industry.

Not many are aware that I have a great fascination for sports. I have been a tennis player. Earlier I actually wanted to play badminton.

How was it working with your own daughter?

Meghna had worked with me in Hu Tu Tu while I had worked with her in Filhaal. She did not want to discuss the script when she was working on the script of Filhaal with me.

She had assisted me when I was directing Hu Tu Tu, in direction, screenplay as well as post production.

She had been chief assistant to Saeed Mirza in Naseem. When she didn’t like it, she had even rejected my lyrics as well as Anu Malik’s tune too for Filhaal and both Anu and I had no other alternative but to come up with another song.

Gulzar

Is it true that Vishal Bharadwaj too, like your daughter Meghna, had rejected your lyrics?

Vishal was confident as a music director even when he was composing for Machchis, his very first film.

When you work as a creative team, there shouldn’t be any clash of ego. You even discuss a dish for a party, which you want to throw.

Like my daughter Meghna, even Vishal Bharadwaj has rejected my lyrics when he felt that it didn’t suit his film.

It is what I call ‘a part and parcel’ of all creative work. A song should never be looked upon in isolation. It remains to be seen whether it suits the situation or not.

Gulzar

What is your opinion as far as remixes are concerned?

I am of the opinion that remixes are nothing but pollution. It is criminal. It is worse than piracy.

You cannot add words to Mirza Ghalib because you want to cater to the audience of today.

You decipher old history through fine arts. You cannot start polluting fine arts under the pretext of modernizing like repainting Ajanta or Ellora.

However there is no harm if you can get inspired to create your own piece of work. All that I can say is that please don’t tamper with the original. I still wonder why the Copyright act does not apply when it comes to remix albums.

Gulzar

How do you constantly change yourself by re-inventing yourself?

If one is aware of oneself, the society, the changing times and one’s fellow human beings and is creative, one can just not lag behind, even if one wants to.

Your expressions have got to change. You just cannot say I will sit with a hookah and bidi.

Unless and until one draws one’s horizons and closes it, one remains stagnant. Yashji is one person who is aware emotionally, mentally and a maker who knows how to connect with even the younger generation.

Either you deny the change or adapt to it. However I do not think I can make a film like Bunty Aur Babbli. How can language not change, if film, society and food can change?

I cannot put Ghalib’s Dil-E-Naadan in today’s songs. Can I? I cannot put Lucknow’s Urdu in Paheli, which has the essence of Rajasthan.

Gulzar

You started your career as a director with Salil Chowdhary and not R.D. Burman as the music director!

I began my career as a lyricist with the song Ganga Aaye Kahan Se sung by Hemant Kumar and composed by Salil Chowdhary way back in 1961 for the film Kabuliwala.

I remember having been paid a princely remuneration of Rs 300 for writing the song Mora Gora Ang Laile in Bandini composed by S.D. Burman and sung by Lata Mangeshkar in 1963.

Though in 1971, I wanted R.D. Burman to compose the music for my debut film as a director-Mere Apne, my producer insisted on going in for Salilda and I had no choice.

It was only in 1972 that R.D. Burman composed my songs like Musafir Hoon Yaaro (sung by Kishore Kumar), Mitwa Bole Meethe Bol (Bhupendra), Beeti Na Bitai Raina (sung by Bhupendra and Lata Mangeshkar) and Saare Ke Saare Gaama Ko Lekar (sung by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle) all for the film Parichay.

Why have you not directed any film for the past one or two decades?

Today I cannot write a passage like say Dom Moraes. I have to learn from Dilip Chitre. I think it is better to be with those great masters than keep on hankering after star dates for your film.

There is no denial of the star system today but I feel that it isn’t compulsory to cast stars in your film.

If the stars suit your project, it is okay to cast tem. If not, it’s like casting them as well as your doom.

It is the script, which has to decide the casting. If you have anything to offer, no star will misbehave with you. After all they too are human. It is up to the director to extract work from the star.

Though people used to say that Nana Patekar is a temperamental actor, he was good to me when I directed him on the sets of Hu Tu Tu.

What is your first love- writing, music or direction?

I do not just wish to remember only my first love. I continue with all my ‘affairs’. (Smiles)

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