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How A Car Spray Painter Turned In To Gulzar

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I have always considered myself very lucky and fortunate to have known some of the greatest and most talented personalities in the industry and Gulzar, the poet, lyricist and filmmaker is certainly one of them. There were times when I made it a point to visit him and spend quality time with him and I was the first to know about all the extraordinary steps he has taken during the last fifty years. He gave me the privilege of knowing things about him that very few must be privileged to know. I have not been in touch with him ever since an unexpected jolt he gave me one evening, but that doesn’t take away the things he has let me know about himself which I can and will remember for all my life. Here are some of the truths about his life and career as I have known them…

  • He was born Sampurnanand Singh in a middle class family in Dina which is a place now in Pakistan.
  • He wrote poetry in Urdu even when he was in school and it was this passion for poetry that brought him to Bombay where he could not find work for quite some time and finally had to take up a job as a spray painter of cars in a garage in Bandra. He used to live in one of the low income chawls in Four Bungalows in a suburb called Andheri and shared with others.
  • Bimal Roy was making ‘Sujata’ with Sunil Dutt and Nutan. He had his own favourite team to take care of the music of the film, Shailendra as the lyricist and S.D Burman as the music director. Bimal Roy had to record a song in the voice of Lata Mangeshkar urgently, but it was at this very time that Shailendra was out of Bombay and there was no way of getting him to come back and write a song. Bimalda was a disturbed man and could not find an alternative. He told his old friend S.D Burman about his problem. The renowned composer used to take his car for routine checkups at a garage. It was while he was waiting for the work on his car to get over that someone at the garage told him about Sampurnanand Singh who he said was a good poet who was looking for a break in Hindi films. Burmanda called for Singh and asked him to recite some of his poetry and Burmanda was very impressed. He asked Singh to come to Bimalda’s office the next morning and in the meanwhile he had told Bimalda about the young poet he had met and called to the office. Sampurnanand Singh went to Bimalda’s office as was planned and Bimalda together with Bimal Roy heard Singh recite some of his poems and they liked all of them. He was asked to write a song which was to be picturised on Nutan who was describing her joy about meeting the love of her life. Singh wrote some lines and showed them to the two great men. They found the lines to be very good and decided that they would record the song as a trial. Shailendra came back and they had a meeting and it was Shailendra who suggested that the song written by Singh be retained and the song was recorded in time for it to be picturised. The song was the immortal song, ‘Mora gora rang lai le, tohe shyam rang dai de’ and it marked the entry of Singh as a lyricist and he decided to change his name to the pseudonym Gulzar which he used when he wrote poetry.
  • Gulzar brought in a fresh breeze of poetry into Hindi films, especially in the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee who was his senior when Bimalda asked him to join his unit as an assistant director. He also wrote dialogue for Hrishida’s films.
  • Gulzar picked up the ways of making films fast and he was soon ready to direct his first film, ‘Mere Apne’ which was inspired by the well-known Bengali filmmaker Tapan Sinha’s ‘Apun Jaan’. The film with Meena Kumari, appearing as a lonely grandmother, working perhaps for the last time and with a number of new actors mostly from the FTII was a commercial and critically acclaimed success which made Gulzar a name to watch out for.
  • And he never let himself down during the next thirty-five years that he made films, memorable films like ‘Achanak’, ‘Koshish’, ‘Khushboo’, ‘Parichay’, ‘Lekin’, ‘Ijaazat’, ‘Meera’, ‘Maachis’ and ‘Hu Tu Tu’ among others, all of them highly appreciated by audiences of all kinds and most of them winners of the topmost awards. Gulzar had etched his name in the annals of Indian cinema.
  • Gulzar turned out to be one of the most prolific personalities in the fields of films, serials, documentaries, the several collections of poems he brought out regularly and his own private paintings.
  • Among the documentaries he made with a touch of class were the ones he made on the lives of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi.
  • The serials he made for Doordarshan have still to find their match in any other of the serials made by DD or any other channel to talk of. The best of them being ‘Mirza Ghalib’ with Naseeruddin Shah playing the role of a lifetime with Gulzar bringing the life and poetry of Ghalib back to life, ‘Terah Panne’ with Hema Malini playing thirteen different characters from Indian history and ‘Kirdaar’ based on well-known short stories with Om Puri playing the main character in every episode and in which Gulzar could talk the veteran actress Nadira to work in a serial for the first time.
  • Gulzar shot for a film called ‘Asamapt Kavita’ with Sharmila Tagore the film directed by Basu Bhattacharya was never made.
  • Gulzar married the actress Raakhee and they had a daughter whose name was Meghna but Gulzar gave her the name Bosky which became more popular and he added meaning to Bosky by naming his bungalow on Pali Hill ‘Boskyana’. He wrote children’s stories which he brought out as books which he presented to Bosky till she was thirteen years old. Bosky followed in her father’s footsteps and made films like ‘Filhaal’ and ‘Talvaar’. She also wrote a biography about her father titled ‘Because he is’. She is married to Govind and they have a kid who Gulzar who has just turned eighty-five is very fond of like he was fond of Bosky when she was a kid.
  • Gulzar has always been a fitness freak. He wakes up at four am, has a cup of tea and rushes to the Bandra Gymkhana to have a two-hour long session of tennis. He may have cut down the hours with age, but his love for tennis is still the same. He has a light breakfast before going down to the ground floor of ‘Boskyana’ which is his office and works from ten am to four pm without any break and with only rounds of tea which is specially made by him. ‘I work like a clerk’, he once told me. He has some snacks after he finishes work for the day and then has another round of tennis, has a full meal as his dinner and goes to bed by ten pm, unless there is some shooting which has to continue till late in the night.
  • He loves to be by himself and rarely attends parties or hosts parties. The only time he agreed to make an exception was when Bosky and I talked him into having a party to celebrate his sixtieth birthday and it was a grand party.
  • He took a decision to learn Marathi and within no time he was such a master of the language that he could even translate the works of ‘the Shakespeare of Marathi literature’ Kusumgraj and has been thinking of translating other works of Marathi literature.
  • He has been recognised as the founder of a new form of writing Hindi poetry called ‘Triveni’.
  • His poetry other than what he writes for films has been recognised by the Tokyo University which specially invited him and honoured him.
  • He has a fetish for white and always wears white trousers and a starched white kurta and wears ‘mojdis’ on his feet. He has never shaved himself at any time and has a barber who comes home whenever he needs a shave or a haircut together with a shave.
  • He has rarely used the mobile which he didn’t even want to possess till A.R Rahman presented him with one. He loves the garden in front of ‘Boskyana’ which he tends himself. He has a chauffeur called Sundar who has been working for him for more than thirty years and a female cook who also has been working for years.
  • He has more friends outside the industry, especially doctors, pilots and professionals from other fields. The only people in the industry he has been very close to was Sanjeev Kumar and R.D Burman, and if he is friendly with anyone else now it is the veteran singer Bhupendra and his wife Mitali and he is the mentor of Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj, the well-known filmmaker and singer.
  • He lost interest in feature films after making ‘Hu Tu Tu’ which was a bad experience for him because of the constant interference of the producers. He will not direct films anymore and has decided to dedicate the rest of his life to writing.
  • He has had a very good working relationship with actresses like Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, Rekha and Tabu. He could convince veteran actresses like Meena Kumari, Nadira and Suchitra Sen to work in his films and serials. The only actress he has not worked with is his wife Raakhee. It is said that they had an understanding before marriage that she would not act in films again, but she couldn’t resist the temptation of the role offered to her by Yash Chopra and agreed to do ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ which according to some led to their living separately with Bosky spending time between her parents.

From a car spray painter to one of the few genuine icons of India, Sampurnanand Singh has indeed come a very long way and in the process has been forgotten as Sampurnanand Singh and will always be referred to and remembered as Gulzar.

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