Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: In the company of a poet – Gulzar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir

I bought this book at The Times Literary Carnival 2012 where Gulzar was in conversation with the author about this book in particular and other general topics. He came across as a humble and easy-going person despite his stellar achievements. He was patiently signing autographs for all those who pushed forward their books at him. I, too, managed to obtain it.
The book’s blurb reads: “In this book of conversations, Gulzar speaks with insight, candour and gentle humour about his life and work: his school days in Old Delhi, where he wrote his early poems; working in a garage in Mumbai before entering films; his association with legends such as Bimal Roy, Balraj Sahni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Meena Kumari, Shailendra, S. D. Burman, Hemant Kumar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Lata Mangeshkar and R. D. Burman, among others; his love of tennis; and his deep connection with his wife, the legendary actor Rakhee, his daughter Meghna and his grandson Samay.”
The book is written in the form of conversations between Nasreen Munni Kabir (NMK) and Gulzar where the author also lets us know if, during their conversation, Gulzar has laughed or smiled at a particular sentence or if something has irritated him. I found this quite unique compared to the other biographies which are more of a monologue by the author.
The book, interviews for which were done mostly by Skype as NMK is based out of London, tells us, in Gulzar’s words, his birth at a place called Dina in current Pakistan, his coming to Delhi and subsequently Mumbai, how he used to read books by a lantern rented from a second-hand bookseller, his association with Bimal Roy as an assistant, his gradual movement to lyrics, screenplay writing and eventually direction. Since the book is in a conversational style, it does not follow any particular format or chronology. One can peruse just about any page of the book at will without having to read it from start to finish in one go. However, I managed to complete it within a day; such is its allure - I kept on turning the pages wishing to unearth some more gems :)
Though most of the information mentioned in the book is publicly available, what makes it interesting and eminently readable is the tidbits that Gulzar adds to it. For instance, we learn that Lata Mangeshkar found the line “Aap ki badmaashiyon ke ye naye andaaz hain” from the film Ghar most interesting. As a result, we can hear her laugh when she sings this line in the song. We also learn the origin of his daughter's name as Bosky and why he took on a pen-name Gulzar (his real name is Sampooran Singh Kalra).
Gulzar shared a wonderful relationship with Meena Kumari. She would make him sit by her side and ask him to read the scene to her while they were making Mere Apne. In fact, Gulzar started fasting during Ramzan for the full thirty days as Meena Kumari was very unwell and unable to fast. Gulzar told her he would fast on her behalf and they would share the blessings. Gulzar considered Bimal Roy as his mentor and learnt a great deal from him. It was because of him that he dared to venture into direction. He also fondly remembers his associations with RDB and Asha Bhosle, his tennis friends whom he meets every morning and his other online friends who maintain a website on his behalf.
Interspersed through the book are examples of his poetry such as: “Roz akeli aaye roz akeli jaaye, Chaand katora liye bhikhaaran raat, Roz akeli aaye roz akeli jaaye”, “Lagta hai kamzor sa peela chaand bhi shayad, Peepal ke sukhe patte sa, Lehraata lehraata mere lawn main aa kar utrega” and “Aankhon ko visa nahin lagta, Sapnon ki sarhad hoti nahin, Bandh aankhon se roz chala jaata hoon, Sarhad paar main milne Mehdi Hassan se”.
The book also brings forth the involvement Gulzar has as a lyricist in the making of a film including giving suggestions where he feels a song’s placement is not suitable. There’s also quite a bit of philosophy in the book which is quite natural considering it is Gulzar who is talking. For instance, he says, “Mood and temperament are different things. Temperament is a combination of personality and attitude, and moods are lived moments.”
Gulzar comes across as an extremely well-read person with an immense interest in literature and theatre which continues to be his first love. He often liberally quotes other authors and poets throughout the book including Rabindranath Tagore, Ahmad Faraz, Mirza Ghalib, etc.
Gulzar holds the record of having received the greatest number of Filmfare Awards for a combination of Screenplay, Dialogue, Direction and Lyrics. Talk about multi-tasking!!!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I learnt quite a lot about the lyricist with whom I have been fascinated for a long time. But more than the information, what stands out vividly is the humility of this great individual – his easy approachability, his gratefulness for the friends he has and his love for literature. He started writing lyrics in the early 1960s and continues to this day; it is to his credit that he has evolved and changed to suit the modern times and has made himself relevant even today. Though most of his fans, including yours truly, remember his earlier compositions with fond nostalgia (Read about my top five favourite songs here:
Reading the book now makes me want to listen to every song ever penned down by him, watch every movie for which he has written the screenplay and/or dialogues and also the movies which he has directed. It also makes me want to read all the poetry books he has written including his translations of other poets such as Tagore. So much to do, so little time! Sigh.
I leave you with this explanation of Gulzar of why he wakes up at five: "I wake up at five when it is still dark. I want the sun to look for me instead of my looking for the sun. Just as the first serve in tennis can be advantageous., so the first serve must be mine. The second goes to the sun."

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