That Bollywood is omnipresent and among the most popular subjects doing the rounds was rather evident when even literary giant Vikram Seth — never mind that he bashfully described himself to B-town’s poet laureate Gulzar sa’ab ‘ki main kad mein chota hoon’— made a passing mention of it during a talk on his works (Me and Mine: Translations and Beyond) at the recently concluded Patna Literature Festival. During his travels to the Far East — China and Tibet to be more specific, Seth admitted that a rendition of Awara hoon, which apparently was very popular in those parts, got him access sooner than circumstances would have otherwise permitted.
This small, even if inadvertent and unintentional endorsement of Bollywood, was a sign of things to follow — namely a packed house with the most enthusiastic audience for a session on ‘Decentralisation of Bollywood: The Changing Equation of Time, Place, Action in Hindi Cinema’ with directors Sudhir Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Piyush Jha and senior film critic Ajay Brahmatmaj moderated by yours truly.
Actor-musician Piyush Mishra’s musical sessions too were a big draw for the youngsters.
After film festivals, a literary festival of course, is a first of sorts for me and to begin this journey in Patna, the city of my birth in the illustrious company of all the aforementioned gentlemen seemed nothing short of magical serendipity!
The fact that they were all treated like royalty each time they stepped on the premise, only underscored how central Bollywood continues to be in our lives, no matter which part of the country you may be in. Gulzar sa’ab, however, was in a league of his own.
Call it the power of words or felicity of language, but to see the crowds part and be roused every time the poet appeared on the scene was both heartening and impressive.
This is no isolated story of hero-worship from some small mofussil town. Gulzar sa’ab with over 30 odd books that he has written himself and scores of others that he has inspired or is the subject of, is a regular at literary and cultural festivals. A little earlier this year he was at the Chennai Lit fest organised by The Hindu and Jaipur Lit Fest a few years before. And at every festival, no matter the city or the language, he is adored and admired by all present. This literary, erudite figure from the world of Hindi films, in his elegant white kurta pyjama and golden mojris, stands at odds with the general impression that most carry of the captains of the film industry and the fact that he is much sought after beyond the filmi circles is telling.
On his part of course, the film-maker is modesty personified. According to him, he is a regular at festivals to learn of the new things. The fact that he is one of the most sought after writers in Bollywood with chart-busting songs at frequent intervals serve as a gentle reminder that if the learning process is a constant, even in fickle world of showbiz, talent can endure the weight of time.
Gulzar sa’ab’s ability to combine the old and the new, the young and aged — he has many young collaborators — is uncanny. It is true that he combines the best of classic and nouveau Bollywood. From Bollywood’s ‘golden period’ when writers like Kamal Amrohi, Abrar Alvi, Kaifi Azmi, held their own in a galaxy of stars to now when writers perform their feat from the periphery hoping to be brought back centrestage — Gulzar sa’ab stands tall building his cinematic and literary legacy, word by word, verse by verse.
May the tribe increase.