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Friday, July 20, 2018

The Magic Words

The Dadasaheb Phalke Award for the film industry's most intrepid bard—Gulzar— underscores the relevance of his poetry in times when the lines between lyrical and prosaic are heavily blurred

Written by Priyanka Sinha Jha | Mumbai | Updated: April 17, 2014 11:07:30 am
Musical  liaison: Gulzar  with  A.R. Rahman Musical liaison: Gulzar with A.R. Rahman

The weekend was a buzz with some seriously good news—Gulzar sa’ab, Hindi cinema’s very own man in white; the inimitable wordsmith par excellence, had been declared as the recipient of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his impressive body of work. About time too. But what was even more wonderful was Gulzar sa’ab‘s effusive response, conveying that he was delighted and honoured. At a time when most stars are busy pretending that awards don’t matter as they are all rigged and so on, here was refreshing candor and grace in public domain. And the fact that such an effusive response come from an Academy Award and a Grammy winner, no less (for his lyrics in Jai ho from Slumdog Millionaire) makes it even more meaningful.
We have all marvelled at his magical ability to weave a tapestry of scenes with the use of mere words—from the simple innocence of Chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai to the mischievous romanticism of Kajrare or the submission of Mera gora ang lai le—Gulzar sa’ab‘s expressions refuse to be reduced to any prototype. His poems that touch upon the mundane—disappearing trees and drying up wells— are thought provoking, effective in conveying the tragedy of loss, yet lyrical. But what sets Gulzar sa’ab firmly apart from the crowd (besides his elegant, starched white kurta-pajama) is his ability to celebrate the genius of others in equal measure. A couple of years ago when the late Yash Chopra was conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award by Screen, we went to great lengths to have the award presented (to his wife) by cinema veterans who had collaborated with the film-maker over the years. Eventually, after sifting through the lengthy list of people he had worked with, we narrowed it down to Gulzar sa’ab, the most mellifluous of poets who had penned the lyrics for Chopra’s last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan, along with Madame Re and Sridevi (Chopra’s Chandni).
Much to my surprise and relief, Gulzar sa’ab agreed like a shot. For someone who has begun to keep away from award ceremonies of late, he was quick to respond with affirmative and on sensing my anxiety on the subject, reassured me that he would be there with a friend and that there would be no surprise change of plan whatsoever. He stuck to his plan to the T. This, even in the year that his song was pitted against Javed Akhtar’s (Akhtar even walked away with the award later that evening) but on his part, Gulzar sa’ab showed the large-heartedness that few are capable of. Not even once did he call up to ask me who the winner was. True to his word, he showed up with a friend, and was delightful company despite the inordinate delays.
He went up on stage to present the award with the drop-dead Madam Re, but with merely a couple of lines that he dedicated to the film-maker, he turned the moment into a beautiful memory for keepsake (unfortunately, Sridevi excused herself from being a part of the proceedings due to last minute travel plans); a magical moment frozen in time.
More recently at the Patna Literature Festival, Gulzar sa’ab was quite like the Pied Piper of Hamlin town. Where ever he went, the crowds and cameras followed, faithfully. Day after day, his sessions were as crowded if not more crowded than that other literary giant, Vikram Seth present at the occasion. As he recited his poems with translations by former ambassador and diplomat and now cultural advisor, Pawan K Verma, the audience was completely in rapture, as though a spell had been cast. Back home in the film industry, unlike everyone else trying to fit in the young mould, Gulzar sa’ab keeps far away from the maddening crowd. Chances of meeting him at literary festivals are far greater than running into him in Mumbai. And yet, every few years he springs a timeless thought or a tender sentiment in words so deliciously simple that they resonate equally with the young , the old and everyone in between.
In an industry veering towards the prosaic, the relevance of Gulzar sa’ab can hardly be overstated. That the magnitude of his work cannot be summed up in words is perhaps the best tribute to the film industry’s most intrepid and timeless bard.

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