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‘I hope the words I have inherited would be preserved’

In this second part of an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7's Walk the Talk,lyricist Gulzar speaks on the evolving language of poetry and the affection he holds for filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj

Written by Shekhar Gupta | New Delhi | Published: April 7, 2013 2:01:52 am

In this second part of an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24×7’s Walk the Talk,lyricist Gulzar speaks on the evolving language of poetry and the affection he holds for filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj

I am at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Tomb,an ideal setting for one of the greatest poets of not just our times but of the past five decades in India. It is probably one of the most challenging episodes for me because I am a philistine Gulzarsaab,completely challenged creatively. I am a non-fiction reporter. And your poetry is so profound…

I am a regular reader of your columns and I know it is a very profound column always. Although you write in prose,not verse,you write in the same way.

Is India today — Indian films,culture,people — a poetry-friendly environment? Or have we gotten over poetry now?

What do you mean by poetry-friendly environment? Because poetry expresses its time,its era and its period. It’s only different from prose in that it distills and records the essence of its time. There has not been a reformer from the field of fine arts — he is either a recorder or a reminder. And poetry records its period and its people and it reminds you again of whatever has been happening.

So poetry has to change with the times?

It has to. It has to represent its time. As people change,as the society changes,the language changes,poetry also has to change.

Is that what you would say about your recent writing,about your recent lyrics?

Yes. Like your dress changes with time,my poems also change with time.

Your dress hasn’t changed. You have been in this white kurta-pyjama for a long time…

Pen and paper didn’t change… Poetry is not just about romance as it is generally thought,that it will always be written in a moonlit night,sitting in a garden. You can write in a train,bus,and with Allah’s grace,I also have a car and I write in that too.

You mentioned moonlight. Chand and dopahar are two metaphors which we find recurring in your work — chhote chhote sheheron se/khali bore dopaharon se; ek akela is shahar mein,raat mein aur dopahar mein…

These are symbols of time. You will find a lot of expressions of time in my poetry. I have used chand a lot and its symbolic meaning keeps changing in different contexts. For example,roz akeli aye,roz akeli jaye/chand katora liye bhikharan raat. This image of the moon as a begging bowl,when it first came out,was much criticised.

Poets have used chand as a metaphor for centuries,but I don’t think anybody has used it as audaciously as you did — chand nikal gaya dayya ray,ang pe aise chhale pade. How many lyricists will get away with that,with such raunchy lyrics like zubaan pe laga namak ishq ka…in a Hindi film now ?

It was sung by Rekha (Bhardwaj) and composed by (her husband,filmmaker,musician and lyricist) Vishal. The composition is in thumri style. There is a poem I wrote on Emergency,don’t ask me to recite it,I don’t remember. It goes… chand kyun abr ki maili si gathri main chupa tha… That was your freedom which was hiding in that dirty bundle. And in that poem I described the crescent as a dagger. You can use the moon in so many metaphors.

But the amazing thing is that you are able to bring this nostalgia in this completely modern idiom and our next generation is embracing it. I mean,for example,the song Ibn batuta… bagal main joota…

Vishal is a great support because he grew up in Meerut and he understands this language very well,which I find difficult to explain to others. That’s why I get along so well with him. He is like a son to me.

But you are many decades apart?

Yes. He also has an understanding of the culture. And that shows in his movies which are based in regional Hindi. His language and characters are not from cities.

And now,if you see Anurag (Kashyap)’s Gangs of Wasseypur,he has shown similar talent in a more limited area in Bihar,but the western parts of UP,the rough parts of UP,nobody gets it right like Vishal.

Anurag is another wonderful filmmaker. He doesn’t tell you a linear story,his images are like your dream. Dreams have come from reality but they are not real. In a dream,those shapes are not real,they dissolve into each other. This is Anurag’s style of using images. I did No Smoking with him. I didn’t understand the script so I told him I don’t know how to write a song for it. He explained the images to me and gave me a line from one of my poems — ashtray bhar rahi hai and asked me to write a theme song based on that. I said,I will do it if you explain the scene to me. He said,‘I will just show you the images.’ I said that is better,instead of me writing lyrics and you finding images for them,you show me the images,I will write the song. I believe No Smoking is one of my highs in lyric-writing. I think it is very beautiful.

Do you sometimes feel about Vishal as say Bimal Roy felt about you?

I hope he loved me the way I love Vishal. I love him and have lots of hopes on him. I always tell him he is an extension of me,only he is doing better. I also ask him,‘Do you mind,if I say you are my extension.’ He is doing better. In every department,he is doing better.

You got your break from Bimal Roy in Bandish. Mora gora ang lai lay remains a hit song to this day. That was very subtle. Now you can’t be subtle with lyrics. Now you have goli maar bheje mein.

It is just that the themes of movies have changed. That was sometime in the late ’50s or ’60s. It has been half a century since then and the language,the issues and the romance are not the same. Nor are films made the same way. So how can I write the language of that period?

And wooing at a leisurely pace happens no longer.

Yes,of course. Often people ask me about the song beedi jalaile jigar se piya,jigar ma badi aag hai. Have you seen that song?

Yes. Several times.

Now if I put mora gora rang lai lay on it,how will it look? It’s not possible.

Omkara’s film milieu is Bundelkhandi. So where did you find the beedi jalaile metaphor?

I have grown up with this lingo. Old Delhi isn’t what it was. It’s Punjab now. You can’t even imagine all that I have seen. I wish one could see that. Women used to come from Roshanbagh carrying tiffins on their heads. When the whistle blew,you knew that the shift was over at Birla Mill. They used to sing songs on their way back. The men would come out of the mill singing after their shift ended. It was so beautiful. That milieu is long gone. But that lingo,those songs remained with me somehow.

That song also has many more mischievous lyrics…

If you look at that song closely you will realise that it describes the entire zamindari system.

I believe you share a completely different equation with Mani Ratnam and (AR) Rahman?

Yes. We are just very comfortable. And Rahman has made a great contribution to film music. One of the great things he has done is that he challenged the traditional structure of the songs. He did away with the system that had been going on for centuries.

So he broke that basic formula?

Yes. The way classical music flows.

In classical music,one thing leads to another and then finally there is a crescendo.

Yes. This is what he has done to the film song. He has given new form to the film song

Will you give us an example?

All songs from Dil Se – Ay ajnabi tu bhi kabhi aawaz de kahin se. Then the songs of Guru…

Jiya jale….

Jiya jale… you remember a lot.

How can I forget your work?</b The thing is I don’t remember,so it is nice that you do. So I have that equation with them. Then with Vishal it’s different. There are several layers to his subjects. They are socially very relevant though they might not seem so. He uses song and satire to portray them but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. Movies such as Matru ki bijli ka mandola addresses the issue of land grabbing through humour. And catching those rough,raw characters from the village,I think is a big achievement. In that he talks of a revolution; jiski kheti,uski zameen hai/ jiska gana uski ganayri/hut lootnaywale. Jis ka gana us ki ganayri… it is tough to explain these days to the new generation what ganayri is.

Yes. It is difficult. You know,along with the language of the time,I have tried to preserve some old words and expressions just in case someone some day might like to use them.

And this is your skill. In a way,you protect Urdu language with that. For example,from (the film) Saathiya: banjar hai,sab banjar hai,hum dhoondne jab firdaus chale. How many people know firdaus now? But that song became a great hit.

That is the hope I invest in it,that the words I have inherited would be preserved.

Transcribed by Mehrajd Lone. For the full transcript,log on to

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