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Gulzar: A bouquet of locution, shayari, poetry, lyrics, screenplays and direction


Mumbai, Feb. 17
Sampooran Singh Kalra, more famous by his pen name ‘Gulzar’, is renowned as a man and master of letters, in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, with over seven decades of rich contributions to the literary arena as well as Bollywood.

On Saturday, Gulzar and Jagadguru Rambhadracharya, Sanskrit scholar, spiritual leader and educator, were declared the recipients of the coveted 58th Jnanpith Award-2023.

For Gulzar (89), this is yet another feather in his artistic cap brimming with an Oscar Award, a Grammy Award, five National Awards, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award (Urdu), Padma Bhushan, and 22 Filmfare Awards. He also served as the Vice-Chancellor of Assam Central University besides being decorated with many more honours and accolades.

Born in Dina, Jhelum district (now in Pakistan), Gulzar started coining and penning couplets and 'shayris' from an early age, earning his father’s ire over his passion.

Post-Partition, when his clan also suffered a split, the young Sampooran, barely in his teens, moved to Mumbai to support his family, doing odd jobs, including as a car dent painter at a garage on Bellasis Road near the Mumbai Central Terminus.

Simultaneously, he devoured Rabindranath Tagore’s literature, completed his education, tended to his literary hunger and hobnobbed with the Progressive Writers Association (PWA), which had many like-minded young people interacting regularly on Sundays.

The PWA, which started as Progressive Writers Conference (1936), moved to Bombay in 1943, and had big names like K.A. Abbas, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Chetan Anand, Saadat Hassan Manto, Mehboob Khan, Rajinder Krishen, Inder Raj Anand, Ismat Chugtai, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nissar Akhtar, Ali Sardar Jafri, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Mumtaz Hussain, Habib Tanvir and other stalwarts who contributed to the world of arts, music, literature and films.

It was at one of these meetings that he met Urdu-Hindi poet Shanker Shailendra, and filmmaker Bimal Roy, who had also moved to Bombay (now, Mumbai) in 1950. The duo later inspired him to chart out a career in the film industry that was already in full bloom.

A few years later, lyricist Shailendra and music director S.D. Burman goaded a reluctant Gulzar to write a song for the upcoming Bimal Roy film “Bandini” (1963).

Gulzar, who was working as an assistant to Roy, finally relented and delivered his first lyrical masterpiece, “Mora Gora Ang Lay Le”, which was sung by Lata Mangeshkar and is memorable even today.

“Bandini” was the final celluloid creation of Roy, who passed away due to cancer in 1966, aged 56, after bequeathing films like “Do Bigha Zameen”, “Parineeta”, “Devdas”, “Madhumati”, “Sujata”, “Parakh”, “Yahudi” and other films in Bengali.

After a grand beginning, Gulzar started penning lyrics for many films, including Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Aashirwad” (1968) and “Guddi” (1971), Asit Sen’s “Khamoshi” (1969) – the last two which catapulted him to the Big League with songs like “Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena” and “Humne Dekhi Hai Un Aankhon Ki Mehakti Khushbu”.

Starting with S.D. Burman, Gulzar went on to work with some of the biggest music directors of Bollywood such as Hemant Kumar, Salil Chaudhary, Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, R.D. Burman, and the modern generation of baton-wielders comprising Rajesh Roshan, A.R. Rahman, Vishal Bharadwaj, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and many others.

After penning songs, dialogues and screenplays for various film, Gulzar took the director’s megaphone with “Mere Apne” (1971) starring Meena Kumari, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Danny Denzongpa, which proved to be a musical hit.

Buoyed by the success of his maiden directorial venture, the next year he came up with two major films -- “Parichay” and “Koshish” (both 1971), the latter fetching its star Sanjeev Kumar a National Award.

In 1973, Gulzar came up with “Achanak” based on the sensational 1958 murder case involving an Indian Navy officer, Commander K.M. Nanavati, who killed his wife’s lover, in what is billed as the country’s first ‘crime of passion’, in which he was sentenced to jail and then released on a pardon.

Gulzar’s another musical blockbuster “Aandhi” (1975), reportedly based on the life of the late PM Indira Gandhi, was banned during Emergency. He followed it with “Khushboo” and another superhit “Mausam” during that year, and “Libaas” (1988).

Later, he directed television serials “Mirza Ghalib” (1988) starring Naseeruddin Shah, and “Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki”, based on the life of the legendary writer, besides penning dialogues for many other serials, including “Jungle Book”, “Hello Zindagi” and “Potli Baba Ki”.

Gulzar is married to well-known actress Raakhee (79), and they have a daughter, Meghna (50), herself an accomplished director.