Gulzaar with Rahim and Kamlesh Pandey

Old is Gold
(1934 – Present)




From ‘Mera Gora Ang Layle’ (Bandini, 1963) to ‘Saans Mein Teri Saans Mili” (Jab Tak Hai Jaan 2012) everything had changed within the Indian Film Industry: the hero, the heroine, the choreography, the beats and the shot-taking. Along with this, lyrics writing had also gone into the remolding furnace. But amidst all the paradigm shifts, one man stood the test of time. The man constantly reinvented himself and still continues to charm us, tickle us, make us smile and laugh, overwhelm us with love, longing and all those untold, indefinable feelings. 

He is not just an accomplished man or just a famous lyricist, he is a supernatural talent. 

This towering personality is none other than Gulzar. With his writing, he has touched upon every human emotion and in doing so has enriched the Hindustani lyric writing with his gifted style, penetrating insight and heartwarming expression.


In 1934, Gulzar was born as Sampooran Singh Kalra in Dina, Jhelum District, (now Pakistan) in a Sikh family to Makhan Singh Kalra and Sujan Kaur. Later, he took the pen name Gulzar and before becoming a writer, worked as a car mechanic in a garage in Mumbai. Initially, his father rebuked him for becoming a writer because he thought writing would never fetch his son a substantial career. Only if it could have been known at that time the skies that Gulzar would touch. 

Career in Films: As a Lyricist 

In his career spanning over almost 50 years, Gulzar has worked with almost every noteworthy music director of the Hindi Film Industry including SD Burman, RD Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Shankar Jaikishan, Hemant Kumar, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Madan Mohan. He had begun his career under Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. 

Gulzar got his breakthrough as a lyricist when Shailendra who was penning the songs of Bandini (1963) urged him to also chip in with a song. This song was ‘Mora Gora Ang Layle’ (picturized on Nutan) and was composed by SD Burman. 

Gulzar has penned some of his best songs for music directors like RD Burman, AR Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj. He actually had a close association with RD Burman, whom he describes as his anchor, and who composed songs for many of his directed films. Together, they created gems like ‘Musaafir Hoon Yaaron’ (Parichay), ‘Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi’ (Aandhi) and ‘Mera Kuch Saamaan (Ijaazat). 

Gulzar primarily writes in Hindustani. He is an authority in Urdu and Hindi while his songs often glimmer with words borrowed from Brij Bhasha, Hariyanvi, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Marwari. His almost surreal selection of words gives his songs an inimitability sufficing them with a fragrance relatable to Gulzar’s own charismatic being. Offering a peek into his delightful persona and wits, Gulzar speaks of his unique writing style. He says: “All the romantic words like Mausam, Jawaani, Bachpan, Bhudhaapa were already soaked up by other Shaayars. All that was left for me were words like Bidi, Chimta, Choolha, Lakdi etc. So I used the leftovers and people find it a surprising change from the routine!” 

Gulzar has also written title songs for DD’s children shows like Jungle Book, Guchchhein and Potli Baba Ki (all three set to tune by Vishal Bhardwaj). These tracks are still favorite jingles for an entire generation. Gulzar also wrote lyrics for two of Jagjit Singh's albums named Marasim and Koi Baat Chale. Along with lyrics, he has also written for many films as script, story and dialogue writer. The most popular of these films would be Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand (1971). 

Here is what Gulzar says about Anand: “Working with Hrishikesh Mukherjee was like sitting in a classroom. Anand placed me among the league of popular writers. It’s totally a writer’s film. Thanks to Hrishi Da’ for whatever he did with it. In Aashirwad I wrote a scene where a man is trying to snatch a chain from a child. Many people gather all around and a passer by utters to himself – “Oofff. Yeh Government Nahin Chal Sakti.” (This government will not sustain.) I thought Dada (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) would discard this scene. But he kept it and appreciated it.” 

As a Director 

Gulzar Saab has also made his mark in film direction. All his films were critically acclaimed and today, they are considered classics. His first film was Mere Apne (1971, starring Meena Kumari), which was a remake of a Bengali film Apanjan (1969). Gulzar then made Parichay (starring Jeetendra and Jaya Bachchan) which was partly based on a Bengali novel, Rangeen Uttarain by Raj Kumar Maitra and partly inspired from the American film The Sound of Music (1965). 

Another of Gulzar’s films Koshish (starring Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bachahan) tells the story of a deaf & dumb couple struggling with everyday odds. It won Sanjeev Kumar the National Award for Best Actor. About Koshish, Gulzar has this to share: “In 1952, when I had not even planned to join films, India’s first Film Festival was held. There I saw a Japanese film named Happiness of Us Alone. In that film, a deaf guy and a dumb guy try to set up a social circle for people like them because they feel their happiness is different from normal people. I thought this notion was very reactionary and outright false. Even normal people have spiritual, moral or other kinds of handicaps. Then I kept reading that Raj Saheb (Raj Kapoor) and a few other people wanted to make that film, but nobody actually did. Later when I came into films, I realized that that idea had actually stayed with me. I made Koshish as an anti-thesis to that Japanese film. You see, I planted a character of a blind man (Om Shivpuri) among the deaf and the dumb couple. He can’t see what they are up to and they can’t make him understand either. But still, they share a human relationship. Also, I start the film with Asrani’s character who is a normal person and by the end of the film, he develops a handicap and the main couple becomes what you would call normal.” 

In 1973, Gulzar directed a film named Achanak, which was inspired by a 1958 murder case and was written by the famous writer-director K.A. Abbas. Two of Gulzar Saab's films Aandhi (1975. Starring Sanjeev Kuma and Suhita Sen) and Mausam (1975, starring Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore) were based on writer Kamleshwar’s novels named Kaali Aandhi and Aagaami Ateet respectively. Aandhi used a political set-up to tell the story of a separated couple. Though it was rumored to be based on the life of Indira Gandhi, the story was actually inspired by the life of Tarkeshwari Sinha an Indian Independence movement activist and politician. 

Gulzar Saab’s Libaas (1988) is the story of extra-marital affair of an urban couple (it never got released in India) while Angoor (1982) was his take on Shakespeare's play The Comedy of Errors. Khushboo (1975), Kitaab (1977), Meera (1979), Ijazat (1987) and Maachis (1996) are his other notable films. The last film which Gulzar directed was Hu Tu Tu (starring Nana Patekar, Tabu and Suneil Shetty) which was released in 1999. 

Gulzar Saab sheds light on his experience of switching to direction from writing. He says, “Initially, while directing films, I was not very strong on the visual medium. I started to learn and handle the camera while directing Kitaab. Once, Mahesh Bhatt visited me on the sets and suggested that I should employ more of real locations. So with Aandhi I shifted from sets to locations. Gradually, I started to get a hold of the medium. I made each one of my films with conviction because without a purpose and a thought you can’t do cinema. I stand by all my films. I have nothing to deny. I would say, as much as the writer in me has influenced my films, my films have done the vice versa.” 

In 1988, Gulzaar Saab made the epic Doordarshan show Mirza Ghalib which starred Naseeruddin Shah. He comments - "My show was based on history, though the earlier movie versions treated him as a myth." Mr. Kamlesh Pandey says about the show: “Mirza Ghalib is perhaps Gulzar’s most accomplished work because being a TV serial it did not have the restrain of time and the obligations of the box-office. Gulzar excelled as a Shaayar, a scriptwriter and a director in Mirza Ghalib. It made him a household name.” 

Almost two decades after Mirza Ghalib, Gulzar Saab made another show named Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki (based on the works of Munshi Premchand), again for Doordarshan. 

Personal Life 

Gulzar is married to actress Raakhee. They have a daughter Meghna Gulzar (nicknamed Boski), who also directed a film named Filhaal (2002). Meghna, when she was very young, had penned a biography of her father titled ‘Because He Is…’ This book was published in 2003. 

Gulzaar Saab has shared very close association with various actors and crew members whom he worked with. He says about the actors he has directed - “One thing I picked up from my Guru Bimal Da was that I would always instruct my actors to the hilt. Like him, I would also enact the whole scene for my actors and ask them to do the same. The only actors who have improvised on my enactment were Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bachchan.” 


Primarily being an Urdu poet, Gulzar has written and published so much that it would be apt to name an entire range of literature to his credit. A lot many of his books have been translated into English. Many of his directed films are also available in the transcribed-script form. He still writes poetry, stories and books for kids. His book Raavi Paar is a collection of biographical short stories which account his life experiences with people like Bimal Roy, Sahir Ludhiyanvi and Javed Akhtar. 

About his self-innovated poetic form, Triveni, Gulzar says: “The form of Triveni is different from Haiku (Japanese poetry). It’s when you add another line to an already accomplished Sher (couplet) bringing out some hidden meaning which had been neglected. Then it becomes a Triveni. It’s like you can see Ganga and Yamuna on the surface but below them there is Saraswati. Triveni is actually similar to the folk form of Punjabi Tappe which has also been used in films. But in films the same singer finishes the entire Tappa while in the original form, it’s a contest in which one team throws a futile line to the other and the other one completes it by adding two more line making it a Tappa.” 

Here are a couple of examples of Gulzar’s Triveni: 

1. Raat Ke Ped Pe Kal Hi Toh Use Dekha Tha - 

Chaand Bas Girne Hi Wala The Falak Se Pak Kar 

Sooraj Aaya Tha, Zaraa Uski Talaashi Lene! 


Only yesterday I saw him, blossoming on the tree of night – 

The Moon was about to fruit and fall off the sky 

The Sun had emerged to probe him! 

2. Maan Ne Jis Chaand See Dulhan Kee Duaa Dee Thee Mujhe 

Aaj Kee Raat Wah Footpath Se Dekhaa Maine, 

Raat Bhar Roti Nazar Aaya Hai Wo Chaand Mujhe! 


That wife, as pretty as the Moon, which mother wished for me 

I saw it tonight from the footpath, 

That Moon seemed like a Chapati to me for the whole night! 

Gulzar Saab’s major published books are: 

Dhuaan (Sahitya Akademi Publications 2001), Kharaashein (Radhakrishna Prakashan 2003), Pukhraj (Rupa & Co 2005), Raavi Paar (Rupa & Co 1999), Raat Pashmine Ki (Rupa & Co 2002), Kuchh Aur Nazmein (Radhakrishna Prakashan 2008), Triveni (Rupa & Co 2001), Raat, Chaand Aur Main (Rupa & Co 2004), Mera Kuchh Samaan (Radhakrishna Prakashan 2005), Yaar Julaahe (Vaani Publications 2009), Khauf (Rupa & Co) and Habu Ki Aag (Rupa & Co) 

BIOGRAPHIES: In the Company of a Poet: Gulzar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir (Rainlight Rupa 2012), Echoes and Eloquences: The Life and Cinema of Gulzar (by Saibal Chatterjee, Rupa & Co, 2007), Because He Is… (Meghna Gulzar, Rupa & Co 2004) *****

Mr. Kamlesh Pandey interviewed Gulzar Saab exclusively for the FWA Website. Here are some excerpts: 

Recalling the golden days of the Hindi Film Industry 

Gulzar Saab: “In those days it was almost a tradition for Shaayars (Urdu poets) and writers associated with IPTA and the Progressive Writers Movement to join the mass media of films. At the same time, writers like Pt. Sudarshan, Pt. Bhushan, Pt. Mukhram Sharma, Pt. Narendra Sharma, Pt. Pradeep and Bharat Vyas also flocked the industry. 

Despite this diversity there was no distinction between Urdu and Hindi. The language of cinema was one which I would call Hindustani and it never mattered if Vyjaynthimala read her dialogues in Tamil script and Waheeda Rahman preferred Roman. 

However, many literary writers, like Josh Malihabadi, Krishan Chander and Kamleshwar, had to make an early exit. The reason was that to write for this medium one must understand it and its approach. If you are not smitten by this medium you will not enjoy it. You can’t be an outsider and write; you have to be a part of it. Out of all such literary writers, Rajendra Singh Bedi and Khwaja Ahemad Abbas stayed for the longest. They even made films because they learnt the medium and met its demands. Similarly, Sardar Jaffery departed soon but Majrooh Sultanpuri stayed in the Industry. I have been a witness to all that. I am quiet an antique piece. I have been around since the BC era! I feel lucky to have worked with stalwarts like Bimal Roy, Salil Chowdhary, SD Burman, RD Burman, Madan Mohan and the others.” 

On Today’s Films

Films have only changed as much as the society has changed. Society has changed as much as you have changed. So if you are not the same person how can films remain the same? As much as you have urbanized, your education has urbanized and your lifestyle has urbanized, so have the films. Villages are not to be seen in today’s films. Most of the characters are foreign-returned because most of the filmmakers are from that society. They would only pick subjects from the environment they have lived in. That is why we are getting the kind of films which we are getting. 

Cinema & Society 

Cinema does reflect the society but it alters its tone. Compare the level of crime and terrorism shown in films to the real scenario. You can judge the ratio for yourself. Cinema shows very little, that too with background music. The real terror is out there where there is no music and the blood is real. But if only one can see or read something in real life, 100 more people can access the same thing through cinema. It elevates everything to a larger-than-life level and that is where the tone goes up. 

Economics of Modern Cinema 

Today technology dominates cinema. The collective efforts are more visible. But the individual passion is missing. Earlier, the producer and director would team up to make a certain film because they shared a passion for a particular subject. Today the good thing is that Black Money has gone out of the picture. Everything is honest, transparent and clear. But at the same time ten people look after individual components of a film while discussing the marketability of the subject. So the market has come into the foreground and the creation has gone in the background. I don’t claim that I know too much but this is only what I feel. 

We complain about the music and dialogues of today’s films. But songs can’t be different from the film. The quality of writing will depend on the film itself. We are going through a phase in which a new visual language, a language which doesn’t let you think anything else, is evolving. There is an urge to create a visual surprise with every scene. The visual dominates and dictates the subject while story is only there to establish a link. But still there are filmmakers like Shyam Bengal, Mani Ratnam and Vishal Bhardwaj who believe in theme and writing. For them, the subject dominates the visual. 

Writing: A Present Day Context 

Many aged writers have put themselves on a pedestal claiming that only what they used to write was good enough. This outlook is also faulty. Every era has its own language and sensibilities. It’s possible that a man of my age does not get what the young filmmaker is trying to touch. But if you work with the new generation you will start to understand their sensibilities. They use their own terminology and try to find their own expression. Where I would say ‘Tumhari Hasi Se Rone Ki Aawaaz Aati Hai’ a young writer might just write ‘Why are you cribbing?’ But the thing is it’s effective to use the simple everyday language. We have overused expressions and words and that is why they have become cliché. There is no reason to evoke the cliché and be happy about it. We need to find new ways to convey the same emotion. 

How did you cope up with the change? 

It’s just that whenever I see a change happening around me I change myself. There is no reason for me to be the same when the scenario around me has all changed. I am with my children. My children change me. They have to live their own life and I try to pace up with them. There is no need to show stubbornness with it. As I walked my children when they were little I am again holding their hand to walk along with them. I used to hear from my father - A man gets bigger by his wisdom not by the years he has lived. 

The Young Filmmakers 

Many young filmmakers come to me for songs or to narrate their stories. I find that they know what they want. They come to me with their scripts and they are very clear about it. One should not underestimate this generation. It has an advantage that most of the directors are also writers. In those terms they are in fact better. However, they have the handicap of the Zabaan (language, in reference with dialogues) though they write every action themselves. What I feel is that if you are making a Hindi film you should at least know the language. If you only know English then better make English films.” 


Gulzar was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004 for his contribution to the arts and the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2002. Giving an entire nation a reason to rejoice, he won the Oscar for Best Original Song for ‘Jai Ho’ (shared with AR Rahman) for the film Slumdog Millionaire (2008) at the 81st Academy Awards. The same song also won him a Grammy Award (category: Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media). 

Gulzar has won a number of National Awards and about two dozen Filmfare Awards (Best Lyrics and Best Dialogues). In 2012, he was awarded the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration. 

In 2013, Gulzar Saab visited his birthplace Dina (Pakistan) for the first time in 70 years. He later told newspapers, "This would probably be my last chance to visit Pakistan." 

Gulzar retells his own voyage with these poignant lyrics. 

Jagah Nahi Hai Aur Diary Mein 

Yeh Ash-Tray Poori Bhar Gayi Hai 

Ulat-Pulat Ke Tamaam Safaho Mein Jhaankataa Hoon - 

Kahin Koi Turra Nazm Ka Bach Gaya Ho Toh Uska Kash Laga Loon, 

Talab Lagi Hai 

Talab Lagi Hai 

Yeh Ash-Tray Poori Bhar Gayi Hai 

Yeh Ash-Tray Poori Bhar Gayi Hai 


The diary has no space left 

This ash-tray is filled up to the brim 

I flip all the pages going through them again and again – 

Looking for a leftover stub of my poetry to have one last drag, 

I feel a yearning 

I feel a yearning 

This ash-tray is filled up to the brim 

This ash-tray is filled up to the brim 

(Filmography of Gulzar Saab is available at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0347899/


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