“Every common man in India suffers and survives the country’s politics. Likewise, I am not part of political parties or ideologies, rather a victim of it. This is when we have to turn towards shared cultural values,” he said. On the sidelines of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival last weekend, Gulzar sahab, as he is popularly called, discussed his latest book Suspected Poems that is a commentary on raging socio-political issues.
His modulated baritone voice recites a sarcastic nazm about killings over beef, offers caustic criticism of politicians and uses vivid metaphors to describe how different people deal with the system. The poet with a shrewd wit talks about the notorious Sultana daku (dacoit), the Indian Army, old men on park benches nostalgic about the country’s past, and Dalits. “You know what is common between them? They have had to chart their life according to politics.” Everyone, he said, has questions they cannot find answers to.
Even though he wants his works to be socially-relevant, Gulzar does not believe in compartmentalisation. Perhaps that is why his political dramas (Maachis, Hu Tu Tu, Aandhi) and literature adaptations (Ijaazat, Mausam, Angoor, Parichay) remain as evergreen as his Chaddi Pehen Ke Phool Khila Hai number from The Jungle Book or the Lakdi ki Kaati melody from Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom. Perhaps that is why the five-time National Award-winning artist appeals to adults and children alike.
However, his last script for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s project Mirzya was a critical and commercial failure. Maybe Bollywood’s perception and acceptance of old-school Urdu writing has changed. Gulzar disagrees, vehemently. Urdu poetry in Bollywood has never waned, making resurgence out of question. In fact, he said, poetry as a whole is seeing a new lease of life and experimentation.
Expressing Through Verses
Whenever faced with questions about his film commitments, the poet compares himself with William Shakespeare. The Bard’s plays were lauded but his poetry was underrated. Similarly, writing for films is often at the mercy of external circumstances. That is why Gulzar, who never gives his daily writing ritual a miss, prefers verse.
“I make personal statements through nazms and I have the conviction to stand by them, no matter what,” he said, explaining why the shock he felt on hearing about the assassination of writer MM Kalburgi in Dharwad and his aversion to the current political intolerance could only be expressed through verse.
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