Meghna Gulzar’s book on her illustrious father tells a heartwarming story with simplicity and honesty. Menka Shivdasani was at the launch
When Meghna Gulzar was a little girl, better known as Bosky, she left a signed letter for her famous father. It contained a verse that she had written, to express her displeasure over the fact that he had refused her request for money. ‘I have a father/ Who gives me money. / I’d hate him not rather. / He loves me as honey…’ It goes on to speak about how he ‘polishes her shoes’, and how he is ‘sometimes sweet and sometimes funny’; however, on a day that she has asked him for cash, he is choosing to run away instead!
Gulzar, whom some call ‘the last of the greats’, quotes these lines with some amusement in his introduction to a book that his now grown-up daughter has written about her relationship with him, and at the panel discussion and book launch function on September 1 organised by Avid Learning, the incident came up again.
“She called me cunning and said I was running,” he smiled, while Meghna, who endearingly calls him ‘papi’ throughout the book, responded with a laugh, saying, “Actually, he’s not kanjoos, but mummy (the film star, Raakhee, from whom he was separated) must have scolded him for spoiling me!” (‘Mummy’ wasn’t around that evening to weigh in on the issue because she was at home baby-sitting Meghna’s child!)
The book, Because He Is… first appeared in 2004 and has been republished in an updated, hardback edition by HarperCollins Publishers, in both English and Hindi. The English edition that I bought was priced at `2,499. There were no discounts at the launch function that was held at the magnificent Royal Opera House, but the heart-warming anecdotes and rare and unself-conscious photographs, such as one of Gulzar getting a shave on his balcony with legs bare, make the book worth every rupee.
Meghna, who has built her reputation as a film-maker to reckon with over the last decade or so, with Filhaal (2002), Talwar (2008) and most recently Raazi (2018) tells her story in simple, direct language. It is an extraordinary story of an extraordinary father and daughter, who have shared a remarkable relationship, enriching each other, building each other’s destinies and sharing a rare bond. Gulzar, who has been both father and mother to her—right down to ending his work day at 4 p.m. to pick her up from school and learning to make her plaits the way she liked them—now acknowledges some reversal of roles.
In the conclusion to Because He Is, he writes: “My daughter Bosky… is my mirror. She has the opportunity to improve my behaviour and mend my mistakes—by ignoring them. But I know she is too honest and straightforward. I respect her honesty. I always do… It is a great transition when your children become your guardians.” Gulzar also writes about how Bosky “is Meghna now”—no longer a child with a nickname, ‘but a full-fledged writer and director’, who makes films with ‘complete conviction and social responsibility’. “She is a better film-maker than I was, in cinematic terms and social consciousness. She thinks I am biased. I agree with that too,” he says. At the launch function, he kept trying to turn attention away from himself to her as the author of the book, though clearly, his presence was the bigger draw, simply because of the legacy he has built over decades as a film-maker, screenplay and dialogue writer, lyricist par excellence, author and poet.
The conversation—moderated by filmmaker and screenwriter Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra—touched upon a range of issues (though given the strength of the panellists and their relationship, it must be said, that perhaps no moderator was needed). Gulzar encouraged his daughter to try everything from playing the piano to learning kathak and ballet; “he threw me into everything and said, ‘You don’t have to finish, but try it once’, Meghna declared. “It’s been a symbiotic relationship; we grow off each other, feed each other. He’s been authoritarian, but done it so cleverly, he’s made me feel the decision is mine!”
Gulzar was as proud a father as any when Bhawana Somaaya published Meghna’s first poem when she was eight, and later, he told her he would get her book published if she gave him 50 poems, so that the volume would have some weight and substance. He spoke of how a book store owner was once very impressed because it was the first time an eight-year-old girl had walked into his store and asked for an author by name (it was Hans Christian Andersen she was looking for). “Bosky always had a twinkle in her eye,” commented Mehra, who has known her since she was a child, and added, “that twinkle was her father!”
Speaking of why she wrote the book and how she approached it, Meghna said, “I wanted to know my history, which is his life and my roots… it came from a place of honesty.”
It is this honesty that makes the book a worthwhile read. A biography of Gulzar, detailing the rich life he has led, would always be a unique offering, but when it is written through the lens of the daughter who has known him best, it becomes particularly special. As she says in a poem that appears at the beginning of the book,
“I know I’m protected/ because his arms cradle me…/ I know I can write/ because his ink flows in me./ I know I can/ because he believes,/ I know I am/ because he is…”
The living legend
From working at a garage and painting cars to becoming one of India’s most revered personalities, Gulzar has led an extraordinary life. Tanmaya Vyas traces his career
From the coy Mora Gora Ang Layle to brazen Beedi Jalayie Le to the children’s song Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai, Gulzar’s lyrical spirit has effortlessly transcended both epochs and emotions.
Sampoorna Singh Kalra was born in Dina in undivided India. The legend goes that his father had punished him for ‘wasting his time writing poetry’ and warned him about possible financial dependency if he pursued being a poet. Thus, the young lad moved first to Amritsar and then to Bombay and ended up with a job at a garage, painting accident-damaged cars, before he went to become one of the most revered personalities in the film and poetry world.
Popularly known by his pseudonym, Gulzar, was introduced to filmdom by another noted lyricist Shailendra to the legendary Bimal Roy. While he worked as an apprentice to the director for his movie Bandini, the rumoured on-going tiff between Shailendra and music composer
S D Burman at that time, gave an opportunity to Gulzar to pen his first film song. Thereon, he donned multiple hats of director, lyricist, screenplay and dialogue writer; Gulzar is truly a man with multiple talents.
Like a true artiste, Gulzar explored every medium with his pen and narrated stories through his poems, books, and films that spanned from the realms of personal to political to Partition, all with equal aplomb.
Breaking his serious image, Gulzar adapted Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors into a light-hearted movie, Angoor, a rarity in his repertoire. His friendships with peers like director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, music composer like R D Burman to the younger Vishal Bhardwaj or actress Tabu has only created magic and given the Hindi film industry treasured gems.
Beyond the spectrum of film-making, Gulzar never left his love for poetry and penned three books of poetry—Chand Pukhraaj Ka, Raat Pashminey Ki and Pandrah Paanch Pachattar. Triveni, verses in three lines, is his contribution to modern world of poetry.
During the time when television just had one channel, Doordarshan, and was yet to be labelled ‘Idiot Box’, Gulzar’s contribution to this medium was nothing less than phenomenal—be it his children’s puppet show Potli Baba Ki, co-directed and written by him, or his own production for Mirza Ghalib, a biographical series on possibly the most known Urdu-Persian poet from Mughal Empire during the colonial rule. The name Mirza Ghalib came to the fore in the 20th century, thanks to this series, which also witnessed the coming together of three legends—Gulzar as a producer/ writer, Naseeruddin Shah playing the title role and Jagjit Singh being the composer and singer for the ghazals penned by the poet, which found a cult following.
With his first song itself, Gulzar was put into the bracket of the already established and much senior lyricists, Shailendra and Sahir Ludhianvi. It is the sensitivity with which he weaves the words into situations that caught attention. A recipient of the third highest civilian honour, Padma Bhushan, Sahitya Akademi Award, five national awards, 20 Filmfare awards, one Oscar and Grammy each, Gulzar is one of the most decorated living legends of India. A pristine image of always being impeccably dressed in a crisp white kurta-pyjama and square-rimmed glasses, Gulzar is an epitome of class and culture who has successfully stayed relevant today too at the age of 84, with much more to come.