Book Review: In the company of a poet


By Atul K Thakur

Book Review

In the company of a poet by Nasreen Munni Kabir,

Rainlight/Rupa, 206 pp; Rs495 (Hardback) (Non-fiction)

This conversation book covers the work and life of Gulzar in high articulation. Nasreen Munni Kabir, w ho is known for her authentic knowledge on cinema has made another remarkable mark by infusing biographical element in a long interview with a timeless phenomenon-Gulzar. The best sense her conversation with Gulzar offers in not making this poet turned lyricist, a geographical indication-rather, he has presented here as someone who carries and express the steam made out of feelings.

Gathering such feelings is a continuous process-Gulzar has been passing through over the decades with similar experiences, and when he looks back, we can’t expect anything in standstill. This long conversation opens wide range of discussion, which begins with undivided India, painful partition days and later on the making of cinema culture in India. Those who know him closely as a poet and in person, can easily assume his reluctance for personification in his favour-probably this makes his height larger than the life.

Gulzar was born in Deena (Now in Pakistan) on 18th August, 1934. After partition, he came to Delhi. He began his film career as an assistant to Bimal Roy-the later found the hidden merit in him. He started writing songs for films with Bimal Da’s Bandini (Mora Gora Ang Layee Le was his first song). Although in record, his first film to be released was Kabuli Wala, which also had some all time greats like Ganga aaye kahan se. He also worked with Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the beginning of his career and could succeed in the subsequent phases too by finding the kind of projects, suited to his unusual taste and intellect.

Once the book goes deep down in history, it inquisites about the elements of a rising star in Gulzar. But like him, Nasreen equally appears concerned to not make the better finer parts of a naturally special success story, like a repeating narration. The book talks of Gulzar, with praising his immaculate high senses for verse and conditionalities that makes it valuable, but it also not gives secondary look on the poet’s urge to reach in other domains. Nasreen makes Gulzar speaking on Cricket, also how he actively use Skype, downloaded on his laptop by none other than, A.R.Rehman.

This change is worth of noticing that a poet who started his career by writing his first song on a cigarette case(in scribble), is now relying so heavily on technology for talking on the nuances of new music with a musician, who works in past midnight, and mostly not from the stereotypical locale-Bombay. Like Rehman, Gulzar also knows the limitation of easy acts; so he never forgets that films gave him a mass recognition, though poetry always remained his first love. Albeit it’s not in his command to stop people loving him more for cinema and songs, he has written and directed than for the anthologies of poetries, which he has produced in last five decades.

Nasreen, though has focussed on most of the substantial parts of Gulzar’s work in this book, but she could have written something more about a decade (1987-1996), in which this poet went away from the scene. In this period, he did only seven films as lyricist and two as director-contrary to his timid action on big screen; he has done most outstanding jobs for the small screen, by making Mirza Ghalib, as a tribute to the legendary poet. Naseeruddin Shah appeared great in role of protagonist and immortalized the literary impression of Ghalib among the masses.

Towards the end, conversation allows readers to know, how Gulzar is walking with the time and and without compromising with success in his preserved grace. The mid 1990’s saw Gulzar back in action, behind the camera for the making of Maachis, a sensible study on terrorism in Punjab. The success of Maachis, impulsed Gulzar back to the film industry. After Maachis, he teamed up with new breed of music directors and kept contributing to the new chapters of history. He has patience and energy for writing all kind of songs-it gives no pain to him if his works are criticised or praised for having bouncing diversity.

Continuing his literacy enthusiasm, he has recently done a serial-Tehrir Munshi Premchand ki that shows, like a true creative genius, he gives weight for personal leaning on a particular theme. This book would be of great significance for all those, who take cinema for meaningful entertainment or for reckoning the vital debates, related to humankind. While progressing in the late seventies, Gulzar has chosen a right time to share his precious understanding of life and cinema in different shades. This book serves the wider purposes, reading it could strengthen such notion in all probability.

Atul K Thakur is a New Delhi-based journalist, literary critic and editor of ‘India Since 1947’/Niyogi Books. He can be reached at: [email protected] 

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