Sharjah: The crass and bawdy lyrics used in Bollywood songs is a reflection of where we stand as a society, Oscar-winning Indian film director, lyricist and Urdu poet Gulzar said during a panel discussion at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) on Thursday evening.
“Look at the language used by Indian law-makers today. Until a few years ago, anyone using defamatory, indecent or abusive language was chided and ruled as being ‘unparliamentary’. But now it’s at the Indian Parliament where foul words are used most freely,” said the prolific writer, who bagged the Academy Award for the chart-buster Jai Ho from the 2008 British drama film Slumdog Millionaire. The same song also won him a Grammy in 2010.
Dressed in his trademark starched white kurta-pyjama, Gulzar regaled the audience with interesting vignettes from his illustrious career that spans over five decades. He described his early days in the film industry and how he learnt Bengali to translate the literary works of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), regarded as the greatest writer in modern Indian literature.
“Later, the Bengali language came handy when I needed to write love letters to a Bengali girl I fell in love with,” he said, referring to film actress Rakhi whom he eventually married in 1973. Their daughter Meghna Gulzar is now an accomplished filmmaker.
Born as Sampooran Singh Kalra in Jhelum district in British India (now in Pakistan), Gulzar moved to Delhi after the 1947 partition. A few years later he shifted to Mumbai (then called Bombay) where he took up odd jobs, including one at a motor garage to eke out a living.
He started his career with music director SD Burman as a lyricist in 1963 and hasn’t looked back since. He has also directed films such as Aandhi and Mausam and the TV series Mirza Ghalib besides translating 279 books across 34 Indian languages.
Even at 85, he is still one of the most sought after Bollywood lyricists. “I am constantly trying to adapt and learn from the new generation of creative and fearless talent,” he said.
Gulzar said that the Sharjah Book fair has left him truly awe-struck. “I regret why I couldn’t attend it earlier. What I particularly love about the fair is its theme ‘Open Books Open Minds. It’s so beautiful and meaningful. This is my first time here and I am enjoying every moment,” he said.
“Events like these reinforce my belief that the world of the written words will never fade away. Back in the day when VHS tapes and DVDs came, people thought that they would spell doom for the cinema industry. But cinema has continued to flourish and so will the world of books,” he said. The engaging session was moderated by radio personality Gagan Mudgal and also featured musical tributes to Gulzar who was introduced as a ‘linguistic magician’ by Anant Padmanabhan of publishing house Harper Collins.