Poet, Lyricist, Writer, Director - Gulzar is one of those sensitive people whose work is laced with the lyrical but psychologically adept examination of human sensibilities. His artistic yet accessible films were a welcome relief from the violence-ridden films of the 1970s.
He was born Sampooran Singh in Deena, Jhelum District (now in Pakistan) on August 18, 1936. After the partition, he came to Delhi. He started as a poet and was associated with the Progressive Writers Association (PWA). Gulzar then joined Bimal Roy Productions in 1961. His first break as lyricist came when he wrote Mora Gora Ang Lai Le for Bimal Roy's Bandini (1963). He also became Bimalda's full-time assistant. He then began writing for films for directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Asit Sen. Some of the films that Gulzar has written include Anand (1970), Guddi (1971), Bawarchi (1972) and Namak Haram (1973) for Hrishida and Do Dooni Char (1968) and Khamoshi (1969) for Asit Sen.
Gulzar turned filmmaker with Mere Apne (1971). The film was based on Tapan Sinha's Apanjan (1969) with Meena Kumari enacting the Chhaya Devi role. Gulzar shifted the milieu of the film from the Naxalite movement to North India. The film looks at an old woman caught between two street gangs of unemployed, frustrated youth, whose killing finally makes them realize the futility of violence. It was a fine debut with a great central act by Meena Kumari.
Gulzar then went on to make Parichay (1972) loosely based on The Sound of Music (1965) and Koshish (1972), a sensitive look at the travails of a deaf - dumb couple superbly played by Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri. With these films also began a mutually beneficial partnership with Sanjeev Kumar. The Gulzar - Sanjeev Kumar partnership resulted in such fine films as Aandhi (1975), Mausam (1975), Angoor (1981) and Namkeen (1982) and represent Sanjeev Kumar's finest work as an actor. Aandhi ran into controversy due to Suchitra Sen's role which was based on Indira Gandhi and was even banned for a while.
Gulzar always felt that the present is never complete till the past has been reflected upon. Not surprisingly the flashback forms an integral part of his narrative techniques in all his films. With his sensitive yet successful films, stars like Jeetendra (Parichay, Khushboo (1975), Kinara (1977)), Vinod Khanna (Achanak (1973), Meera (1979) and Lekin (1990)) and Hema Malini (Khushboo, Kinara, Meera (1979)) worked with Gulzar to gain respectability as artists and it must be said that some of their best and most introspective work has come in these films.
A very strong point in all of Gulzar's films has always been the exceedingly high quality of music. Speaking of the importance of music in our lives, Gulzar maintains...
"Music has a natural place in our lives. Right from the shloka you recite in your morning puja and the milkman who comes whistling on his cycle, to the fakir singing as he begs for alms and your mother humming around the kitchen...Music fills our spaces naturally. It will always be dear to us."
Gulzar formed a brilliant team with RD Burman who scored the music for most of his films. Even as RD became a pop icon with films like Apna Desh (1972), Jawani Deewani (1972), Yaadon ki Baraat (1973), Khel Khel Mein (1975) and Hum Kissi se Kum Nahin (1977), he teamed up with Gulzar to give such evocative masterpieces like Beeti Na Beetayi Raina (Parichay (1972)), Is Mod se Jaate Hain (Aandhi (1975)), O Manjhi Re (Khusboo (1975)), Naam Gum Jayega (Kinara (1977)) and Mera Kuch Samaan (Ijaazat (1987)). Another music director Gulzar has scored heavily with is Vishal Bhardwaj - Maachis (1996), Chachi 420 (1997), Maqbool (2004), Omkara (2006), Blue Umbrella (2007) and Kaminey (2009) among others.
Though Gulzar was himself an Urdu writer,there is a strong influence of Bengali Literature in his work. Khushboo was based on a Sarath Chandra novel and both Kitaab (1977) and Namkeen (1982) were based on Samaresh Basu's writings.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a decline in Gulzar the filmmaker even though films like Ijaazat (1987), Lekin (1990) and Maachis had their moments. His last film to date, Hu Tu Tu (1999) was a total misfire. However, Mirza Ghalib (1988) a TV serial made on the great poet's life and starring Naseeruddin Shah as Ghalib was a landmark in the history of Indian Television as Gulzar vividly recreated Ghalib's life and times. Besides this Gulzar also directed documentaries on Amjad Ali Khan and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi apart from completing Sukhdev's film Shaira on Meena Kumari. He has continued to write screenplays, dialogues and lyrics for other films, among them Masoom (1982) and Rudaali (1992). He has also been the lyricist of films like Thodi si Bewafai (1980), Basera (1981), Sadma (1983), Ghulami (1985), Maya Memsaab (1992), Dil Se (1998) and Satya (1998).
Gulzar has been honoured time and again for his work. This includes winning the National Award thrice - Best Screenplay for Koshish, Best Director for Mausam and Best Lyricist for Ijaazat. He has also won the Filmfare Award 14 times - including 7 times for Best Lyricist and The Best Director Award for Mausam. He also won the Oscar for wiriting the Best Origina song in Slumdog Millionaire (2009) - Jai Ho.
Gulzar is also the author of books on poetry,a book of short stories and a dozen books for children. A story book for children, Ekta received an award from the National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) in 1989.
Even recently, Gulzar has an extremely successful career as a lyricist writing such chartbusters like Kajra Re (Bunty aur Babli (2005), Beedi (Omkara) and Dhan Te Nan (Kaminey). On the personal front he was married to actress Raakhee in the 1970s. The couple have a daughter, Meghna, a filmmaker herself.