Lamat R Hasan
It is difficult to box Gulzar’s genius. As poet, lyricist, scriptwriter or filmmaker. It is also difficult to match his daring – no matter how far back one goes into the annals of Hindi cinema. He has made films for the sheer love of it, his stories focussed on the dynamics of human relationships, portraying unrest – both personal and political – almost without a care for the box office. Three Classic Films by Gulzar – Insights Into the Films is a welcome attempt to understand the phenomenon that is Gulzar, now 84, by Mira Hashmi (who looks at Ijaazat), Sathya Saran (Angoor) and Saba Mahmood Bashir (Aandhi).
Deepti Naval, who starred in Angoor, tells Saran, “Gulzar works very quietly on his scripts. He does not tom-tom them but when it is ready, he produces it and presents it.”
This working quietly, as one learns from every single meticulous detail that went into the making of Angoor, Ijaazat and Aandhi, can span several years, till Gulzar has achieved perfection, translating his words into images and getting the best out of his actors.
My favourite of the three films, Ijaazat (1987), adapted from Subodh Ghosh’s Bengali short story Jatugriha, turned out to be the best read as well, brimming with details of Gulzar’s early life – from working in a garage for seven years to his first break in films. Hashmi, who teaches film studies in Lahore, grew up on a “robust diet” of Indian cinema. Though Hindi films had been banned from 1965 to 2007, Pakistani fans had access to pirated VHS tapes and their TV sets caught the “whiffs of Doordarshan”. Hashmi discovered the cinema of Gulzar in the late 1980s. The first Gulzar film she watched was Aandhi. Hashmi says that cinematically, Ijaazat may have been more modest than Gulzar’s other works, but thematically it was the most daring, and whose popularity has only soared with time. Ijaazat is a complex love triangle between Mahendra (Naseeruddin Shah), Sudha (Rekha) and Maya (Anuradha Patel). “It (Gulzar’s) was an interpretation that was years ahead of its time…,” Hashmi writes. Hashmi’s writing is well researched, yet deliberately non-academic. She travelled to Mumbai to interview Gulzar and the star cast, Shah, Patel and Rekha. Her love for Gulzar’s cinema comes through in the little details she has dug out about this living legend. Little wonder then that her husband decided to play time-keeper with “Jaani, ab khatam kar bhi lo!”
When Sathya Saran, biographer of Guru Dutt, SD Burman and Jagjit Singh, was presented with Angoor – based on Shakepeare’s famed The Comedy of Errors – she “baulked a little”. She would have preferred Ijaazat as an ideal assignment. But when she did watch Angoor, she realised that decades after it was made, it was still among the best comedy films. In her attempt to understand Gulzar’s work, Saran delves deep into the origin and history of comedy in theatre and how The Comedy of Errors became such a massive hit on the world stage.
India has had six versions of the play, with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar setting the ball rolling in 1869 with his Bangla adaptation Bhranti Bilash, later made into a film in 1963. Gulzar, who started his career in films half a century ago by assisting filmmaker Bimal Roy for Kabuliwala in 1961, was taken on board by Roy when the Hindi version Do Dooni Char was being made in 1968. The film was a huge flop, but deep down Gulzar was convinced it needed a remake. There’s an informative chapter on the history of comedy in Hindi cinema too. Saran writes that disguises, extended gags and attempts at ridicule marked much of the comedy in silent cinema, and by the 1950s comedy had become a staple. However, that changed in the late 1970s with the arrival of the Angry Young Man. Double entendre, slapstick routines and downright vulgarity took over. When Gulzar decided to make Angoor in 1982, the bigger challenge was to find a producer for a new version of a film that had crashed at the box office. Given her initial reluctance to write about the film, Saran has done a neat job.
Set against the turbulent political backdrop of elections, Aandhi (1975) is a love story, originally written by Kamleshwar, about a hotel manager JK (Sanjeev Kumar) and his ambitious wife Aarti Devi (Suchitra Sen), who wants to be a minister. Aandhi is as much a story of estranged love between two headstrong individuals as it is a ruthless commentary on the political scenario of the country. The film ran into trouble over Sen’s resemblance to then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Of the 17 films Gulzar has directed, Aandhi was his fifth. Gulzar was surprised at the ban. “Yes, the character drew on her (Indira’s) personality, only with regard to the aspect of how she would descend the stairs, get off the helicopter or walk briskly, but nothing beyond that,” he tells Bashir. “Aandhi captures the essence of the political, social as well as economic changes of that decade… Nowhere, through the course of the film, does one see the political story overriding the love story, or vice versa,” Bashir writes. It is no surprise to see Bashir, whose doctoral thesis was on the poetry of Gulzar, on board for this collection. Her writing is brisk and academic, and she has divided the book into five chapters.
Gulzar directed his last film Hu Tu Tu in 1999, yet he is far from forgotten. Aandhi is still the best election film to watch, Ijaazat the best film on the complexities of human relationships, and Angoor continues to be a rib-tickler.
All three are adaptations of stories and novels. Gulzar understood the potential of cinematic adaptations early and helped link non-reading cinema goers to literature. Hashmi, Saran and Bashir all try to understand why Gulzar’s films haven’t become dated, and have made it to the classics list.
“When someone gets trained under the adept directorship of someone like Bimal Roy, what else can one expect to imbibe but exceptional directorial skills? In Gulzar’s case, it was coupled with his poetic craft and a love of words,” Bashir writes.
Gulzar went a step ahead and changed storylines, as was the case with Ijaazat, willing to take chances, itching to break traditions. It is this itch that made him excel. This collection, barring a few inconsistencies in the three books, is a pleasure to read.