Poet, filmmaker and author Gulzar has been widely acclaimed for his art, winning an Oscar in 2009 following several honours within India. In a ceremony this week, Gulzar will receive the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration. Speaking with Humra Quraishi , Gulzar discussed his inspirations, how he fell in love with literature, why writing is like riding a tiger — and how cinema today resembles fast food:
You've been acclaimed for your creativity across different quarters — what is your current focus?
I want to only — and only — focus on my writing. There are several books in my head and i want to complete them. I've been translating Rabindranath Tagore for children recently. I find writing for children absolutely enriching and fulfilling and i want to concentrate on this. Let me just add here that i think today we aresnatching away childhood. By putting children too early into formal education, we are shrinking that crucial phase of life. My worry is that in the coming years, children could get extremely lonely, especially in urban locations.
You yourself took to reading from early childhood — please tell us about that.
Well, after the Partition, our family shifted to old Delhi's Subzi Mandi locality. Our home became like a refugee camp with relatives and friends coming there from our ancestral place, Dina, in Jhelum. Somehow, in the middle of all that, very early on, i took to reading jasoosi or spy novels and became a voracious reader, borrowing books from a local shop. One day, i got hold of Tagore's Gardener. Reading that changed the entire course of my life and thinking — it could be called the turning point.
What kept you writing amidst personal ups and downs — and Bollywood's distractions?
Writing is a shock absorber. It has the capacity to absorb all upheavals, shocks, pains, all the conditions you're going through. It is like driving along a road which could be uneven or bumpy. Writing then becomes your vehicle — it takes you along and you go atop it, as though you were riding a tiger.
Your writing has been characterised by a focus on harsh realities — why did you choose such starkness as your style?
That is because i have witnessed profound realities since my childhood. When the Partition took place, i was very young but i could see and sense the pain around me, how thousands of people went through that upheaval, all those struggles. I have been witnessing realities which affect us — and i have been writing on them all along.
In contrast, most of today's films and their lyrics lack strong emotions or an introspective gaze. Why do you think this quality has shrunk?
Well, today's films and lyrics reflect life around. These come from society to cinema, not the other way round. Today, it's all a matter of demand and supply, like a fast-food joint around the corner! Today's viewers apparently say they see a film to be entertained, not to be made to sit down and think. When i made Hu Tu Tu, viewers said they had not gone to the theatres to read a newspaper. On the other hand, why do you think the song 'Kajrare' was such a success? Simply because that's what the masses wanted, what they were looking for.
Today's films and lyrics are based on demand and supply. The audience is looking for entertainment and to pass its time. It does not really look forward to seeing films which could take it towards an introspective — and perhaps — a painful mood.