What’s special about Gulzar?

What’s special about Gulzar?

Women are liberated in the evergreen songs of the legendary lyricist who turned 87 recently

Gulzar, who began his career as a lyricist in Bimal Roy’s ‘Bandini’, has won five National Awards. Credit: DH file photo

Gulzar’s talent for giving expression to messy human emotions is remarkable. He blends senses (Humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehekti khushboo) and defies the poetic idiom, and his words provide a balm to wounded hearts (mera kuch samaan, hazaar rahein), mirror to an unequal, apathetic, broken society (Golmaal hai, sab theek thaak hai), and the epitome of desire (Jiya jale). However, what is important to note is his brand of feminism that is unmissable in his lyrics.

For a man, it is not easy to unlearn one’s privilege, understand the vulnerabilities of women, and stay true to the politics of it all. By and large, women are deprived of their agency in their thoughts and words. Gulzar fits so amicably between and through these vast emotions- keeping intact empathy, a clean grip on the character whose voice it is, and never letting the words outshout the moment, or the voice they belong to. Gulzar reflects the complexity and emotions of women's hearts politically, poetically, unabashedly and coyly.

Desire has always been a man’s prerogative in mainstream Hindi cinema. Through time, reflections of what a woman must be, or transform to, to be ‘eligible’ or ‘worthy’ of male attention, have formed the fulcrum of some of Hindi cinema's greatest hit songs.

In these realities, Gulzar’s repertoire on female desire is varied. From the innocent Mora gora ang lae le ('Bandini') to Namak isk ka and Beedi Jalai le ('Omkara') having seduction at their core, to Kajra Re ('Bunty Aur Babli') and finally Jiya Jale ('Dil Se'), Gulzar has been adept at bringing alive female desire.

Generally, you either see submissive women transforming to appease the male gaze and be validated by it, or being the objectified temptress. In both cases, the gaze and pleasure is purely male. In each of Gulzar's aforementioned songs, you find the narrative firmly in the grip of the woman, liberating herself as and when she chooses to, dignified all the way through.

Freedom, and what it feels like, a sense of abandonment, find regular space in his songs. In each of his films, collaborative or otherwise, one finds women strong and complete- essaying roles well beyond their relationships.

On the one hand, there is Aaj kal paaon zameen par ('Ghar'), and on the other, you have the formidable 'Raazi'. Each looks at freedom with different colours. While one is full of abandonment and liberation, the other is about liberating oneself from one’s own doubts. 'Katra katra' with lines like 'arzoo mein behne do', speaks of the simplicity of impulse, the will to slide through life, and desires.

Assertion is another visible trait in Gulzar's words. Naam gum jaayega ('Kinara') looks at the fickleness of life, the need to leave behind a presence, and the role voice can play. For a woman’s voice to linger, beyond odes of undying submissive love for a man, is to date a novelty.

His ideas on longing, focus on a woman's identity. It isn’t a typical ode to the man she misses but what it feels to be a complete woman by herself. Longing is liberated from being interpersonal, to the idea of what life itself would be in Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi ('Masoom').

Tum pukaar lo (Khamoshi), Hazaar rahein ('Thodi Si Bewafai'), Khaali haath shaam aayi hai (Ijaazat), Seeli Hawa choo gayi ('Libaas') and so many more, carry a strain of angst that wishes the one pain is being borne for, to feel it too. Tere bina jeeya jaaye na ('Ghar') is a playful narrative in which she describes what longing does to her. Mera kuch samaan ('Ijaazat') epitomises sadness of moments gone by, the past one longs for, while forced to live in the present where the two can never meet.

In Gulzar's filmography, women feel beyond love, and within love, are complete people unto themselves and have the agency of choice. The veteran writer, who turned 87 last week, respects women for who they are, with every word he pens.

(The writer is a poet, gender-activist and ad-woman)

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