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A portrait of his master: Gulzar's poem on Bimal Roy


The filmmaker picked an unknown young man from obscurity and mentored him on the way to glory in arts. Roy's trained eye could see the poet and future director in the novice where others could only see another wannabe. Gulzar, in return, paid tribute in a way only a poet can. On Roy's birth anniversary, a look at the poem.

Shriram Iyengar

It was during the filming of Kabuliwala in 1961 that Bimal Roy became acquainted with a young man named Sampooran Singh Kalra. The lyricist Shailendra introduced the man, who had taken the pen name Gulzar, to the director. On the senior poet's insistence, Bimalda took Gulzar on as an assistant director.

Years later, when Gulzar was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award for his contribution to Indian cinema, he took a minute to remember his guru – Bimal Roy. "But for Bimalda," the poet remarked in several interviews, "I would have been with some motor garage or the other."

It was an event of serendipity that often surprises and spurs other artistes and poets across the world. A novice who would become a living legend finds the shade of one of the greatest Indian filmmakers of the neo-realist movement.

It is not often that a poet finds himself in situations that prove conducive to his art. Gulzar was lucky to find the friendship of one of the leading film poets and writers of the time, Shailendra. Shailendra would often try to convince him to leave the motor garage and work in films full time, but to no avail.

The arrival of Bimal Roy was to change that. Once, during the filming of Bandini, Shailendra got into an argument with music composer SD Burman. A fierce and passionate man, Shailendra decided to quit working on the film. Not wanting to put Bimalda in trouble over a personal tiff, Shailendra suggested that Gulzar work on the remaining songs. Bimalda agreed. Thus was born 'Mora gora ang layi le, mohe shyam rang dayi de'. The song would mark the beginning of Gulzar the lyricist. Impressed at his sensibility and skill with words, Bimal Roy asked Gulzar to quit the garage and work with him as an assistant director.

The influence of Bimal Roy and his sensitive neo-realist style of filmmaking on Gulzar's own style of storytelling is obvious. The immediate impact of emotions using minimal dialogue is a signature present in both the master and his pupil.

Gulzar also adopted his mentor's tendency to strengthen his stories with strong female characters. Bimal Roy's Anupama, Sujata, Kalyani were characters that continue to astonish with their quiet grace and determination to fight the odds. Gulzar went further in his feminism, casting an ageing Meena Kumari as the central character in his directorial debut, Mere Apne (1971). He continued the trend with films like Koshish, Khamoshi, Aandhi and Mausam.

The director and the poet would share a relationship that was far beyond simply creative. Gulzar considered Bimalda more than a mentor, almost a parent in the strange city of Bombay. Speaking of Roy's death, he said, "Every night I used to cry as cancer consumed Bimalda, bit by bit. All along, I was there beside him, reading his favourite script Amrit Kumbh. On 8 January 1966, when he died, we cremated him, and with him, I cremated my father."

A prolific poet, Gulzar returns to Bimal Roy several times in his written works. His book Raavi Paar contains several anecdotes about Roy and his struggle with the creative muse. But his greatest tribute comes in his poetic portrait of his mentor.

In his poetry collection Kucch Aur Nazmein (Some More Poems) Gulzar describes the mystic sensitivity of Bimal Roy by comparing him to an omniscient pair of eyes. At a closer look, the poem resembles the magical atmosphere created by the director in one of his most famous films, Madhumati (1958). Knowing Bimalda's love for literature, there could be few tributes more appropriate.

Bimal Roy

Shaam ke kohre me bahta hua khamosh nadi ka chehra
Gandumi kohre me jalte hue aankhon ke chirag
Ek lagataar sulagta hua cigarette ka dhuan
Neend me doobi hui door ki maddham aawaz
Ajnabi khwaabon ke udte hue saayon ke tale
Naksh chehre ke, pighalti hui mom ki maanind
Har naye khwaab ki dhun sunke badal jaate hain
Aisa lagta hai na soyega, na jaagega, na bolega kabhi
Shaam ke kohre me bahta hua khamosh nadi ka chehra.

From the book Kucch Aur Nazmein by Gulzar
Publisher: Rajkamal Publications