Article Hindi

15 of Gulzar's memorable lyrics: Birthday special

Gulzar has coloured Hindi cinema with the inventiveness, exuberance and quirkiness of his lyrics. On the poet's 83rd birthday, we take a look at 15 songs that capture his love for the abstract in life.

Shriram Iyengar

Sampooran Singh Kalra aka Gulzar remains one of the most beloved, admired, and innovative poets of Hindi cinema. An Academy award winner, Filmfare award winner for both lyrics and direction, he is respected across generations for his ability to say the most complex things with unadorned simplicity.

From translating Assamese poetry to Hindi, to writing Urdu songs for music composers, who themselves are not well versed with the language (example, A R Rahman), he has made a mark that very few can even think of.

As the lyricist, poet, director turns 83 today (18 August), we take a look at 15 compositions that capture the versatility, abstraction, and unique metaphors that this lyricist gifted Hindi cinema with.

1. Mora Gora Ang Laile (Bandini, 1963)

It was during the making of Bimal Roy's Bandini that a tiff broke out between composer SD Burman and lyricist Shailendra. Not wanting it to affect the project, Shailendra offered Roy the suggestion to take on young Gulzar as the song writer. During a masterclass at the IFTDA in 2015, Gulzar revealed that Burman was not too keen and muttered to Roy in Bengali, 'This chap can write fine in Urdu, but what does he know of Vaishnav music?". The director, to the composer's embarassment said, "This chap, speaks, reads and writes Bengali, Burman da."

So began the career of lyricist Gulzar.

2. Humne Dekhi Hai Un Aankhon Ki Mehekti Khushboo (Khamoshi, 1969)

Gulzar's lyrics were defined by his abstract motifs and unique imagery. In the Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore starrer Khamoshi (1969), he composed this beautiful song that invented a whole new metaphor in its 'mehekti khushboo' (fragrant eyes). Purists were shocked, but could not help admiring the imagination that conceived it.

3. Beeti Na Bitai Raina (Parichay, 1972)

One of the lyricist's greatest strengths is his versatility. Borrowing influences from TS Eliot, Ghalib, Rabindranath Tagore, among others, Gulzar's lyrics often embody the vast diaspora of knowledge that has tinged his experience. This beautiful bitter-sweet song, composed magically by RD Burman, speaks of longing, nostalgia and time that will never return.

4. Dil Dhoondta Hai (Mausam, 1975)

A beautiful ode to nostalgia, the song also borrows its opening verse from one of Gulzar's favourite poets, Mirza Ghalib. Unlike other purists, the lyricist shows no remorse in borrowing the opening verse and creating a free verse song that transforms into something completely new.

5. Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi (Aandhi, 1975)

One of his most famous collaborations with RD Burman, this song from Aandhi remains an evergreen romantic favourite. Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar have sung the melancholic ode, with Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen's sensitive romance unfolding on the screen. 'Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi' is a reminder why some relationships never fade.

6. Aap Ki Aankhon Mein Kucch (Ghar, 1978)

It was in RD Burman's eccentricity that the lyricist truly found a compadre. The two collaborated on this magical film to create songs that continue to be raging hits. 'Aap Ki Aankhon' was one such beautiful abstract poem that is as flirtatious as it is mesmerising.

7. Aanewala Pal (Gol Maal, 1979)

Leave it to Gulzar to transform a seemingly innoccuous song into a philosophical treatise. In a moment of romance, the lyricist introduces high themes such as the loss of time, the temporal nature of life whose complexity belies the simple verse 'Ek baar waqt se/Lamha gira kahin/ Wahaan dastaan mili/Lamha kahin nahi' (Once a moment fell/From the branch of time/I found stories/but the moment was lost).

8. Aye Zindagi Laga Le (Sadma, 1983)

Again, a simple song infused with a deep philosophy of life. The magic of the lyricist's skill lies in the simplicity, and joy, with which he evokes these emotions.

9. Tujhse Naraaz Nahin Zindagi (Masoom, 1982)

Among his many awards was a Filmfare for Best Lyricist for this nostalgic song from Shekhar Kapur's Masoom. The song captures the frustration, dejection, and surprise of a father discovering life anew as he learns about his son.

10. Mera Kucch Samaan (Ijaazat, 1987)

The story goes that when Gulzar brought this gem of a blank verse poem to him, RD Burman threw it back saying, "Next time you will ask me to compose on the words of the Times of India". Yet, the composer delivers a wonderful composition as proof of the chemistry between the two. Gulzar won the Filmfare award for Best Lyricist for this work as well.

10. Chaiyya Chaiyya (Dil Se..., 1998)

In many ways, after RD Burman, it was in AR Rahman that the lyricist found another like-minded soul. This song ensured that his fame would be etched on the history of world music. While it has been praised for Rahman's hypnotic rhythms, the verses stand out as testimony for the lyricist's unique imagination.

Who else would compare a lover to languages and fragrance?

11. Chappa Chappa Charkha Chale (Maachis, 1996)

This was the moment Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar signed a pact to create a memorable partnership. This beautiful Punjabi number combines the best of two poets, musicians and lyricists to great effect.

12. Kajra Re (Bunty Aur Babli, 2005)

Despite his vast knowledge of literature, the poet is not a purist. His ability to use English, Hindi, even Urdu words in perfect synchronicity makes him a popular choice for several young musicians. This wonderful item number is an example of his work with 'personal sawaals' and a Ghalibesque ode to love, walking hand in hand.

13. O Saathi Re (Omkara, 2006)

The moon is not the only property he lays claim over. In Vishal Bhardwaj's bloody Shakespearean drama, he penned this beautiful poem of the sun playing catch on the banks of a pond, it slipping, and being caught by love. Talk about imagination!

14. Dil To Baccha Hai Ji (Ishqiya, 2010)

Speaking of nostalgia, Gulzar says, "Nostalgia is a sweet place to live in, but it is an indulgence." It explains how the poet continues to create new idioms and metaphors that feel all the more current despite the vast gap between their writer and the listener.

15. Challa (Jab Tak Hai Jaan, 2012)

A Punjabi by birth, the language does find itself lingering in Gulzar's poems occassionally. For Yash Chopra's last film, he won the Filmfare Award for Best lyricist again with a traditional sufi song paraphrased by a very current acoustic guitar music, and the setting of London.

After all, with Gulzar, you could not expect the expected connections.