Poetry in Cinema: Giving Expression to Aspirations

The session started with laughter as Gulzar promised – “jo bhi kahunga sach kahunga, sach ke siwaah kuch nahin kahunga.”

Poetry is not just about romance and entertainment, rather, it’s a reflection of society. With this thought, Gulzar said he embarked on a project of translating contemporary Indian poetry written after 1947. 272 poets and 32 Indian languages later he had witnessed the change in mood of the people of India as the country went from the celebrations of independence to the dark days of partition followed by paens to hope.

Referring to the unveiling of the UN report on caste and gender representation in media, earlier this morning, Gulzar said that he has noticed a definitive trend of dynamic poetry by women in modern India, especially from the northeast.

Abhinandan played a piece of music, the lyrics of which were written by Gulzar in 1971. “Haalchal theek thaak hai! Sab kuchh theek thaak hai!” The reaction of the audience to the words proved how the same lyrics resonated in today’s political climate. Has nothing changed 48 years later? Replying with elegant words, Gulzar said, today we have no water in our taps but we are looking for water on the moon. There are two India’s at every step. Yet we are told that “haal chaal theek thaak hai.” One can light a thousand bulbs in the darkness but that does not change night into day. The audience broke into applause as he said in impeccable hindi “Don’t dazzle us with the lights, we know that it’s still night.”

Asked about the ban on his movie Aandhi, he said that it was not based on Indira Gandhi. Political propaganda led to the ban. Scenes that showed the main protagonist smoking had also been controversial. “But why can’t a strong positive female character in a film also smoke and drink?” He reflected that while anti-establishment films have been made for decades, its only now that we see a spate of pro-establishment propaganda in film and media.

Are artists and poets leveraging their place in popular film music? According to Gulzar, while there are enough films being made today that reflect current social conditions, that is not translated into music and poetry. More needs to be done and it is a social responsibility that artists need to meet.

“How have you stayed relevant for five decades?” asked a fan in the audience. “I’ve held onto the fingers of the people. I react to life and to the current generation. I haven’t grown up. That’s how I still speak the words that resonate with my children and their friends.”

Sharing his newest compositions that are the words of Murarilal, the ubiquitious common man, Gulzar said, Murarilal’s worry lines never fade. His world has not changed. The colour of some currency notes have changed, the names of some roads and railway stations have changed. But Kanhaiya the chhole-seller is still selling chhole, the cobbler is still repairing shoes. Nothing has changed for Murarilal.

Are you ready for South Asia's largest news media forum?