Gulzar as a Poet and Lyricist

“Tum shayar nahin hotey, toh bahut hi ordinary aadmi hotey”(Had you not been a poet, you would have been a very ordinary man”

These are the words of Aarti Devi, the ambitious, Indira Gandhi- like character in the movie Aandhi, directed towards her husband. The dialogues for this movie were written by Gulzar, and apparently this dialogue is inspired from the actual words that his wife once made in real life to him.

I personally do not have a very high opinion of Gulzar as a poet. In my opinion, Gulzar is far better as a dialogue writer than as a poet. As a poet, he is awkward, plays around with words that sound very well but have little or no poetic embellishment, sometimes making simple things sound more complex.

It still makes him a very fine lyricist, though, because music works as a distraction from the words, and then there are those flashes of brilliance. Take for example, one of the otherwise very fine songs: Humne dekhi hain in aankhon se mehakti khushboo”- eyes that smell like flowers? I find this one difficult to swallow. One can pull out many other examples, and probably this will be the subject of another post.

This post, however, brings out some discussions on his lyrics from deep down the internet archives- I first read them in the mid- 1990s, and this thread pertained to comparisons between Sahir Ludhianvi and Gulzar. The internet browsing community then was dominated by the fans of Sahir, I have a feeling that the tables have now turned and Sahir is less popular than Gulzar. A whole generation has grown up without listening to Sahir as much as it has  listened to Gulzar. The fact that Sahir died nearly three decades ago, and his best work was in the 1950s and 60s, makes sound him far less contemporary than Gulzar.

Sami Mohammad satirized Gulzar’s style in this interesting re- write of some of Sahir’s popular lyrics in the style of Gulzar. The thread was called “Gulzar becomes Sahir”. The style that Sami has chosen is more like the Gulzar of the 1970s and 1980s, I’d wager that the Gulzar post 1990s is more mature as a lyricist.


PART I: Gulzar’s extraordinary vocabulary! (Words such as bartan, chappal, taxi,
bus, train, etc)

S. Sahir
G. Gulzar

1S. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Nadi ki mast sadaen bula rahi hain tumhe

1G. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Bata ki Hawaai chappal bula rahi hai tumhe

2S. Dil ki bechaen umangon pe karam farmaao
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to quayaamat hogi

2G. Tum aaoge to noor aa jaega
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to local train chooT jaegi

4S. Aap jo phool bichae unhe hum THukraaen
Humko Dar hai ke ye tauheen-e-mohabbat hogi

4G. Tumne to aakaash bichaaya
Mere nange paaon me zamin ki gard hai
Mohabbat maili ho jaegi

5S. Pyaar par bas to nahin hai mera lekin phir bhi
Tu bataade main tujhe pyaar karun ya na karun

5G. In pyaar ki lambi sadkon par, public bus to chalti nahin phir bhi
Jo ghoomti phirti rehti hain, main woh taxi hire karun ya na karun

PART II: The complex Gulzar. Simple things expressed in an unnecessarily
complex manner. “Ghoomake dena” !

6S. Lo aaj humne toR diya rishta-e-ummeed
Lo ab gila karenge na kisi se hum

6G. Neele aakaash ke ghoonsle par jo ummeed ke boodhe baba thhe unhe humne
alvida keh diya
Duniya ke samandar ko gile-shikwon ki boondh se na chheRenge hum

7S. Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao to ye haq hai tumko
Meri baat aur hai maine to mohabbat ki hai

7G. Sust raste aur tez quadam raahen tumhe meri yaad nahin dilaae to kya
Pathhar ki haweli se sheeshe ke gharondon tak meri rooh tumhaare ehsaas ko
mehsoos karegi

8S. GHam aur KHushi me farq na mehsoos ho jahan
Main dil ko us muquaam pe laata chala gaya

8G. GHam ka kinara jahan KHushi ke kinare se bachkar kinare se milta hai
Usi kinare par maine apne dil ke kinare ko kinare laga diya

9S. Tum agar mujhko na chaaho to koi baat nahin
Tum kisi aur ko chahogi to mushkil hogi

9G. Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin lekin
Barfili sardion me kisi bhi pahaad par
Bhool bhulayyan galion me kisi ajnabi ke saath
Tumhe uRte hue dekhunga to mushkil hogi

10S. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge
F: Hum aapki aankhon se neenden hi uRaden to ?

10G. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge

F: Aankhon me neend na hogi, aansu hi tairte honge
Aansu ke samandar me neend ki naaov (boat) nahin aa paaegi

PART III: The ultra-complex Gulzar. Jab kuchh samajhme na aae, then use
contradictory lines to make things look profound.

11S. Hum intezaar karenge tera quayamat tak
KHuda kare ke quayamat ho aur tu aae

11G. Koi waada nahin kiya lekin, kyun tera intezaar rehta hai
Tere aa jaane ke baad bhi, hume tera intezaar rehta hai

12S. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Pal do pal meri kahani hai
Pal do pal meri hasti hai
Pal do pal meri jawani hai

13G. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Woh pal, jo aanewaala thha, lekin jaanewaala bhi hai
Jab main isme zindagi bitane ki sonchta hun
To duniya mujhpe hansti hai

More on the Sahir vs Gulzar discussions.

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15 thoughts on “Gulzar as a Poet and Lyricist

  1. I came across an interesting economics blog ‘Urbanomics’ by Vijawada Municipal commisioner Gulzar Natarajan. He is probably named after Gulzar.

  2. I like them both but I will jump here in Gulzar’s defence. One consistent element of his lyrics is his technique of defamiliarisation, using unconventional words not generally found in lyrics (even though it is quite common in poetry like Bartan chappal etc that you mention) and also his use of juxtapositions which defy common sense. It is there in the example you quote too (mehekti khushboo juxtaposed with eyes). It makes you think that sight and smell are not that apart as we perhaps think.

    After reading this I was trying to find the video of the song “Ek Akela Is Sheher Mein” but i think it is not there on youtube

  3. hmmmm
    yes u r right, the generation divide is more than visible
    my father swears by shailendra and sahir and i choose shailendra and gulzar
    and the treatment meted out to gulzar in this post is unfair at the very least
    also i’ll stand by alok’s first comment, gulzar’s use of unfamiliar to bring out the most familiar emotions to life. but yes, do become a bit tedious at times and then it his lyrical, rhythmic faculty that come to his aid.
    all in all, they both have a different style of writing, but the feeling shared are similar, and i’ll go for the bhavna rather than the shape and texture of words.

  4. The post has been very balanced, I’d say. He is indeed a reasonably good lyricist, it is only his poetry that is questionable. It is a tribute of sorts for him to be compared with Sahir in the first place. I agree on another point though- he appeals to feelings, but not to thought. Alok’s statement, therefore, “that’s something to think about” is misplaced.

  5. Consistency is perhaps also an issue. Sahir’s works by far display a consistency in their quality. Later poets/lyricists like Gulzar do manage to come up with the odd compositions that somehow strike a chord…but the rest of their works are nothing much to talk about.

  6. Absolutely. With the possible exception of Shailendra, no one from his own generation could match Sahir in that. On the other hand, to be fair to Gulzar, he has been able to bring some meaningful lyrics in a sea of noise in the 1980s and later. One admires him for his versatility as a lyricist, screen play and dialogue writer, a superb editor and a director- I wonder why he left out photography in his resume 🙂

  7. I have always wondered if Gulzar was known by his original name, i.e. Sampooran Singh Arora, would he be as popular as he is today?

  8. Names and particularly takhalus seem to be important for poets and for poets as well as those in the film industry. No wonder so many people in the industry change their names when they enter Bollywood.
    here we have a combination of both 🙂

  9. I totally agree with Readerswords. Actually I stumbled upon this blog while googling for Gullu to see if anyone else also thinks that he is more of a “fabricator of words” than a true Shaayar.When I say fabricator, I mean, his work sounds pretty “attempted” – bad sign for any poet/shaayar.

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