Gulzar! He has been a lyricist since, like, forever. Plus writes scripts, plus sometimes directs. I cannot possibly list out everything awesome he has done, so instead I’m just gonna list the awesome songs from him that I most like.
Gulzar! Has been working a ridiculously long time. His family were Partition refugees who landed in Bombay, and he landed in the People’s Theater and the Progressive Writer’s Association, where he bumped into film folk who offered him jobs writing the occasional lyrics. Gulzar is mostly self-taught as a poet, from no particular tradition. He grew up with Punjabi folk songs/poems, then found a book of Tagore poems as a young man which had an enormous influence on him, and in the film industry moved into the realm of the classical Urdu poets. It makes him a great lyricist, whatever the tone/setting/mood required for a song, he can match it.
Gulzar got his first notable hit song in Bandini in 1963 when he was 29. He was a vital part of that mid-60s film world, close friends with Meena Kumari for instance and the inheritor of her journals/poems at her death. In 1973, he married young actress Rakhee, 14 years younger than himself and they had a child so immediately that I am thinking the marriage and childbirth may have been related. He and Raakhee cheerfully unofficially separated a few years post-marriage but both remained active parents in the life of their child, Meghna Gulzar.
The 70s through the early 90s were the peak of Gulzar’s artistic output in terms of quantity and variety. He was writing lyrics, dialogue, scripts, and even directing. By the mid-90s, he had shifted to focus primarily on lyric writing. He was 60 by this point, many men would have been considering retirement. But not Gulzar. He is 86 today, and still working as regularly as most lyricists.
Now, Margaret’s Favorite Gulzar Songs! Unrelated to objective quality, career importance, popularity, whatever. Just my favorites!
“Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli”. Loose translation, “live is such a puzzle”. This is a song from a character who knows he is dying, the brilliance is in the light lyrics and tune as he tries to look on the bright side.
“Aye Zindagi Gale Laga Le” . “Oh Life embrace me” Our hero has taken charge of a young woman with the mind of a child, and they are both learning to enjoy life and be fearless together.
“Dil Se Re” “From the heart”, and the rest of the lyrics match pretty closely with the visuals, beautiful images of dying leaves, walls, dangers, sadness, and yet the heart keeps going.
“Chhai Chhap Chhai Chhap Ke Chhai” “Splash Splish Splash Splish of Splash” (nonsense words for the sound of waves). This one is two young people falling in love, being silly, and singing about being at the beach with the sound of water.
“Banda Ye Bindas Hai” “Dude is bindass (bold, tough, bada–)”. Married couple out for a night on the town, feeling silly seeing a crowd dancing, join in.
“Dheere Jalna” “Slowly Burn”. A ghost taking human form wishes for his time to burn slowly.
“Ajnabi Shehar, Ajnabi Shaam Hai” “Strange city, strange evening”. A woman is falling in love again after years separated from her husband, a man is falling in love for the first time, and another man is seeing his ex-wife fall in love and feeling strange, and all of it is happening far away from home.
“Tere Bina” “Without You”. A husband and wife fought, and she went back to her parents, and now they are missing each other.
“Mere Aarzoo Kaminey” “My hopes are kaminey [Small, mean, disgusting]” Our hero is suddenly questioning his self worth, his hopes, his dreams, his actions, his very self feels “kaminey”.
“Heer” “Heer”. The legend of Heer is about a Punjabi heroine who slowly dies of poison, married to the wrong man, unable to be united with her love. Sahiban is a different heroine who left her wedding and ran off with her lover. The lyrics say “I don’t want to be Heer any more, I want to be Sahiban”.
“Teen Gawah” “Three witnesses”. The lyrics are “three witnesses to our love, one God, one You, and Me”. A young couple has run off from her wedding, knowing they may be killed by her family at any moment, and not caring.
I should say, I also quite liked a lot of his songs for Rangoon, and they were very clever, but I hate the movie so much I can’t quite separate it from the songs. Unfair, I know, but I can’t help it.
I love all these songs very very much, but I think overall my favorite is “Ajnabi Shehar”. Listen to all of them and pick your favorite, it’s amazing how poetic meaning can carry through just the sound of the words once you have a general sense of the meaning.