Happy Birthday Gulzar! Hindi Films’ Evergreen Poet, Here Are Some of My Favorite Songs of Yours

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.

8 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Gulzar! Hindi Films’ Evergreen Poet, Here Are Some of My Favorite Songs of Yours

  1. “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli” is not by Gulzar. It’s by Yogesh, who passed away a couple of months ago.

    I most associate Gulzar with wordplay and here are some favorite examples of his cleverness/cheekiness in this area.

    Woh shaam kuch ajeeb this (that evening was a little peculiar, this evening is also peculiar)

    Tu jahan mile mujhe, wahi.N mere dono jahan (wherever I find you, I find my whole world)

    Meri jaan, mujhe jaan na kaho (My love, don’t call me Love)


    • I am not fluent in Hindi, but I love Gulzar because his wordplay is with the sound of the words. So even if I don’t get the meaning, I can still appreciate the turn of starting and ending a phrase with mirror language, and stuff like that.

      On Tue, Aug 18, 2020 at 4:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Most people think Gulzar was his pen name.But this man was born with a cool name,unlike so many of us.
    His hold over language is so strong,and so fluent is he in conjuring an imagery that even most Hindi speakers stand amazed at his choice of words.If I am not wrong,you don’t understand Hindi and went by how it sounds,right?If you dig up a bit more in his early works(much of the work listed here is his happier 90s-2000s stuff),he would come up with the strangest allusions-carrying lamps of dreams in eyes instead of the more generic lamp like eyes,and the best part being he leaves you guessing whether the intended effect of energising Hindi poetry or the more delicate Urdu ghazals and shayari.His songs can create instant nostalgia,even when they are brand new.


  3. As Gulzar is a poet, I go for the words (albeit in english translation for the meaning). I looked up the song from Jaaneman but I still love the lyrics from Paheli more…they have a poetry beyond the situation.
    If I go for the song as such (lyrics + music + singer + visuals), it’s Dil Se Re without any doubt…wow, what an impact on the senses!
    Nevertheless, all the Gulzar songs you posted, I can enjoy.


    • Apart from his work as lyricist, two of his movies made it to my watch/watched list: Angoor (ha! Shakespeare in India again!) and Mausam (the 70s one!). Do you know them?


      • I haven’t seen either of them, but I know of them. Angoor is supposed to be delightful, and Mausam is kind of over the top and Masala-y, but also fun.

        On Wed, Aug 19, 2020 at 1:53 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



    • The Paheli song is amazing, not knowing Hindi all you really need is the translation of “Dheere Jalna”, and the whole meaning comes through in just those two words.

      On Wed, Aug 19, 2020 at 1:43 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.