Gulzar – My Double Role.
A brace of hits, Anand and Guddi in 1971 led to Gulzar becoming a front-rank writer and leased him enough courage to don the mantle of a director. Same year, his directorial vehicle ‘Mere Apne’, a Hindi re-make of Tapan Sinha’s Bengali classic ‘Apan Jan’ was released. Gulzar wrote plenty for other directors (screenplay/dialogue) but never directed what he didn’t pen himself.
Despite his sporadic box office but constant critical success, a widespread opinion that gained momentum during this phase was Gulzar, the director always being subservient to Gulzar, the writer. Since Gulzar, without breaking new ground, stuck to the ‘personal reflection’ kind of European directorial style, it was the inventive idiom of his metaphorical language and its philosophical probing that got him extensive acclaim.
From the archives, here is Gulzar, the latest Dadasaheb Phalke Awardee, scrutinizing in first person his initial dichotomy at the playing the dual role of writer and director.
“What is Meena Kumari doing in a film filled with hoodlums?” A few of my friends who happened to see huge posters of ‘Mere Apne’ put up at strategic points in the city, asked me this question because they found the situation quite incongruous. It therefore whetted their curiosity.
I explained to them what that rare and consummate artiste was doing in a film apparently filled with hoodlums. I told them that it started with a Bengali film called ‘Apan Jan’ which I liked so much that it eventually became my first directorial venture in Hindi. I explained to them that “Mere Apne” was essentially the theme of Love vs Violence. Now they understood that Meena Kumari represented Love and the hoodlums (Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and the rest of them) represented Violence.
That, however, explained the duality on the screen. What was more complex, and therefore (to me at least) infinitely more interesting, was the duality which they did not understand and which they did not ask about – the duality behind the screen – the dual role played by a writer turned-director behind the screen.
It is this double role which I wish to talk about here. ‘Mere Apne’ was a two-way experience for me – the director was new but the writer had enough to be reckoned with as a leading screenwriter and thus, he took the upper hand. He would snub the director every now and then and stamp his foot, “I want to be heard! So use my dialogue, lest it should be vague!”
I would try to explain but he wouldn’t listen. So, almost obediently I started following the writer. At times he would smile condescendingly at me as though it was largely because of him that I became a director! On the sets I could see him sneaking in and sitting in one corner, trying to hypnotize me – a battle of wits began between the two of us. I would come out with some surprise shot which he had not seen in my home work. Glancing sideways at him I would see the glitter of wonder in his eyes! The director gradually gained confidence and started to defy him.
I would not listen to him when he would ask me to sit down and write, “Leave me alone, yaar. Let me think!” I would shun his home work. On the sets he became moody and non-cooperative. If I wanted a little change in a scene he would go, “Nothing doing,” and walk out of the set. I’d go after him and cajole him back. After all, we had to work together. Why did we keep forgetting that we were playing a double role behind the screen? I wondered whether others had faced the same before us.
Gradually we made peace. I would do his home work and he would leave me alone when I wanted to create in terms of visuals. I had accepted his medium already and now he was growing to accept mine. Now we write and direct together with one motto: ‘Writer-director bhai bhai.’
If this was the artistic confluence which I had to resolve within myself as the maker of Mere Apne, there were many other vital issues which I had to resolve in acceptably translating ‘Apan Jan’ into Hindi film terms. I will summarize some of them here for you as you will come face to face with them when you see Mere Apne.
The consistent emphasis on the contrast between Love and Violence was the main one.
Did we see this in coldly realistic, almost sociological terms? Or did one color the issues with a glow of the inner human emotions? Then again, how far to give emotions a free rein? Is it permissible to lapse into screen clichés? How to handle the crowd scenes so that they give out an aura of individualism? How to make the numerous members of both the gangs of hoodlums emerge as individuals with the barest strokes of the pen? How to use flash-back? (Here I used an interesting innovation: Meena Kumari, in her younger days is not played by Meena Kumari herself but another actress although she was dubbed with Meena Kumari’s voice).
And finally, how to resolve the issues posed by the theme? Here was the biggest challenge that ‘writer-director bhai-bhai’ faced the climax. In the fight between the two gangs the old woman, the mother (Meena Kumari) accidentally gets shot. The implications are clear – Love and Violence cannot co-exist and love is generally the wrong end of a bullet.
All these and many more artistic, thematic and literary issues confronted me during the making of “Mere Apne” with the result the assignment rose to the level of a challenge. And that is what made it worthwhile – the writer in me metamorphosed into a director.