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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Indian lyricist-writer-director Gulzar bags DadaSaheb Phalke award

Gulzar chosen for DadaSaheb Phalke Award, India’s biggest recognition of film personalities’ lifetime contribution to Indian cinema

The Man who Defeated the Sun and Stole the Moon

Sampooran Singh Kalra, born on 18 August 1936, in Dina (now in Pakistan), is better known by his nom de plume, Gulzar (garden).  Dina is located in the northern part of Jhelum District, approximately16 km north of Jhelum City, with a population of under 50,000. In the 40s, the Kalra family first moved to Amritsar and then Delhi. Sampooran had Urdu as one of his subjects at school, and an exacting Ustaad helped him memorise good Urdu poetry, as well as get a good grip on the language. He became even more deeply engrossed in music when he started going to St. Stephen’s College, and would regularly attend concerts of artistes like sitar legend Ravi Shankar and sarod wizard Ali Akbar Khan. Years later, he was to make two National award-winning documentaries on Indian classical music maestros, one on sarod player Amjad Ali Khan, and another on vocalist Bhimsen Joshi.

Gulzar’s definitive inspiration from the realm of literature came from Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, when he read Urdu translations of the Nobel laureate. As he said in a recent newspaper interview, “Tagore remains my greatest inspiration. He was the turning point in my life, right from school. I think I took up writing only because I felt that his translations needed to be better. So, in a way, all my writing is because of him. I am working on Tagore translations for children, which will take me a full year to compile. It will be an honour for me if I can present Tagore in Urdu and Hindi--Hindustani I call it--to everyone, starting with children.”

He always wanted to be a poet and writer, but his father, businessman Makhan Singh Kalra, who had nine children, decided to split the family, to make things manageable.  Post 1947, the Sabzi Mandi area in which they lived had become an overpopulated refugee camp. One group of relatives was sent to Roorkee, another to Udaipur, and Sampooran’s half-brother Jasmer set-up a petrol pump as well as a paints-chemicals shop in Bombay. Destiny willed that Sampooran come to Bombay and live with his brother, while pursuing his studies and helping in the business.

Studying first at the Khalsa College and then National College, deeply interested in Urdu and Persian, Gulzar stared contributing poems to the best-known Urdu publications of the 50s, Shama and Beesveen Sadi. Sadly, neither his father nor his brother could appreciate his interests and pursuits, and were livid when he dropped out of college. As journalist-author Saibal Chatterjee documents in his book Echoes & Eloquences – The Life and Cinema of Gulzar, “Words like nikamma (good for nothing) and anpadh (illiterate) were constantly hurled at him both by his father and his elder brother. When his patience ran out, on one particular bitter occasion, Gulzar snapped back at his brother: “Ek din aapkey baal bachchey meree kitaaben padhengey (One day your children will read my books)”. Prophesy? Foresight? Determination?

After a period of ‘struggle’ in the late 50s, his career came on to the right track, and he got the job of assistant director to Bimal Roy. The only Gulzar song included in Roy’s Bandini (1963), ‘Mora gora ang lai le’, tuned by S.D. Burman and picturised on Nutan, got popular, and lyric-writing assignments started coming regularly. Sachinda’s son, R. D. Burman, composed songs for almost all the movies directed by Gulzar in the 1970s and the 1980s, including Parichay (1972), Khushboo (1975), Aandhi (1975), Angoor (1982), Ijaazat (1987) and Libaas (1988). The pair also came together to do some non-film albums.

Besides writing and directing films, he directed an eponymous television serial on that titan among Urdu poets, Mirza Ghalib, starring Naseeruddin Shah, shown on Doordarshan in 1988. Incidentally, Gulzar’s growing-up years, spent at the Kalra home in Sabzi Mandi, not too far from the house of the great 19th century poet, in Ballimaaraan, old Delhi, must have been a source inspiration. Ghalib is present in the mukhda of one of his songs, used in the film Mausam, a direct tribute to the poet laureate. Gulzar also worked, as a song-writer or dialogue-writer for several Doordarshan programmes for children, such as Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland and Potli Baba Ki.

Gulzar and his actress-wife Raakhee have a daughter, Meghna, fondly called Bosky (after the fabric, cotton with silky feel; dictionaries usually give the meaning of Bosky as ‘densely covered with small tress or bushes’). Her father has even named his abode at Mumbai’s Pali Hill, Boskiana. Meghna studied sociology and film-making, was a journalist and TV anchor for some time, assisted her father in some of his 90s’ films, and directed a sensitive film herself, Filhaal. Meghna Gulzar has also penned a biography of Gulzar, titled Because He Is, published in 2004. In it, she reveals that Gulzar actually learnt the sitar: “Papi took-up learning to play the `sitar' when I was about seven, and he was in his forties. He always woke up early in the mornings (and still does)--before the sun came up! He says defeating the sun is a great way to start the day

Gulzar: A Bouquet of Awards

Awards have come with recurring regularity, acknowledging in black and white, the colourful public endeavours of a private person who always wears white.

Gulzar was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004, for his contribution to the arts, and the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2002, for Dhuan, a compilation of short stories in Urdu. His other short story collection is available under the title 'Raavi-paar' (Raavi being the famous river in Punjab), and his poetry is partly published in two compilations, namely, 'Raat pashmine ki' and 'Chand pukhraaj ka'.

In 2009, he won the Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Original Song for ‘Jai Ho’, in the film Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

On 31 January 2010, the same song won him a Grammy Award, in the category of Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.

National Film Awards

Best Film

1976: Second Best Feature Film – Mausam

1996: Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment – Maachis

Best Lyrics

1988: Mera kuchh saamaan – Ijaazat

1991: Yaara seeli seeli – Lekin...

Best Screenplay

1972: Koshish

2014 Dadasaheb Phalke Award Highest award in Indian cinema, conferred by The Government of India, for life-time service to cinema

Filmfare Awards

Best Director

1976: Mausam

Best Lyricist; Year--Song--Film

1977: Do deewaane shaher men – Gharaonda

1979: Aanewala pal jaane wala hai -- Golmaal

1980: Hazaar raahen mud ke dekheen -- Thodisi Bewafaii

1983: Tujhse naraaz naheen zindagee – Masoom

1988: Mera kuchh saamaan – Ijaazat

1991: Yaara seeli seeli – Lekin

1998: Chhaiyan chhaiyan – Dil Se

2002: Saathiya – Saathiya

2005: Kajraare kajraare – Bunty Aur Babli

2010: Dil to bachcha hai jee – Ishqiya

2013: Chhalla --Jab Tak Hai Jaan 

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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