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Wizard Of Words

At the age of 79, poet, lyricist and writer Gulzar is still wielding the pen with panache. The wordsmith recently attended the International Children’s Film Festival India (ICFFI) in Hyderabad and wrote the lyrics for the festival’s jingle. In an interview with Soumita Sengupta, the maestro speaks about how the festival can improve and the state of children’s films in India

ICFFI takes place in Hyderabad every year. But don’t you think its prospects would have been better had it travelled across cities?

ICFFI was initially a moving festival but that was the very reason it was unable to establish itself. It became like a moving book fair. Even India’s International Film Festival, which takes place in Goa every year, was able to establish itself once it was anchored in Goa. All the international festivals, be it Cannes, Venice, Berlin or Moscow, have built a reputation for themselves because a festival can become famous only after you establish it at a specific venue. I think it’s best if ICFFI is held at the same venue every year.

There was talk that unlike Hyderabad, the Governments of other States have not shown interest in the festival.

I am not aware of that. The festival has been taking place in Hyderabad for 12 years and the Government has been supportive every time. I think they should make the festival an annual event instead of once in two years.

I personally want to do something for the children of the North East India as they are geographically located far away. And I feel we haven’t done anything for them yet. Yeh karz hai hamare upar, yeh karz ada karna bahut zaruri hai.

Do you think it would help if children’s films were introduced as part of their school curriculum?

There was a time when cinema houses used to screen children’s films during their morning shows. But that has since stopped. It is easy for us to say that this should be done and that should be done, but no one is prepared to take the initiative. We are lacking in social values and should not blame the Government for it. After all, who takes care of your children? The Government or parents?

The media should also raise their collective voice and bring about a change in society. You mentioned introducing films in the school curriculum. Well, there were many NGOs that tried to do this in Uttar Pradesh but they failed because no one else was interested. So who is responsible? The Government provided the funds but we failed to establish the tradition.

You have written for children and are involved with them in many ways. Do you think our school syllabus is outdated? Our history books still speak only of Mahatma Gandhi and the Independence movement. Don’t you think our kids today should also learn about what’s happened post 1947?

Of course! That’s a very good point. The syllabus seems to be the same as the one I studied 60 years ago. Sure, our children should learn Shakespeare but they should also study Kalidas as well as new authors. But, then, those who are in charge of revising the syllabus should be well read.

During every era, there’s been a children’s film that has become a cult classic like Masoom, Mr. India and Taare Zameen Par. Considering how rapidly the industry is growing, don’t you think we should have many good children’s films releasing every year?

Of course we should. But for that, one needs to take a step. It’s not that we don’t have directors or writers but they write commercial films because, according to the Indian mindset, children’s films don’t do commercial business. So I am writing whatever I can for kids. I write short stories, poems and I might even write a children’s film one day.

I would also like to point out that Indian literature, especially Hindi literature, doesn’t have anything for kids unlike Bengali, Marathi and Malayalam literature which has many stories for kids. Bengali literature has some great works so I learnt Bengali and have translated Rabindranath Tagore’s stories into Hindi so that they can reach a wider audience. We need more writers. In Bengali, we speak about authors like Amar Mitra but we don’t have any such authors in Hindi.

Which are your favourite works?

Rabindranath Tagore has done some great work. Unfortunately, most non-Bengalis have not known Tagore beyond his book Gitanjali. He has written so much but many of his great works are yet to be brought to light. I hope to bring his works into focus.

Hollywood has many more films based on books than India does. We have only recently adopted this trend. Do you think we should adapt more Indian books to film?

Good point. But I feel we are too attracted towards Hollywood and foreign literature. In the end, till we are doing good work, I don’t think we should have a problem. Today’s new breed is doing some great work.

Speaking of Indian authors, do you think we have quality writers today? Also, folk tales have almost vanished.

India is the richest country in terms of civilisations. We have 5,000 years of folk tales and every generation leaves behind their experience. Take for instance the Ajanta-Ellora or the Taj Mahal. But what are we doing? We are polluting history. Today, musicians remix (Mohammad) Rafi’s songs! Kathayein chhaan ke aati hain, toh aapki kathayein chhaan ke aagey jaani chahiye. Warna aane wali peedhi kya jaan payegi aaj ke daur ke bare mein?

We should stop polluting history. We are still reading old folk tales, instead we should create new tales. Preserve the old, make new ones and give the next generation more details.

Aaj kal ki lok kathayein kuch aisi hongi – Afghanistan mein ek naani apne pote ko sunayegi ‘ek gol akaar ki koi cheez, unche aasman se niche girta tha, girte hi dhuaan ho jaata tha aur sab ek chhatri ke niche aa jaate thhey aur mar jaate thhey. These will be the kind of folk tales the next generation will read.

I have seen the First World War and the Second World War and we have learnt so much from these events in history. So you need to preserve today’s stories as they will become tomorrow’s history.

Are you also opposed to remaking films?

Who I am to be against remaking films? All I am saying is create your own work.

When will we see you directing a film again?

Wait for the time to come. I am writing something and you never know… I believe in doing one thing at a time. Never say never.

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