A daughter speaks: My father, Gulzar

He is a poet, filmmaker, writer of songs, books, and dialogues. Inspiration and legend, his lifetime achievements include a Grammy and an Oscar. She too is a filmmaker, now full-time mother to a two-year-old. Born of star-studded lineage, raised by celebrity parents – Rakhee and Gulzar – she is the ultimate industry child who has chosen to walk her own path.

Meghna Gulzar speaks of life with her father.

When did you realise your father was a famous man?

Actually, I can’t put my finger on it. I knew mom (Rakhee) was famous. Actors are naturally more adulated; it was her car that was thronged by fans, her face that was photographed when she was in public. It happened more to her than to him, but somewhere along the way, I realised he was special too, for a lot of fans.

Even today, all the adulation he receives in the social media is amazing. And it is not about him being a filmmaker. That is there, but the real adulation comes for his poems, his books.

How was your childhood? You were raised in a divided home...

I think I was blessed. My parents completely and willingly shared me. There were no supervised visits, or split weeks, none of the stuff that happens with children after a divorce. I had toys, clothes, cupboards in both houses. It was as easy as moving from one room to another.

Indian lyricist and music director Gulzar with daughter Meghna in Mumbai. AFP

So for all practical purposes I grew up with both of them. In my teens, it was decided that being a girl, I should spend more time with my mother. It was a milestone, and I still remember it quite clearly.

What was he like as a parent?

He had his tough moments with me. I wanted to wear two plaits — had to wear them to school — and I wanted them of exactly the same length. The nanny would never get it right and it would end with us getting into screaming matches. So he would take over, and practice getting it right.

It was not easy for him. He worked hard at it. He would tie my laces, my school tie, and taught me to do it. There has always been that feminine side to him, and it shows in his work too.

I can’t remember a single incident when he raised his voice at me. Once maybe, at the piano, during a lesson, once but never otherwise.

He would make sure he would come every day to pick me from school. But I don’t think either parent ever sat with me over my homework. I don’t think either of them would have understood modern math. But come annual day, and they would both be there; if there was an art project, they would both help. It was amazing how they managed this despite staying apart.

Yet they lived apart, and did that not hurt you?

As a child growing up, you do have 'Parent Trap' fantasies. But I never dug into their divorce. They were cordial with each other, even affectionate and that was better than their living in the same house, screaming or fighting. They are both headstrong , independent, self-made, but there is a strong attachment. So that is good enough.

How did you respond to the fact that he must have been attracted to other women?

I really don’t know about it. One did hear things, read stories, but I have never seen anything in the house to make me think anyone could be special, or close to him. But even if I did, I would never have been able to bridge that gap and ask him about it.

We are close, I would go to him with everything, but when it comes to his life, there is like a purdah!

I’ve seen him show off the paintings you made as a schoolgirl. They were all over the house. What did you imbibe from him besides a love of creating pictures?

He made sure I was always surrounded by creative pursuits. He would take me to the book shop and let me roam free to decide before I picked something. He did the same at shops. I might make horrendous choices, but they were my choices.

What about his influence on you as a film maker?

I have never really experienced him working on the set. Films were shot outside the house. So my interaction with him has been more as a person, watching him with his friends, at home.

But I do love his brevity, the simplicity of his wrting, the delicacy of expression and thought, especially in his poems and dialogue. When I started writing, I realised I was also being brief and direct in my writing, and he liked that. He said, ‘Yes, keep the purity of the language, and please promise me your son will have it too.’

But as for learning film making from him; he is so internal. Everything is in his head. Even his assistant directors have to work things out through a ‘medium’. Somehow Salim Arif knows what he wants, and passes it along.

Also, if I am on the sets, he gets distracted. Have I eaten, had juice etc. That kind of thing. So I decided to assist Saeed Mirza, rather than him.

He is a poet, he must have his moods? Do you see him sad, melancholic?

He wont speak about it, but I know he is sad or worried when he looks drawn, tired. When Jagjit Singh was in hospital, he was very worried, I could see it. But he does not dwell on it, he moves on, writes or does something to stop moping.

And lastly, how is he as a grandfather?

When he is with my son Samay, I can see how he must have been with me. He is always stopping me from correcting Samay. His house is full of red marker pen marks, but he is not worried about it. "I let you spray paint your ceiling because you wanted to," he reminds me, He takes him out almost every evening, or Mom does, and when he is out travelling he misses him terribly.

With Samay, he is what I have never seen him being before: Mushy!