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Creative child of celebrities

Meghna Gulzar speaks to V. GANGADHAR about her life, her illustrious parents and how she came to write the book.


SHE IS a film director, script-writer and an occasional columnist, but Meghna (`Bosky' to her parents) ismaking waves with an intimate, pictorial biography, "Because He Is ... ..", of her father — noted poet, lyricist and director — Gulzar (`Papi' to the daughter). Some excerpts from the interview:

Was it a handicap being the child of celebrity parents, Gulzar and actress Raakhee?

For me at least, it was not a hindrance. But there is always the perception that because of your parents, everything comes easily to you. Sometimes, the credit for your success goes to your elders. Expectations and comparisons can be daunting but then I am an optimist and regard myself to be fortunate to have such parents.

Were you affected by the separation of your parents?

This happened when I was 18 months old and I always saw them as `separated'. But they took care not to display their differences in my presence. It did not hurt all that much, but there was this one eternal question, why shouldn't I have a family with parents living together in one house. I took this question to my parents and they explained the truth in an honest and mature way. I spent my life living with both of them, in turn. There were no ill feelings of any kind.

With parents associated with cinema, were you also attracted to the celluloid world?

Not during my school days. I was kept away from the glamour, the publicity. I was never taken to parties or outdoor shootings. My parents seldom attended parties, and led sheltered lives. School was everything to me. Reading came naturally. I loved fairy tales. Father took me to book shops. I could buy books for myself, in fact, I had my choice in everything. Was that pampering? Oh, there were tantrums once in a while.

And college? Didn't you do some writing while in college?

Dad recommended St.Xavier's College. I majored in Sociology. Mother was worried initially, because I commuted by local trains. There were instructions, `don't lean too far', `don't stand near the door' and so on! I knew I had to do something creative. I got the chance to write for the Times of India, interviewed Asha Bhonsle, Naseerudin Shah and also wrote about children's problems. During my final year in college, I had to decide between making films and advertising. I chose the first because advertising (lifestyle) is too fast.

No desire to be a movie star like your mother?

Never. I am a private person. I did not want to be in the limelight, with the camera focussing on my looks. I did some TV anchoring, worked with filmmaker Saeed Mirza and studied film making at New York's Tisch School of Art. I discovered that while one can learn techniques of film making in the classroom, creativity was quite another thing.

Were you an avid film watcher?

Selective, I would say. I did not have any clear concepts on film making then, but I liked films to have a story, logic and sensibility. The story was the backbone of a film, that I learnt from my parents. I did two documentaries for Doordarshan, one on female domestic helpers and the other on private security agencies. My background in Sociology helped and I met a cross section of female domestic helps. I would say that the end products were more matter of fact than creative. There were no box office tensions, the only worry was not to overrun the budget.

Did you form an impression about your father's films? I think you assisted him for some time.

He made sensible, intelligent, commercial films. I would say, middle of the road cinema. He never aimed for fabulous profits and was very good at reducing production costs. I did enjoy some of the new wave, art cinema. It had its own moments. I helped father when he made "Machhis" and "Hu Tu Tu" in post-production work and scripting. Both were complex films, but "Hu Tu Tu" dealt with parallel cross themes, which father handled in his own way.

Then came your own films.

Yes, my first film script had to be shelved. "Filhall", which I scripted and directed, was about surrogate motherhood and how it affected the friendship of two women. It did averagely at the box office, but was mentioned in the `We The People' television chat show and got fairly good reviews. Father wrote the songs. Everyone associated with the film showed great involvement. Like music director, Anu Malik, I am now working on the script of my second film, which hopefully will go on the floor, next year. I can't discuss the details.

What led to the book, `Because He Is... .'?

Initially, I did not want to do it because I am not an accomplished writer. In fact, the book lacked the necessary long and detailed research associated with a biography. It is a personal life sketch, based on candid conversations and observations on how he lived and worked. Mother was very much part of the book Father co-operated and I picked up a lot of points from my chats with him.

As the child of celebrities, how aware are you about life in general, I mean, the world around you?

Look, my parents were `aware', there were plenty of political discussions at home with their friends. My study of sociology also helped. I did not have a `cocoon'-like life. Thanks to my parents, I had a normal childhood and I always realised how tough life was for the common man as well as the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. The public perception that India is a prosperous nation is quite wrong, I would say.

Are you scared of the growing menace of communalism in the country?

Honestly, this is not an issue with thinking people but one fabricated by politicians. Thinking people do not divide others as Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and so on. The growing influx of youth is a healthy sign, but the addiction of a section of them to subjects like MTV and Kar Seva is rather disturbing.

Are you a feminist?

I prefer to be called an Equalist, a Humanist.

Dedicated to daddy

SOME EXCERPTS from her book, "Because He Is... ... ..": My strongest memory of Papi is waking up to the sound of his `sitar'. He's always had a passion for music and the arts. He 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.


Of course, he never disrupted my sleep in this belief. So I would wake up to the sounds of his `sitar' as he played in his study, which was adjoining his bedroom. Whenever I stayed with Papi, I slept in his bedroom with him, for the most part of my childhood, even though I had my own room. I remember waking up and going to him. Then I `d rest my head on his knee and fall asleep again, while he played. I `d eventually had to wake up to get ready for school.

He helped me to tie my shoe-laces while I was still perfecting the art. My uniform had a sash, which, he'd knot — he used to make a double knot — in his own artistic and meticulous way. And that trait stayed with me, to make an event of a mundane ritual.

And then there were my plaits! I used to have shoulder - length hair till I was about ten. And every morning, I'd be arguing with my `ayah', making her do and re-do my plaits till the two were at an even height my ears! I know I wasn't an easy child ... and Papi took that upon him as well.

One morning, he decided to resolve the dilemma of the crooked plait, once and for all! Very patiently, he sectioned my hair into two halves, parting it right down the middle. Then, as instructed by me, he further divided each half into three sections. Keeping the middle section in place, he crossed the right section over, then the left, then the right, and so on. Naturally, he too didn't get both the plaits at the same level on the very first go, but he persisted till he got it right I now realise the significance of that seemingly ordinary gesture — he was taking on the so-called traditional duties of a mother, braiding his daughter's hair. And more importantly, he wasn't ashamed of learning how to do so, from his child. He's been a very egalitarian father — never talking down to me, but always talking to me, never instructing, but rather suggesting. And yet, he instilled a sense of discipline and respect in me.

It was a very novel way of parenting, according to me. Recently, in an interview that we gave together, about our father-daughter relationship, he said something that made it all clear.

He said it was wrong of parents to presume that they know better, or know more than their child does. They may be biologically older than their child, but in their experience as parents, they were of the same age. So if I was his two-year old daughter, he was my two-year old father. And we both were learning and evolving together — that he as my father, and me as his daughter. So he took great pleasure in braiding my hair. He says it reminded him of how his father used to braid his hair when he was a young boy ... ( `Because He Is' by Meghna Gulzar, published by Rupa & Co, 182 pages, price: Rs. 595)

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