Filmmaker-writer Vishal Bhardwaj, who has released his debut collection of ghazals and nazms, has many friends to thank for opening him up to the world of verse
Vishal Bhardwaj's new poetry collection has been written over a period of 30 years. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
It's been seven years since this writer met Vishal Bhardwaj. The last time it was inside a cosy bookstore at a plush Lower Parel mall, where he had come to launch a book on female gangsters from the city, for which he had also penned the foreword. Today, when we catch up with him inside his Andheri West office, just before the extended Holi weekend, there's an immediate recall of that first encounter. Apart from scripting and churning several hits in those intervening years and wearing his salt-and-pepper hair slightly longer, some things about this soft-spoken National Award-winning filmmaker stay unchanged. For starters, his association with that book on the mafia remains - he is in the throes of giving shape to one of its stories, which will star Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan in the lead. And then, once again, we find that Bhardwaj has given his name to a new book title. Only this time, it's an entirely new poetry collection, and one that his mentor Gulzar reminded Bhardwaj, finally puts him in the league of a "sahib-e-kitaab". Not to mention, it's another new feather in the talented director-music composer-singer's cap.
Bhardwaj with friend Gulzar, who encouraged him to write this book
Titled Nude (HarperCollins India), the collection of over 50 soul-baring ghazals and nazms, which spans over 30 years, sees the closet poet, for the first time reveal his talent in meter and verse. It's an art that both runs in the blood - his father Ram Bhardwaj was a poet and lyricist - and has been acquired after years of being exposed to the works of the masters, Urdu poets Dr Bashir Badr and Gulzar. His father, says Bhardwaj, was the immediate influence.
"It's true that every son looks up to his father, and wants to become like him. I was no different," says the 52-year-old filmmaker. "My father's life was dotted with struggles. He lived in Shikarpur, a small village in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, and travelled nearly 15 to 20 km daily on his bicycle to attend school. He started off as a clerk in the sugarcane department of the government, and continued his studies at the same time. He eventually graduated from college and was promoted as an assessing officer in the same department. Despite the security of a government service, his heart was always in poetry," recalls Bhardwaj. As a child, he remembers attending several "kavi samelans" where his father recited poetry. "He also came to Mumbai briefly and wrote songs for music directors like Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Usha Khanna," he adds.
While this was Bhardwaj's first contact with the Hindi film industry, one that slowly reeled him into the world of music composition, the period also saw him pen poetry. "And, my father encouraged me," he says. However, it was not until the 80s, when Bhardwaj moved to Delhi to complete his higher education that he was bitten by the poetry bug. "That was the golden era of Urdu poetry. Jagjit and Chitra Singh, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali and Pankaj Udhas were the new rockstars. And, every month, there would be at least 15 to 20 ghazal concerts in Delhi," says Bhardwaj. It's during this time that he started reading Dr Badr's poetry. "I read a few of his couplets, and became obsessed with his work."
Desperate to get acquainted, Bhardwaj even asked his sister, who studied at the same school as Dr Badr's daughter in Meerut, to request for a meeting. But, it was only a series of unfortunate events later - Dr Badr's home was set on fire in the Hindu-Muslim riots and he lost his entire prized poetry collection - that an unlikely friendship formed between the duo. "He was depressed and broken, because all his new poetry couplets had been destroyed in the fire. But, I knew all his couplets by rote, and helped him re-write it," says Bhardwaj.
In the latter years, it was director-lyricist Gulzar, who encouraged him. "Poetry requires a certain level of discipline, which I lacked. In ghazals, the meters are so strict that you cannot add even a single matra. I never bothered learning all of this, because I always wanted to become a composer. But, I continued writing, and would often recite some of them to Gulzar saab over a drink. One day, he gave me an ultimatum to write this book," he says.
Like an obedient student, Bhardwaj spent all of last year learning the "qaida" of Urdu poetry. "I met Ambar Kharbanda in Dehradun, who taught me everything I needed to know within two days. I have another guru, Ashok Mijaz Badr, who ensured that I practice what I learnt. Every night, for two to three hours I'd be with him on the phone and recite whatever I wrote," says Bhardwaj, adding that Gulzar, whom he describes as "my school", also helped him clean and polish his poetry.
The result is a collection, which is deeply personal, poignant and moving as its shifts from recurring themes of love, loss, grief and solitude. His nazms, in particular, unfold like short stories, like his screenwriting. "Though all of them are personal, writing this collection has been liberating. It feels like this is not mine anymore," he says. The book also comprises English translations of Bhardwaj's poetry by Sukrita Paul Kumar. "We did a lot of back and forth with the translations. Sukrita was very respectful to the originality and insistent that we did not deviate from the meaning of the text," he says.
For Bhardwaj fans, some of this poetry would bring to mind the edgy dialogues in his films. The nazm, Main, for instance, was written on the sets of Haider, when Irrfan Khan asked the filmmaker if he could give him more lines to express a "torturous scene" better. "The poet inside me has always surfaced through my characters. It's a shadow that follows me."
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