Re-Evaluating Gulshan Nanda

This write up is an outcome of a series of discussions between myself and Mr. Tejinder Sharma (hereafter Tejbhai), the noted UK based Hindi writer and poet, involving the lyrics and stories of Hindi films. I must admit, even if with grudging envy, that Tejbhai's knowledge on every aspect of Hindi cinema ' writing, lyrics, music, direction, cinematography, awards and so on ' is of encyclopedic proportions. Interestingly, while we do not disagree on the quality of so many films, their plots, the lyrics of their songs and the music composition, we find ourselves at opposite ends when Tejbhai argues that both the lyrics of 'good' film songs and 'good' stories should be recognized as formal literature. I have held the opinion that because the purpose and the context of the film writing ' lyrics as well as stories ' are different from those of literature and because the lyricist and the writer are severely constrained ' and motivated as well ' by the commercial considerations, we should let them stay in their own compartment. Incidentally, in spite of my genuine regard for Tejbhai I have not been able to bring myself to agree with the views held by him.

One of the names associated with Hindi cinema, which has surfaced in many of our discussions is that of Gulshan Nanda (GN). The name of Gulshan Nanda first dropped in as a subject for discussions when, in 2004, during the course of an informal conversation with Vibhuti Narayan Rai, the winner of the 2004 Indu Sharma Katha Samman, Tejbhai suggested that Gulshan Nanda should be introduced in the curriculum if Hindi had to gain wider acceptance and popularity. Incidentally, as the discussions were directly between Tejbhai and Mr. Rai, I preferred not to ventilate my own thoughts on the subject. However, my spontaneous position on the subject would have been that it was unpalatable that Gulshan Nanda should be taught as a benchmark Hindi writer if the language had to be popularized. Tejbhai had his own arguments ' and with some original conviction too ' for the idea. I would never concede, though, that Hindi needed to be apologetic and willing to lower the bar for making itself acceptable. I am not sure if similar demands would have been made on other languages like, say, Russian or Chinese and they would have conceded. Tejbhai has a valid point in that there should be a special, lightweight, reading package for the uninitiated, school-going children to stimulate interest in reading. Nobody will argue against the view that young children should not be straightaway exposed to the heavy stuff of Mohan Rakesh or Hajari Prasad Dwivedi. But the 'special stimulating package', to my mind, must not have Gulshan Nanda. I am not going further on what should the curriculum have because the subject of discussion is GN. 

Recently GN's name came up once again (through Tejbhai, of course), in a different context ' that of Hindi movies. In one of our family-evenings-together, Tejbhai asked if I was aware that Gulshan Nanda was the only Hindi writer on whose novels many successful films had been made. It would not have been difficult to concede that GN was a very, probably one of the most, 'successful' writers from the point of view of Hindi cinema. But the point Tejbhai was trying to drive home went far beyond that. Some of the questions he asked were: Why is it so that it is only GN on whose novels successful films were made? Why did the writings of other Hindi writers failed to be adapted for cinema ? Does this not mean that there was something deficient about the Hindi literature in general? How come there have been great movies based on 'Vanity Fair', 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Great Expectations'? Could I cite similar examples for Hindi writings? Does it not prove that with the exception of GN all Hindi literature is unsuitable for cinema adaptation? Well, Tejbhai could go on and on with his line of thought which I was at variance with. Even so, the discussion did give some food for thought and provoked me into introspective self examination.

Was I being unfair to Gulshan Nanda, a popular and probably the most sold writer of his time, because I had a supercilious arrogance about my taste? As a matter of fact I have read most, if not all, of Gulshan Nanda's writings. I must admit, too, that I enjoyed reading them. Why then this dichotomy? Besides, I am sure that I was not alone in doing so. In fact there used to be an informal club of GN readers in my surroundings. People used to circulate and share the GN books among their friends. The overwhelming popularity of GN was most visible when I used to be in my village during the summer vacations of our schools and colleges. The GN novels used to be the best company for the summer afternoons when the weather conditions would force people to stay indoors or in the cool mango orchards. Then, when back in the school or college, GN would be a taboo to be discussed in the formal academic conversation. But this did not apply to GN alone. In fact, GN was representative of the 'pocket book' writers all of whom were banned from the formal academic discourse. I recall how prohibitive my parents (and those of my friends as well) used to be about reading pocket books in general. Without going into the plusses and minuses of prohibitive parenthood, the disapproval of the type of writing represented by GN was not out of any malice. The parents sincerely believed that this was not a healthy genre of writing for their children with tender, unformatted psyche. This proscription was generally applied to the children only but was not viewed with any respect for the adults either. All these restrictions, however, made it more thrilling to engineer clandestine moves to obtain and read these books. 

That is how GN has been traditionally viewed? He represented a 'type' of literature which was neither published nor even sold alongside the 'proper' literature. The most common outlet for GN and his fraternity used to be the bookstall at a bus or railway station. One could see GN on their shelves alongside Prem Bajpai, Rajvansh, Kushwaha Kant, Ranu etc, but outnumbering them in number of volumes. GN was the unrivalled leader of the pack. In his time he was always chased by the publishers of pocket books with attractive amounts. Of one of his novels, 'Jheel Ke Us Paar', it was claimed, half a million copies were sold. This claim, of course, was not verified and, in all probability, was disproportionately exaggerated. But even after a discount for exaggeration, the novel created a storm in the pocket book world. If borrowing a pocket book from a friend, a committed GN fan would accept a book by Ranu or Rajvansh only if GN was not available. Where did GN excel over the others? He was more skilled, and hence more entertaining, than the others. Unless we concede that the purpose and the value of literature lies solely in entertainment, GN's admirers ' myself included ' will have to accept that He belonged with Ranu, Rajvansh and Prem Bajpai, not with Dharmavir Bharati and Amritlal Nagar. I do not believe that I am trying to belittle what GN achieved as a writer. He was an entertainer par excellence, and that is all. 

The irony with the solely-entertainment-oriented writing is that it has a very poor longevity as it only caters to the contemporary taste, which varies from generation to generation. If GN was the darling of the 1960s, the70s and part of the 80s, he was replaced by other, more contemporary, 'brands' thereafter. The current generation and those thereafter will not see a 'new edition' or a reprint of GN, nor of his contemporary pocket book writers. However, it is through another, longer living, medium ' that of Hindi cinema ' that GN lives on. I intend to do some in-depth analysis of this aspect of GN. In fact, it was primarily the subject of GN's writings' convertibility into cinema that prompted me to write this piece.

The first thing I want to say on this is that printed writing and cinema are two altogether different mediums and it would be absolutely unfair to evaluate a writing on the basis of its adaptability for the cinema medium. A film is ' first and foremost ' a business project with a huge investment. A film director is the 'keyman' and the leader of a project team striving to ensure the commercial success of the project and has to remain focused at this objective. The end product may achieve more than that ' rave reviews, awards, a lasting place in the history of cinema and so on ' but the commercial success is the most important objective of the project. A piece of writing ' a story, a novel, a play or a poem ' is a project as well, but with fundamental differences. The writer is the 'keyman', the one man team and the sole owner of the project. He is not constrained as much by the need for instant success, as a cinema director is. He does want to succeed, but his success is not to be measured in as short a term (first couple of shows deliver the verdict about the commercial success of a cinema), nor does he expect instant monetary returns like somebody financing a cinema. The storywriter of a film contributes only one ingredient of the recipe ' albeit the key ingredient and the starting point ' and the rest of the crew does many rounds of embellishment before it comes out as a finished product. 

Why do the Bollywood directors not pick up the writings of Premchand, Dwivedi, Dharmveer Bharati or Amritlal Nagar for the plots of their films? Quite simply because they realize it would be too big an ask. Some of them who have tried films on great literary writings ' like Godan or Chitralekha ' have come out with disasters, commercially as well as qualitatively. So, it is the ability of the director which would determine whether a celebrated piece of literary writing could be converted into a film. The greater the writing, the greater would be the degree of accomplishment required for its cinema-adaptation. 

'Adaptation' is the keyword. It is like converting something from one medium to another. In the printed version the writer is ever-present, and is constantly communicating with the reader, as the narrator. In the audio-visual medium the Director does not have the luxury of the narrative and has to create the impact through dialogues and acting. The 'screenplay' is supposed to facilitate the adaptation filling in for the narrative. I am not sure how many of the run-of-mill Bollywood scriptwriters would be able to convert a Premchand or a Dwivedi novel into a screenplay. And they are aware of that. So, they try to steer clear of such daunting tasks. More so because even if they are able to measure up to the task, it may not be commercially successful. Even if they create something extraordinary, they would know that the appeal would be restricted to the 'classes' whereas for commercial success they would have to win over the masses. The commercial failure of 'Teesari Kasam' would prove the point. So, they stay in the known territory where they have always been. They would rather think of another way for separating the brothers in Kumbh, and another one for reuniting them as well.

Before I return back to GN, I would discuss one or two films which, I believe, are good examples of cinema-adaptation of stories. But while the story is the beginning point, the film version is very much the director's own creation, own brain-child. One such example is 'Shatranj Ke Khiladi'. Without compromising the spirit of the original story, Satyajit Ray has converted a short story into a feature film. Those who have read the story know that there are only two characters ' Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali ' in the story and there are only indirect references of all other characters like the Nawab, The East India Company, the supposed lover of the Begum Roshan Ali and so on. Ray has introduced so many more characters in the film but they all are so true to the pre-mutiny Lucknow which was in the background of Munshi Premchand's story. Still, while the story was Munshi Premchand's, the film version was undeniably Ray's. He came out with a masterpiece of his own. Unfortunately we do not have many Rays around in the world of Hindi cinema. Outside of Bollywood, we can take the example of Baz Luhrmann's film based on Shakespeare's play 'Romeo and Juliet'(1996), Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles, Luhrmann gave the famous tale a modern setting. This radical interpretation of the play was not universally appreciated by filmgoers, but its art direction and cinematography are undeniably impressive. At the Berlin International Film Festival 1997, it won Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Alfred Bauer Prize. It also got nominated for Academy Awards 1996 in two categories. However, once the film is viewed only as 'inspired' by the play rather than based on it, few would argue against it being a very good film. I think one of the reasons why 'Teesari Kassam' could not achieve commercial success was that in being 'too true to the story', Basu Bhattacharya became oblivious of the peculiar demands of the cinema audience. 

Coming back to GN, let me first of all discuss GN's success and achievements as a film writer. His first association with cinema was with a not-so-spectacular 'Punarjanma', released in 1963, a Telugu film based on GN's story. This association continued for over two decades and the last film written by him was 'Bindia Chamkegi' (1984), only a year before his death in 1985. I believe GN was associated with at least around twenty films in a span of twenty years. For some of these films GN wrote stories or screenplays, while some were based on his pre-published novels. GN worked with some of the best known and widely respected banners and directors in Hindi cinema ' L.V.Prasad, Ram Maheshwari, Shakti Samanta, Subodh Mukherjee, Yash Chopra and Chetan Anand. Many of the films written by him (directly or through his novels) were not only hugely successful commercially, but are also remembered as all time great films. Let us look at some of the names in the list ' Kaajal, Neel Makal, Kati Patang, Patthar Ke Sanam, Sharmilee, Ajnabee, Khilona, Hanste Zakhm, Jheel Ke Uss Paar ' and one is awestruck with admiration. These were all very successful examples of what has been typically known as 'PARIWARIK FILM' ' the genre of films, very popular in the 1960s and 70s, which the entire family could watch together. These films had absorbing plots and were benchmarks for healthy entertainment. In the years of their release these films won many Filmfare awards, and many more nominations. I am sure even those who are champions of the 'parallel cinema' ' the type represented by Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen and Adoor Gopalakrishnan ' will have to concede, albeit grudgingly, that these film represented healthy family entertainment. 

That conceded, the degree of contribution made by GN in each one of the films was not uniform. In fact, I believe, a film is a complete package rolled out by the director on a multi-wheeled chariot. I will take two examples of very successful films with which GN was associated. The first one is 'Kaajal'(1965), for which GN wrote the story. The GN factor is not very significant in the overall package of this film. Let us try to separate the story element from the overall impact of the film. The story of the film can be summed up in less than a page. In this case the finished product is more significantly contributed by the scriptwriter Phani Majumdar and the dialogue writer Kidar Sharma. Then there is the sublime poetry of Sahir rendered into memorable tunes by Ravi. The other components are an impressive star cast, most of whom have given memorable performances. Let us analyze what lies behind the impact of the melodramatic character of Moti Babu, played by Rajkumar. It is a combined outcome of so many factors. The portrayal of the character, as conceived by the scriptwriter, straightaway hits the pulse of the audience. Now, as the film-world works, the director would select the actors on the basis of the outline characterization in the story. Once the selection is made, the scriptwriter has to tailor the script to match the actor. As we all know, the audience has an image of an established star inscribed in their minds. So, Rajkumar was an ideal selection for a 'sharabi' and 'randibaz'. The dialogue writer has to be in sync with the scriptwriter's creation. Remember the famous 'Waqt' line:' jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke hote hain woh doosron ke gharon me patthar nahin phenkte.' 'Kaajal' has something similar in:'Agar tumne hamare saath achha sulook kiya hota to hum tumhe apne paas baithakar whisky pilate, mujara sunawate.' Isn't it typically tailored for Rajkumar? In my opinion, the contribution of Sahir ' coupled with those of Ravi and Mohd. Rafi ' is no less significant in developing the character of Moti Babu. The song 'yeh zulf agar khul ke', which has been pictures in staggered pieces does not have many parallels. In fact, the quality of the music is one of the key components behind the success of the film. All these resources, along with the performance by the actors, have been marshaled and synthesized by the director with appreciable ability. The GN factor, in this film at least, is one of many good factors.

The other GN film which I intend to discuss is 'Khilona' and I believe that the GN factor is the pivotal one in this film. This film was based on a pre-published novel 'Patthar Ke Honth' and the novel did not leave much work for the scriptwriter. GN made one important change in the story. In the novel the lunatic hero dies towards the end falling from the roof while chasing the villain. In the film, in keeping with the typical Bollywood tradition, the hero regains his sanity and, quite expectedly, fails to recollect that he has made the heroine pregnant. The youngest brother makes a dramatic and timely entry. After the exchange of a few dramatic dialogues, the family accepts the prostitute as their daughter-in-law and everybody around is very happy. The film was a landmark in Hindi cinema. It established Sanjeev Kumar as an intense actor. It also helped discover an able villain in Shatrughan Sinha. Further, it gave Mumtaz an opportunity to establish herself as an actress who could be a 'solo' heroine in a film. The film was a turning point in the careers of all the three. GN must get the credit for creating three characters which brought out three masterpieces of screen performance. The film was also bold in that a prostitute was accepted into a respectable family. It was a 'hard-to-digest' subject at that time. Like, 'Kaajal', 'Khilona' too had good music and lyrics and the songs became very popular. But the film's story was very good and the strong foundation around which the film was constructed. In my opinion, 'Patthar Ke Honth' was the closest Gulshan Nanda came to produce a proper literary writing.

Even so, did the films written by GN bring about or galvanize any changes in the format or the content of the 'popular' cinema? Can anyone of the GN films said to be falling in the same category as a 'Vanity Fair' or a 'Pride and Prejudice'? Do these films entitle GN to be regarded a genuine 'Sahityakar'? In my opinion the GN stories are no different from what we usually come across in mainstream Hindi cinema. A Hindi cinegoer has to banish all logical thinking from his mind and has to offer his mind to be transported into the realm of bizarre melodrama. One scene you see (in Kaajal) Dharmendra a prosperous Kunwarji. The next scene Tiwari discloses that he is not the real son of the family and he is thrown on the road. Do not trouble your mind with what would be the legal situation. GN has used the 'separated-from-the-biological-parents' twist in another film 'Patthar Ke Sanam'. Most of his other stories have melodramatic twists and turns as well. Two identical-looking sisters - one evil and one innocent (Sharmilee); a reborn beloved haunted by the spirit of her previous birth's lover (Neel Kamal) and two lovers re-born to meet again (Mehbooba) ' does it all not sound so typically Bollywoodish? The Gulshan Nanda differential was not that he wrote or aspired to write on the subjects which were not familiar to Bollywood. That differential was created by skilfully trying new permutations and combinations within the all-too-familiar recipe and making it look refreshingly new. I firmly believe that GN belongs at the top end of the spectrum of scriptwriters and storywriters in Hindi film industry but I would never venture into trying to portray him as a literary personality.

I do not think it is difficult to understand why his novels were converted into so many successful and entertaining films. First of all it would be incorrect to think that GN novels attracted the film producers in the same way as the works of Tolstoy or Dickens. These writers' works were chosen by directors long after their times. GN, on the other hand, was a film industry insider, one with success and in demand. He always had the opportunity, and the standing, to offer his novels to the directors. His works ' independently published novels or stories and screenplays for films ' were interspersed and were often rolled out side by side. I do not find GN's non-film writing in any manner different from the stories or screenplays he wrote for the films. There have been examples of writers and poets ' like Dr. Rahi Masoom Reza or Sahir ' who kept their film and non film writings in two separate compartments. GN was not one of them. Both these names have attained a stature as literary personalities. It appears GN always had an eye on the silver-screen while writing a book. Sometimes he did amendments or changes to the story if required for the film. He changed the end of his novel 'Patthar Ke Honth' for the film 'Khilona' to make it a happy ending story. The story of the film 'Mehbooba' was a new version of his pre-published novel 'Sisakte Saaz', in which the characters of the novel were re-born. 

Let us not forget, too, that GN and his contemporaries in the film industry had a captive audience who did not have any alternative avenues ' like television ' for entertainment. His success in the realm of 'samajik upanayas' was extended to a similar genre of cinema. His best and most successful films were dished out before the Amitabh Bachhan storm swept that type of films away from the centre-stage. GN's later films failed to hit the cord with the generation of late 1970s and early 80s who were hooked to the all-conquering action hero. 

Having discussed all this, I should answer Tejbhai's questions. Why is it so that it is only GN on whose novels successful films were made? Simply because they were written on the same subjects and in the same manner that suits Hindi cinema and which could be effortlessly converted into films. Why did the writings of other Hindi writers failed to be adapted for cinema ? Partly because we do not have many accomplished and intellectually equipped film-makers who could convert a 'Gali Aage Mudti Hai' or a 'Gunahon Ka Devta' in films to match the level of these classics. Dr Shiv Prasad Singh or Dr Bhararti did not write their novels for films. Even Dr Rahi Masoom Reza, an industry insider, would never expect a Bollywood film-maker to make a film on 'Aadha Gaon'. Partly this can be attributed, also, to the demand of the audience which is more comfortable with what it has been getting.

To conclude I can agree with Tejbhai that as a pocket book writer or as a story writer for films GN was one of the best ever. But I would never try to evaluate him as a 'Sahityakar' alongside the likes of Dr. Bharati, Nagar, Premchand or even Dr Reza. I do not think I am, in any manner, belittling GN. He was good as what he was. He was not what he was not.    


More by :  Satish Chandra Singh

Top | Cinema

Views: 3523      Comments: 4

Comment I am searching for a book by Gulshan Nanda called Sukh Pedh Sabz Patte. Please tell me how I can get it to buy a copy.

Sanjeev Raja
10-Jun-2019 22:52 PM

Comment sir how to read gulshan nanda 's novels online free

25-Jul-2015 09:35 AM

Comment Gulshan Nanda had excellent and unparallelled power of narration and imagination.

05-Jun-2014 07:24 AM


25-Aug-2013 12:58 PM

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