“There will always be those who are nomads, radiant with talent and transient like comets. We must learn to accept such people on their terms,” though these lines were penned to define filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak yet it rings true for all the personalities Gulzar sahab speaks about in his memoir, Actually…I met them.

Being an ardent fan of his writing it was imperative that I pick up his book. I already knew that there would be no room for disappointments. And this book not only delivered immense satisfaction but there’s a lot more that will stay with me. Considering I am a connoisseur of Hindi cinema this book was a treat! I got to meet some of the gems of Hindi cinema at close quarters – Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Kishore Kumar, R. D. Burman, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Sharmila Tagore, Sanjeev Kumar, Satyajit Ray! In this book Gulzar sahab discusses 18 celebrities from yesteryears.

Though this book is only 100 pages long, reading this book in one go was a challenge for me. The reason being all these amazing personas that Gulzar sahab discusses are true gems of Hindi cinema – the building blocks. So after every chapters I kept the book away and let the words sink in. And so I know, the anecdotes, the aura of these personalities, especially Gulzar sahab’s sentiments for them, will stay with me. The chapters were short and succinct. But I never wanted to finish this book.

Through this book you get to see the professionalism and understanding between two actors. Competition, was a word that perhaps didn’t exist back then. The relationships were cordial. And friendship mattered more than the project. Sharmila Tagore says, “See, Rekha was doing this. If I suddenly take over from today, my equation with her will be jeopardized. I don’t want that.” Alongside you get to see Gulzar Saab’s keen observations. As a student of cinema you get to read about the trends that started in that era or the process of birthing a song and adding your genius to it. You get to read about the quirks and the eccentricities of these celebrities and I am sure we weren’t really aware about these. When you read this book you know that Gulzar saab continues to be in awe of these celebs. It is magical the way he describes them. There’s richness of language and the wordsmith doesn’t shy away from calling a spade a spade. These anecdotes show the tragic and yet enigmatic confluence of reel and real. We see Gulzar from yesteryears, reminiscing the old days, the hard times, and one who has taken away the best lessons life taught him.

Basically, this book is a compilation of the narratives that were published in a Bengali newspaper and has been translated by Maharghya Chakraborty.
Gulzar Saab’s love for Bong, their language, their culture, food and especially, literature is what is evident from this book. This love can be succinctly summarized in his own words, he writes, “I was a converted Bengali.” When you read this book it is as if Gulzar himself is telling you these stories. And you are so immersed in it that you forget the world around you. And all you witness is the depth of love, dedication and affinity this man has for his people; people who have sculpted him, made him what he is today! His reverence for all of them is much evident and he pays a homage to them with his words. For instance, about Pancham da he writes, “A large part of me departed with Pancham; the Gulzar that remains now is but half-complete.”

If I have to sum up this review I would only say this – Actually…I met them was one in many memoirs to come because this felt like the Bong chapter in Gulzar Sahab’s life. It was enriching. So, as his fan, I earnestly await more such memoirs that will gives us an unforgettable experience.

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