Gulzar also wrote poetry, dialogues and scripts. He was awarded Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in India, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award — the highest award in Indian cinema. He has won several Indian National Film Awards, 20 Filmfare Awards, one Academy Award and one Grammy Award.
Gulzar was born in a Kalra Sikh family, to Makhan Singh Kalra and Sujan Kaur, in Dina, Jhelum District, British India (now in Pakistan). Before becoming a writer, Sampooran took up lot of small jobs in Mumbai one of them was in a garage where he used to touch up accident cars by creating shades of paint, in his own words "I had a knack for colors". His father rebuked him for being writer initially. He took the pen name Gulzar Deenvi and later simply Gulzar.
Gulzar began his career under the film directors Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. His book Ravi Paar has a narrative of Bimal Roy and the agony of creation. He started his career as a songwriter with the music director Sachin Dev Burman for the movie Bandini (1963). Shailendra who has penned rest of the songs of the movie requested Gulzar to write the song "Mora Gora Ang Layle", sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
Directed and produced by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the 1968 film Aashirwad had dialogues and lyrics written by Gulzar. Song lyrics and poems written by Gulzar gave the poetic attribute and the "much-needed additional dimension" to Ashok Kumar's role in the film. Ashok Kumar received the Best Actor at the Filmfare and at the National Film Awards for this role. Gulzar's lyrics however did not gain much attention until the 1969's Khamoshi, where his song "Humne Dekhi Hai Un Aankhon Ki Mehekti Khushboo" (lit., "I have seen the fragrance of those eyes") became popular. Ganesh Anantharaman in his book Bollywood Melodies describes Gulzar's lyrics, with the purposeful mixing of the senses, to be "daringly defiant". For the 1971 film Guddi, he penned two songs of which "Humko Man Ki Shakti Dena" was a prayer which is still sung in many schools in India.
As a lyricist, Gulzar had close association with the music director Rahul Dev Burman. He has also worked with Sachin Dev Burman, Shankar Jaikishan, Hemant Kumar, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Madan Mohan, Rajesh Roshan, and Anu Malik. Gulzar worked with Salil Chowdhury (Anand (1971), Mere Apne (1971)), Madan Mohan (Mausam (1975)) and more recently with Vishal Bhardwaj (Maachis (1996), Omkara (2006), Kaminey (2009)), A. R. Rahman (Dil Se.. (1998), Guru (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Raavan (2010)) and Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy (Bunty Aur Babli (2005)). Gulzar took inspiration from Amir Khusrow's "Ay Sarbathe Aashiqui" to pen "Ay Hairathe Aashiqui" for Mani Ratnam's 2007 Hindi film Guru which had music composed by A. R. Rahman. Another Ratnam-Rahman hit, "Chaiyya Chaiyya" from Dil Se.. also had lyrics written by Gulzar, based on the Sufi folk song "Thaiyya Thaiyya" with lyrics by poet Bulleh Shah. For another collaboration with Rahman for Danny Boyle's 2007 Hollywood film Slumdog Millionaire, Rahman and Gulzar won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Jai Ho" at the 81st Academy Awards. The song received international acclaim and won him a Grammy Award (shared with Rahman) in the category of Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. He also wrote the song of Pakistani Drama Shehryar Shehzadi and this song Teri Raza has been sung by Rekha Bhardwaj and composed by Vishal Bhardwaj.
After writing dialogues and screenplay for films like Aashirwad, Anand, Khamoshi, Gulzar directed his first film Mere Apne (1971). The film was a remake of Tapan Sinha's Bengali film Apanjan (1969). He then directed Parichay and Koshish. Parichay was based on a Bengali novel, Rangeen Uttarain by Raj Kumar Maitra. He wrote story of Koshish based on the struggle faced by deaf-dumb couple. In 1973, he directed Achanak inspired by the 1958 murder case KM Nanavati v State of Maharashtra. Later he directed Aandhi, based on the Hindi novel "Kaali Aandhi" by Kamleshwar. His next film Khushboo was based on Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay's Pandit Mashay. His Mausam which won National Award for 2nd Best Feature Film, Filmfare Best Movie and Filmfare Best Director awards, along with other six Filmfare nominations, was loosely based on the story "Weather", from the novel, The Judas Tree, by A.J. Cronin. His 1982's film Angoor was based on Shakespeare's play The Comedy of Errors.
In 1988, Gulzar directed an eponymous television serial Mirza Ghalib starring Naseeruddin Shah and broadcast on Doordarshan. Later he also directed Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki about the novels of Premchand.
None of the Gulzar's film were very commercially successful. His films told stories of human relationships entangled in social issues. Libaas was a story of extra-marital affair of an urban couple. Due to its objectionable subject the film never got released in India. Mausam pictured a story of a father who tries to improve the life of his prostitute-daughter. In Maachis, a young Punjabi boy engages in terrorism to fight a bad situation only to realise its temporary nature. Hu Tu Tu dealt with corruption in India and how a man decides to fight it. Many of his popular songs were sung by Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. These include "Musafir Hoon Yaron" (Parichay), "Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi" (Aandhi), and "Mera Kuch Samaan" (Ijaazat).
Gulzar primarily writes in Urdu and Punjabi; besides several dialects of Hindi such as Braj Bhasha, Khariboli, Haryanvi and Marwari. His poetry is in Triveni type of stanza. His poems are published in three compilations: Chand Pukhraaj Ka, Raat Pashminey Ki and Pandrah Paanch Pachattar. His short stories are published in Raavi-paar (also known as Dustkhat in Pakistan) and Dhuan (smoke).
For the peace campaign (Aman ki Asha) jointly started by India's and Pakistan's leading media houses, Gulzar wrote the anthem "Nazar Main Rehte Ho", which was recorded by Shankar Mahadevan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Gulzar has written ghazals for Ghazal Maestro Jagjit Singh's albums "Marasim"(1999) and "Koi Baat Chale"(2006).
Gulzar has written lyrics and dialogues for several Doordarshan TV series including Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, Hello Zindagi, Guchche and Potli Baba Ki with Vishal Bhardwaj. He has more recently written and narrated for the children's audiobook series Karadi Tales. Gulzar is also associated with Aarushi, Eklavya foundation an NGO based in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh working in the field of education. He has written stories, poetry for the magazine Chakmak.
In April 2013, Gulzar was appointed as the Chancellor of the Assam University.
Gulzar is married to actress Raakhee. The couple have a daughter, Meghna Gulzar (Bosky). Meghna Gulzar grew up with her mother & father and, after completing her graduation in films from New York University, went on to become a director of films like Filhaal, Just Married and Dus Kahaniyaan, and authored the biography of her father Gulzar, in 2004.Gulzar (2000). Rangeela Geedhad. Karadi Tales. ISBN 8186838422.
Gulzar (2004). Parwaaz. Karadi Tales. ISBN 8181900413.
Kabir, Nasreen Munni (2012). In the Company of a Poet: Gulzar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir. Rainlight Rupa. ISBN 978-81-291-2083-0.
Chatterjee, Saibal (2007). Echoes and Eloquences: The Life and Cinema of Gulzar. Rupa & Co. ISBN 978-81-291-1235-4.
Gulzar, Meghna (2004). Because He Is... Rupa & Co. ISBN 81-291-0364-8.