WHEN Shabnam and Robin Ghosh moved to Karachi from Dhaka in the 1960s, a vibrant film industry awaited them. Over the years, the couple found fame and fortune with their work in Urdu films. There was a time when Shabnam, for all practical reasons, was the only leading lady of Pakistani Urdu films worth mentioning — and even then there was a debate as to who was more talented: she or husband Robin Ghosh. Those were the times when the Pakistani film had room for loud melodrama, as well as romance and subtle soul-stirring tunes, including Robin Ghosh’s roshogolla compositions.
Invited to take part in a programme by PTV to honour their contribution to the Pakistani film industry, the couple landed in an altogether different country last week. The subtle and the artistic had since given way to silence which now stalks the old film studios. More than a celebration of the continuing tradition in artistic expression, as the guests from Dhaka went around asking after an ailing actor from yesteryear looking for patronage and condoled the passing away of another, the visit threw into sharp relief the bad times now dogging Pakistani cinema. Shabnam and Robin Ghosh gave the studios in Karachi and Lahore their best years. They truly deserved the reception afforded to them by the officials and their fans here, and their visit serves as a reminder of the rich cultural contribution of some very talented souls from Bengal. The list of the Bengali filmmakers who helped shape our common artistic expression is long and includes such stalwarts as director Ehtisham, who introduced Shabnam to us, Mustafeez, Nazrul Islam and many others. Our tribute to Shabnam and Robin Ghosh should be built upon to reconnect to a past that promised a variety of expressions, messages and entertainment for people to choose from.