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Maestro Robin Ghosh is no more

Updated February 14, 2016

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Maestro Robin Ghosh died on Saturday in Dhaka after a long-drawn illness. In recent months he was in and out of hospital in Dhaka, suffering from many ailments.

Robin Ghosh has left behind his wife Shabnam and son Ronnie, not to speak of many lovers of film music in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

He was a highly talented composer who contributed in no small measure to the enrichment of the Pakistani film music from the sixties to the mid-eighties. He may not have been prolific in terms of his output — merely 25 films in three decades — but his songs appealed to both the lay listeners as also to those with discriminatory tastes. No other composer in the country bagged as many as seven Nigar Awards for Best Music in Urdu films. He got some other awards too. His achievements seem quite surprising considering that he never got Melody Queen Noor Jehan to render any of his compositions.

Born in Baghdad in 1937 to a Bengali father and an Arab mother, both Christians, his family was, as he once said, steeped into music. Every one could either sing or play a musical instrument, but Robin was the only one to take it up as a profession. When he was merely five years old the family moved to Dacca (as it was spelt then).

He was still in his teens when he entered the musical profession. He did pass his intermediate commerce examination but didn’t graduate. Instead, he went to what was then called Calcutta and joined the choir group of maestro Saleel Chowdhry, a highly accomplished music director. As a part of the choir, Robin Ghosh learnt the intricacies of singing, an experience which served him in good stead when he took up music direction. He was able to get the best out of his singers.

On his return to Dacca, he joined composer Moslehuddin, who was working on the musical score of Hamsafar¸ one of the earliest Urdu films to be produced in the eastern wing of Pakistan, as his assistant. Thanks to Ghosh’s contacts in Calcutta (now spelt Kolkata), Moslehuddin was able to record two songs in the voices of Hemant Kumar and Sandhya Mukherjee in West Bengal. The film embellished with a fine musical score was released in 1960.

Screened a year later were two Bengali movies Rajdhanir Booke and Harano Din. Both movies, produced by Mustafiz, had young Robin Ghosh as their composer. Coincidentally, the leading lady was a charming young girl, Jharna, who was given the screen name of Shabnam. They got married quietly, neither confirming nor denying their matrimonial alliance.

Then came, one after the other, two blockbusters, produced in Urdu, Chanda and Talash, by brothers Ehtesham and Mustafiz. The husband and wife were both widely appreciated, he as the composer and she as the leading lady.

While Shabnam got busy with her acting assignments, her husband merely acted as her escort. His own career took a back seat. The songs that he composed for three movies after that were nothing much to write home about. The year 1967 saw the release of Chakori and Chote Sahib. The movies heralded the return of composer Robin Ghosh. Today the two movies are remembered largely because of a new pair of lead players, Nadeem, who was a struggling singer turned actor, and Shabana, another new find. Chakori, in particular, had a scintillating musical score by Robin Ghosh.

But the best was yet to be. The husband and wife moved to Karachi initially, and then settled down in Lahore, where she became the most sought-after leading lady in movies for two decades.

His first film in Karachi was Pervez Malik’s Jahan Tum Wahan Hum. It was the director’s first film to bomb at the box-office and poor Robin Ghosh suffered from what can be called a collateral damage. His songs, though lilting, never reached the masses.

That was in 1968. While his wife’s career went from strength to strength, he remained on the sidelines. But he emerged successfully in 1972 with his musical score in Ehsas, which was followed by successes in succession for the next 13 years. The films that were adorned with his compositions included Chahat, Sharafat, Do Saathi, Jio aur jeene do, Amber, Dooriyan and, the box-office record breaking, Aaina. Then came the lean period, from 1988 to 1995, when his name appeared on the screen only three times.

A tragedy occurred when sometime in 1995 Shabnam had a stroke from which she ultimately recovered. In 1999 he and his spouse moved back to Bangladesh, where the two had large families to support them.

Once in Bangladesh, he didn’t do any films because, to quote him, the environment in the film industry was different from the one left behind in Pakistan. He did occasional music programmes like the one when an ailing vocalist Alamgir came to Dhaka from the US. Robin conducted music on the stage in December 2011.

Shabnam and Robin last came to Pakistan in April 2012 on the invitation of PTV. They were very warmly received. Even at that time one could feel the onset of dementia in the composer, who later suffered from a stroke.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2016