Robin Ghosh and cross-border “infiltration” in South Asia

If you are from India you may have heard of Robin Chattopadhyay and Robin Majumdar, both exceptionally talented contributors to the Golden Age of Bangla Cinema in Kolkata. I’ll wager that very few people in India have heard of a versatile music director by the name of Robin Ghosh.  I was intrigued to find out more about him because I could guess at his Bengali ethnicity from his last name.

Robin Ghosh is the music director who composed the songs for Aina, a 1977 Urdu movie which shattered all records to become the biggest box-office hit in Pakistan. Ghosh also composed the songs in Harano Din which was released in 1961 and was one of the earliest Bangla films made in Pakistan. His style of composition in Harano Din reminded me a lot of music directors across the border who were composing songs for Bangla films in Calcutta. For example, “Ae je nijhum raat” sung by Firdausi Begum in Harano Din reminded me of Hemanta Mukhopadhyay’s compositions, especially “Ae purnima raat” in Nayika Sangbad (1967) even though both tunes are distinct.

However, I am told that Robin Ghosh is best known in Pakistan for the lilting songs in Aina. The story revolves around the trite  misunderstandings in love that unnecessarily permeate South Asian cinema, but the music is brilliant. Take for example the song Mujhe dil se na bhulana featuring Mehnaaz and Alamgir:

Does it sound familiar? Think twice if it doesn’t, because if you’ve watched Bollywood movies it should.

Exactly! It is the centerpiece of Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s soundtrack for the Bollywood hit Pyar Jhukta Nahin (1985) featuring Mithun Chakraborty and Padmini Kohlapure.

Maybe, like me, you were already familiar with Robin Ghosh’s compositions, but you just didn’t know it?

My point is a simple one. Even before My Name is Khan took Pakistan by storm, this sort of cultural “inflitration” had been going on from both sides. Before the age of Himesh and Pritam, before Adnan Sami and Atif Aslam, there were the likes of Nadeem-Shravan who ruled the roost and were particularly fond of Pakistani music.

I take your leave with one of my favorite songs from my childhood and the original which not only has a similar tune, but similar lyrics too! The song Tu meri zindagi hai was a bit hit in Aashiqui, a Bollywood movie featuring the expressionless visages of Rahul Roy and Anu Agarwal. That a romantic movie with a couple from matchmaking hell could do well at the box-office attests to the popularity of  the Nadeem-Shravan soundtrack. Arguably, the movie also launched the careers of singer Kumar Sanu and lyricist Sameer.

Now listen to the Pakistani counterpart by Tasavvur Khanum also called Tu meri zindagi hai.

To be completely fair to Sameer, he didn’t lift the entire lyrics. I actually prefer his version even though bandagi rhymes better with zindagi than aashiqui does. Now Kumar Sanu’s nasal twang… that I could do without.

Let us keep the discussion civil folks.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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19 thoughts on “Robin Ghosh and cross-border “infiltration” in South Asia

  1. VAY! Nice investigative reporting here, yaar. I have yet to see Aashiqui, but it’s been on my to watch list for some time. That “Tu meri zindagi hai” is quite the lovely tune! I saw Kuma Sanu in concert in Minneapolis (of all places) a couple years back, love his white flairs and his stance while singing. And speaking of Pakistani filums, I saw “Khuda Kay Liye” (2007), but not the Hindi film, “New York” that borrowed from it. Lots of copying. Furthermore, the appropriation/infiltration was clear when I compare Mera Gaon Mera Desh (http://bollywoodfoodclub.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/mera-gaon-mera-desh-1971-or-sholay-lite/#comments) which seems to be the predecessor to Sholay, even more that “The Magnificent 7” or “7 Samurai” are perhaps? As far as Bengali cinema, I love Uttam Kumar! Thanks for alerting me to all of this, your post has given me ADHD, I must leave now!

    All the best!
    Sita-ji

    • Thank you, Sitaji

      I’ve seen “Khuda Kay Liye”. I thought it was a provocative movie and I was impressed, though I thought the resolution was a bit unsatisfying. I’ve seen a few other Pakistani movies, including “Zinda Lash” a black-and-white horror film which was not like the Ramsay brothers gore films. It actually had a psychological angle.

      I am impressed that you like Uttam Kumar. Bengali/Bangla is my native language and I have close to 500 movies from Kolkata. I’ve seen close to two dozen from Dhaka as well, but my favorite movie out of Bangladesh would have to be “Matir Moyna” which I saw in an art-house theater in Ohio a few years ago.

      Thanks again for reading!

      • Yes sir, Uttam Kumar is hard to miss, and even hard not to love! I can understand how he was a leading Bengali star. In “Nayak” he was mesmerizing, so captivating and handsome! Plus I loved what a jerk his character was at times in that film. I suppose the other most famous Bengali actress I’m familiar with is Suchitra Sen. I will be on the look out now for “Matir Moyna” now, funny you could see it in Ohio. “Zinda Lash” sounds creepy, since I know Lash means corpse/ Zinda, life, so title must me “Living Corpse,” intriguing. 😉 Another Pakistan film I saw was “Dupatta” starring Noor Jehan, which I posted about here: http://bit.ly/dDf4T6

        Always enjoy reading your posts yaar. 🙂

      • I am tempted to go overboard and to write another post in this comment, but I will restrain myself. I can go on and on regarding Bangla films because I think through the 60s and 70s they were actually better than Hindi films. One problem you will face in exploring is the lack of subtitles for many masterpieces. More on Bangla films in subsequent posts.

        Zinda Lash was actually Pakistan’s first X-rated film and I found that there is a Wikipedia entry on it. By the way, the poster does not do justice to the movie.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinda_Laash

        Take care. 🙂

  2. I never knew about Robin Ghosh. This is really good information you have given. I have a few Pakistani friends and they love Hindi film music and they told us that their parents were super crazy about Hindi film music in their young age.

    This cross border movement of artists was always there, remember ‘Ghulam Ali’.

    • Hi LP. Thanks for reading. Thanks for mentioning Ghulam Ali. I guess he got a chance to sing his own songs. After Atif Aslam parted from Jal, he also came and sang some of Jal’s songs. It was wise because those songs probably would have been ripped off and sung by someone else otherwise.

      Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mehdi Hassan were very vulnerable. “Bahut Pyar Karte Hain” in Sajan is copied from one of Hassan Sahab’s songs. Anyways, I could go on and on, but I don’t have to. There is an excellent website that chronicles some other cases of plagiarism. 😉

      http://www.itwofs.com/

  3. I am tempted to comment, Anirban, but none of this begins to shock me any more. I have heard of loads of tunes “inspired” by English songs. Can you believe that the entire basic rythm and bass-line of that song “Aaja Nachle” was taken from the first 4 seconds of Metallica’s “Four Horsemen” or something similar. Shaggy’s “Summertime” was copied note for note, although the Hindi version sounded better, probably because of the sound of the Hindi language.

    • Yeah. The difference is before the internet and globalization, music directors used to rip-off Pakistani and South Indian songs. Now because news travels at the speed of light, they’ve gotten more experienced in finding Turkish, North African, and Indonesian gems.

      Check out “Pritam ke karname” here:
      http://www.itwofs.com/hindi-pritam.html

  4. You’re becoming (or may have already become) Sidhu JyaTha.

    Forget about Robin Ghosh, I didn’t even know that Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saheb is not Ghulam Ali, the ghazal singer! Both were very famous in Pakistan. I got this gyan during my India trip last month.

    • Tauba, tauba. Me touching my ears in reverence.

      Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan is of the Patiala Gharana. The connection of this gharana to Bengali music is very strong. Ramnidhi Gupta (Nidhubabu’s) tappas are in this gharana. Also, Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty is a doyen of this gharana.

      Filmi connection. Have you seen Nana Patekar’s Prahaar? There is a lilting rendition of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab’s “Yaad piya ki aaye” by Shobha Gurtu in that film.

      Another filmi connection. Parveen Sultana who sang “Bendhechi beena” (Bangla version of “Ay re pawan) and ‘Humein tumse pyar kitna” (all composed by RD Burman) is a proponent of this gharana

      • I’ve now learned to call them Ghulam Ali dadu, Ajoy mama (and a lot more such ‘mama’, ‘dadu’ and ‘dida’) etc. :p
        When I had written this post (http://snowyevening.blogspot.com/2009/04/musical-half.html), I still didn’t have any idea who are the people I mentioned there.

        Thanks for the info about ‘humein tumse pyaar’ and ‘ay re pawan’

        Off-topic: how much have you written here about milk miracle, or miracle in general? :p

      • If I write about everything for my blog, than where does that leave me if I want to write something a bit longer and more detailed? 😉

  5. That a romantic movie with a couple from matchmaking hell….

    LOL. This transported me back to 1990(or was it ’90?) Durga Pujo – when everyone and their second cousins were humming the tunes and friends comparing notes on how many times they’d seen Aashiqui. Absolute pain.

    Coincidentally, I was just watching Nayika Sanbad this weekend.

    Nice post – wasn’t ‘Kinna Sona..’ in Raja Hindustani also lifted (or did Nusrat give his blessings for that ?)

    • Nope… you are right. “Kinna Sona” was a blatant Nadeem-Shravan ripoff.

      There were two things I liked about Aashiqui – i) the songs (which were mostly lifted) and ii) the cinema poster which had a bit of intrigue. http://i.indiafm.com/firstlook/aashiqui1.jpg

      I know it is lame by today’s standards, but we were fed on Mithun Chakraborty back in the day. LOL

      I love Nayika Sangbad by the way. It is one of the few Bangla movies on Netflix, and the dialogue between Uttam Kumar and Anjana Bhoumik is something that even Billy Wilder would be proud of!

      Thanks for reading.

  6. In this age of recycling why are we so cynical if someone recycles the tunes and the lyrics :D…

    On a serious notes i love Aashiqui songs and lyrics but after your revelations that respect for the songs has dipped down a bit!

    • What, me cynical? No, that’s not possible.

      😉

      I was genuinely amazed when I wrote this. This guy has directly and indirectly influenced the popular music of three countries by composing songs in two languages that I understand, and I hadn’t even heard of him.

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