Hindi film music industry has many examples of artists taking leave of our planet much before their song is complete. Mohammed Rafi passed away at the age of 56, Kishore Kumar at 58, Mukesh at 53, Geeta Dutt at 42. Shailendra expired at age 43. Jaikishan died at age 42 and Madan Mohan at 51. 

Roshan took leave at age 50. 

Like others, he too packed his short life with a musical legacy that’s eternal. His oeuvre of classic gems is forever. His genius will be acknowledged in perpetuity. He composed for only 57 films, and only a handful of them proved to be chart-busters. But lack of commercial success did not come in the way of connoisseur’s appreciation for his music. 

Tulsidas’ couplet – “Manaa tu kaahe na dheer dharat ab/ Dheer dhare sab kaaraj sudharat” was transformed into “Man re tu kaahe na dheer dhare / Woh nirmohi moh na jaane, jinka moh kare” in Chitralekha (1964), and the song was voted the best ever Hindi film song in a survey. Roshan was the music director. 

When Lata Mangeshkar was to produce the musical Bhairavi in the mid-50s, she was spoilt for choice. From Naushad to Shankar-Jaikishan, each composer expected to win her vote. She chose Roshan. The film was, however, shelved. Mukesh took him for his home production Malhar (1951); as did Geeta Bali for her home production Raag Rang (1952) directed by her brother. 

Roshan’s brilliant career in the Hindi film industry, however, began with insecurity and self-doubt, notwithstanding the musical milieu he came from when he set foot in Bombay.  

During his childhood at Gujranwala (Pakistan) where he was born, Roshan had little interest in his studies, but could play harmonium with ease. He quit his schooling early and went to Shahjahanpur (near Lucknow) where his father was in service. He learnt sarod from Ustad Allaudin Khan, and sarangi from Bundu Khan. He then studied at Marris College of Music, Lucknow (later known as Bhatkhande College of Hindustani Music). Roshan became a noted esraj player and came to Delhi to work at the All India Radio (AIR)as a staff artist for esraj as well as a music composer. He was rated highly by his colleagues at AIR and composed delightful songs. He worked in AIR for ten years. 

A personal element here. My mother Usha Bhatia (staff singer) and her brother Late Satish Bhatia (who retired as Chief Producer, Light Music) – both with AIR, Delhi worked alongside Roshan and became close friends. Just before Roshan left for Bombay to pursue his musical dreams with his second wife Ira Moitra (who was his disciple and also worked as singer with AIR), he stayed briefly at the house of Husnlal’s (of Husnlal- Bhagatram) at Daryaganj, Delhi. My mother and uncle met Roshan and Ira Moitra on the eve of their departure. My mother would meet Ira Moitra more than three decades later in Bombay at a common friend’s party where they would re-live their AIR days.

At Bombay, Roshan stayed in a garage of Husnalal. It was in this garage, where his first son Rakesh was born.          

Roshan’s first film Neki Aur Badi (1949) (before that he assisted Khurshid Anwar in Singaar) was offered to him by its maker Kidar Sharma – recognizing Roshan’s hidden talent- by replacing Snehal Bhatkar. When the film proved a failure, a dejected Roshan cried before Kidar Sharma that he wanted to commit suicide. After patiently listening to Roshan, Kidar Sharma told Roshan that he had no objection. He asked whether he would like to be drowned in Haji Ali or in Versova. However, he assured him that if he deferred his decision, he could give him another chance in his next film Bawre Nain (1950).  

Roshan agreed. But there was more to come. 

One day, a film distributer came to Kidar Sharma’s office, when Roshan was also present. He offered to pay a staggering sum of money on the condition that Roshan be replaced by Husnalal Bhagatram in Bawre Nain. 

Roshan immediately went to the adjacent room and started weeping. Kidar Sharma followed him. Roshan requested Kidar Sharma to replace him, and to make money in the process. Kidar Sharma went back to the distributor and refused. 

Once in the midst of recording of ‘Kahaan Tak Hum Uthaaye Gham’ (Arzoo, 1950), Anil Biswas heard Roshan sobbing behind him. When asked the reason, Roshan said he was not fit to be a composer and would never be able to compose such tunes. Anil Biswas slapped him hard to make Roshan come to his senses. He asked him how would he would survive in the industry with such an attitude, and told him to fight and have confidence in his ability. Incidentally, Anil Biswas had slapped Mukesh too during Mukesh’s debut song in Pehli Nazar (1945). It worked for both.

Later in life, Anil Biswas would compare Roshan’s music to pure honey dropping from a honeycomb. 

The music lovers are grateful to Kidar Sharma for the faith he reposed in Roshan’s capability, as well as integrity exhibited by him in saying no to money. Bawre Nain is where Roshan’s journey began in our hearts and mind. “Khayalon mein kisi ke is tarah aya nahin karte” by Mukesh and Geeta Roy, and Mukesh’s “Teri duniya mein dil lagta nahin”, were two of the stand-out songs which are popular to date. 

In Malhar (1951) Roshan composed some alluring melodies including Bade armanon se rakha hai sanam teri kasam” by Mukesh and Lata. Nau Bahar (1952) had “Aree mein to prem diwani mora dard na jaane koye”. Anhonee (1952) had the delightful Talat Mehmood number “Main dil hun ik armaan bhara”. In Aji Bas Shukriya (1958), Lata sang – “Saari saari raat teri yaad sataye”.

In the 50s, Roshan’s compositional style was soft and subtle, while being melodious. His orchestration was low-key, yet through distinctive use of Indian musical instruments, he enhanced the mood-building quality of the song. The style was however connoisseur-oriented. It was internalized. So, if there were some hits, there were more misses. 

Roshan realized the limitation. Lack of commercial success made him re-orient his musical strategy. In the 60s, the music became more externalized, more mainstream. The orchestral arrangements became more Westernized, more forceful. But at its core, his music always retained its originality and rich melodic overtones.  

Though he used all the singers very effectively, Lata’s contribution to his body of work was immense. She sang as many solos as Rafi, Lata and Mukesh put together. Unlike other composers who made Lata sing at high pitch, Roshan explored the amazing depth of her voice at lower octaves. 

Lata believed in and supported Roshan. She stepped in to object to Roshan being replaced by OP Nayyar in Mehbooba (1954), an issue she escalated to the Cine Artistes’ Association. Eventually, Roshan shared credit with OP Nayyar in the film. Roshan never forgot how Lata had stood by him. 

It was in the 60s that Roshan bloomed. The Roshan that the common listener knows emerged in this period. 

Roshan took off in 1960 itself with Barsaat Ki Raat.  The movie became a big hit because of its music. It had not one, not two, but three qawwalis including undisputedly the best ever composed for a Hindi film – Naa to Karwan Ki Talash Hai’ – sung by Manna Dey, Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Sudha Malhotra, and SD Batish -its captivating rhythm, lyrics, instrumentation keeping the listeners enthralled. The 12-minute long qawwali took 24 hours to record and became the stuff of cinematic legend. This magnificent qawwali saw Roshan use a variety of musical instruments, including the rhythmic hand clapping in a way that sped up the tempo until the crescendo. That was one of the hallmarks of Roshan’s music – the perfect use of instrumentation.

The other qawwalis were – ‘Nigha e Naaz Ke Maron Ka Haal’ -sung by Shanker Shambhu, Asha Bhosle, and Sudha Malhotra; and ‘Jee Chahta Hai Choom Loon’sung by Balbir, Asha, Sudha Malhotra and Bande Hasan.  In addition, there were other fascinating melodies, which made the film a perfect musical hit – Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi, wo barsaat ki raat” –sung by Lata and Rafi; andMaine shaayad tumhein, pelhe bhi kahin dekha hai” by Rafi.  Then there was the classical title music- ‘Garjat Barsat Saawan Ayo Re’– sung by Kamal Barot and Suman Kalyanpur. Earlier, in Malhar (1951), Roshan had used the same traditional bandish in Goud Malhar – ‘Garjat Barsat Bheejat Aayilo’ sung by Lata. 

In Aarti (1962), there was Lata’s- ‘Kabhi to Milegi, Kahin To Milegi’; Rafi’s ‘Ab Kya Misaal Doon’; and Lata/Rafi duet –Tere Bin Sajan Lage Na Jiya’.

Dil Hi To Hai (1963) was another splendid musical treat.  Manna Dey sang one of his epic classical songs – Lagaa chunri mein daag, chhupaaun kaise”. Roshan composed a lush, complex melody, its intricate notes complementing Manna Dey’s vocal acrobatics. Then there was Mukesh’s- “Tum agar mujhko na chaho to koi baat nahin”. Besides, there was a qawwali sung by Asha- Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai’ and another by Manna Dey and Asha- Parda Uthe Salaam Ho Jaye’.

Roshan’s grip over the qawwali genre was unparalleled and no other composer came close to him. Roshan was a master in knowing when to let music take a back seat – sometimes to the voice, sometimes to the lyrics. He understood when to keep his music in the foreground and when to let his music recede. Roshan’s music was as unassuming as he himself, never placing itself center stage, nor slipping into non-descript anonymity, but complementing the voices just so. 

Roshan’s deep love and understanding for Urdu poetry and literature ensured that his songs always resonated with rich, expressive lyrics. Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri were his go-to lyricists. 

The film Taj Mahal (1963) was another landmark in Roshan’s career. Consider the songs-Jo waada kiya wo nibhana padega” (Rafi/Lata); “Zulm e ulfat pe hamein log” (Lata); Jo baat tujh mein hai teri tasveer mein nahin” (Rafi); and a qawwali – “Chandi ka badan sone ki nazar” (Lata, Rafi, Manna Dey and Meena Kapoor). The maestro was conferred the Filmfare award for the music of this film.      

Kidar Sharma produced yet another version of the film Chitralekha based on the novel of Hindi laureate Bhagwati Charan Verma.  The earlier Chitralekha was produced by him in1941 and music was composed by Ustad Jhande Khan. The songs became very popular including “Tum jao jao bhagwan bane”.

This time, Kidar Sharma selected Roshan. Roshan did not disappoint and repaid the trust reposed by his mentor, and then some. The music was enthralling. Just two examples- Sansaar Se Bhage Phirtey Ho’ and ‘Ae Ri Jane Na Doongi’. I have already referred to ‘Man Re Tu Kaahe Na Dheer Dhare’ earlier. 

 Dooj Ka Chaand (1964), Bheegi Raat (1965), Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal (1966), Dadi Maa (1966) were some other films with superlative music. 

Mamta (1966) was a significant film in Roshan’s musical journey. Lata sang some stirring classics-Rahein Na Rahein Hum’; ‘Rehte The Kabhi Unke Dil Mein’; ‘Sakal Ban Magan Pawan Chalat’; and ‘Vikal Mora Manwa Un Bin Haye’.  Then there was the poignant duet of Hemant and Lata –Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera, jaise mandir mein lau diye ki” which never fails to move the listener. Roshan’s music was soft, sublime, and evoked a love that was pure, sacred, devotional.

In Bahu Begum (1967) there was- Pad gaye jhoole sawan rut aayee re” – sung by Lata and Asha and Rafi’sHam intzaar karenge tera qayamat tak”.

In Noor Jehan (1967) Suman Kalyanpur sang Sharabee Sharabee’, and Lata ‘Raat Ki Mehfil Sunee Sunee’. 

All songs listed are representative of the essential sweetness of Roshan’s tunes based on Indian classical and folk music, whose fragrance continued to stay with the listener long after the song was over.

Roshan died on Nov 16, 1967. His death was dramatic. At a party, while he was enjoying his drink, he slumped in the chair of a massive heart attack. He died instantly. His last film Anokhi Raat was in making. The film had memorable songs including Mukesh’s philosophy of life- Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein, nadi mile sagar mein, sagar mile kaun se jal mein, koi jane na”. Lata’s song in Anokhi Raat – ‘Mehlon Ka Raja Mila’ was yet to be recorded. His wife Ira Moitra arranged the recording. 

Today is Roshan’s birth anniversary (14th July, 1917). Lata could well have been singing on his behalf his evergreen – “Rahen na rahen hum, mehka karenge, banke kali banke bahaar, bagh e wafa mein”.  

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Roshan died early, but his music lives on. His name has been carried forward by his son, Rakesh, and his legacy as a composer by his other son, Rajesh. His famous film star grandson, Hrithik, however lip synchs the lyrics to carry on the tradition of giving meaning to background scores of Bollywood.
Roshan-A short musical journey long remembered