The sound of music, stilled

Tribute: Sarosh Bhabha (August 25, 1934-February 13, 2016)

Sound is my world," he said simply. What a wealth of feeling in four monosyllables. This was a few years ago when I interviewed Sarosh Bhabha for a book on Parsi theatre.

Sarosh Bhabha (right) with Sam Kerawalla working on the sound for a play. Photo credit: Kaizad Bhabha; Meher Marfatia/Laughter in the HouseSarosh Bhabha (right) with Sam Kerawalla working on the sound for a play. Photo credit: Kaizad Bhabha; Meher Marfatia/Laughter in the House

The man who magnificently layered the most evocative music for English and Gujarati productions galore over half a century passed away yesterday after a prolonged illness.

“He was always fascinated by sound,” shares thespian Sam Kerawalla, one of Bhabha's oldest friends. Why he was insatiably curious about which wires went where with Grundig recorders set up for a 1960s Adi Marzban show at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan may well be explained by his genes. The son of singer and stage manager Minoo Bhabha started dabbling in his metier in the Lamington Road family flat where a room served as a studio.

After apprenticing with sound engineer Minoo Katrak at Film Centre in Tardeo, Bhabha began providing the music for plays written by Lulu (Rustom) Marzban, Adi's brother. He soon came to be so synonymous with his craft that the drama critic of a national daily, trying to think of the name for music credits of the INT play Lafra Sadan, shut her eyes and said, “It's got to be Sarosh!” She was correct, of course.

With his son Kaizad, Bhabha created rich audio landscapes that smoothly propelled forward plots of genres from farce to whodunit. Kaizad remembers greats like Marzban, Kerawalla, Burjor Patel, Jimmy Pocha and Dinyar Contractor dropping in at their home after rehearsals. “It was a privilege growing up with these fantastic personalities,” he says. “They taught theatre kids like us a whole lot about attitude and excellence. My father introduced me to every kind of music composition, emphasising how an innovatively used embellishment is critical to the action of a play.” The murder mystery Hello Inspector was such a sonically textured production. Similarly, the haunting tenor of a piece like The Rite of Spring drove home the suspenseful air permeating Solmi January ni Madhraate.

With Bhabha providing the music for at least 30 of his plays, Burjor Patel recalls a wonderful man who enjoyed his work, willing to slog long nights till he got the exact notes a director insisted on. Choreographer Jeannie Naoroji, whose fashion shows he orchestrated from 1965, remarks, “Sarosh’s talent is irreplaceable. The versatile way he chose music — understanding European classical to modern jazz - beautifully matched the mood and model walking to it.”

Eclectic and excited by wide-ranging music, Bhabha went on to enrich his repertoire with artistes like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Pankaj Udhas, touring the US and Russia with them. But experimenting with sound for theatre stayed closest to his heart.

RIP Mr Bhabha. Sound was indeed your world.

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