Naa fankaar tujhsa tere baaad aaya
Zamaane ko jisne, Deewaana banaaya
Muskil hai tujko kabhi bhool pana
Mohammad rafi Tuhje hamesha yaad karega zamana!
The above verse beautifully captures the larger-than-life persona of Indian Film Music Industries’ undisputed ‘Monarch’ in playback singing called – Mohammed Rafi. Today, 41 yrs have passed since he bid adieu on 31st July 1980, yet, despite such a long part, his memory continues to pursue. From dawn to dusk, his mellifluous voice keeps Rafi ‘alive’, resonating through the Radio, Television, and Social media reminding – Mujhko Mere Baad Zamana Dhoondega….
True, decades have passed, but the Indian film industry has failed to find an equivalent of the caliber of Rafi Sahab! The legacy of the matchless Mohammed Rafi continues as generations have attempted to copy his style from Mahendra Kapoor to Anwar to Shabbir Kumar to Mohd Azia to Sonu Nigam; the list is endless, but none could match the inimitable voice of Rafi Sabha! Even today, songs of Rafi are re-mixed, and music companies are minting millions of rupees! Winner of 6 Filmfare Awards and one National Film Award, Padma Shri Mohammad Rafi is the brightest jewel in the crown of Indian film music!!
On his 41st death anniversary, Mansoor Khan of Indian Film History pays Mohammad Rafi a tribute and tries to explore what makes Rafi India’s greatest singer?
Mohammad Rafi was Indian Cinema’s First Trained Playback Singer
Well, before Mohammad Rafi entered the Indian film industry, the industry had a handful of singers. Apart from the legendary K L Saigal, none of the singers had studied music. None had an aptitude for playback singing. Mohammad Rafi was India’s first trained playback singer. Rafi studied music as a child under the guidance of stalwart Hindustani Classical Gurus like Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwan Lal Mattoo, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Firoze Nizami, and others.
Mohd Rafi displayed his genius as an excellent singer at a young age when he was just 13 years old kid! According to Mohd Rafi’s elder brother, Abdul Hameed, Rafi had a passion for music. Once Bollywood’s famous singer K. L. Saigal was to give a public performance in Lahore. But due to power failure, the sound system went dead and he did not sing. The restless audience started creating chaos. The organizers were in a tight spot. Hence to save the organizers from the turmoil, Mohd Rafi was sent on stage to sing! A 13-year old Mohd Rafi was excited and began singing without a mike!! Rafi’s high-pitched voice took the audience by surprise! A pin-drop silence prevailed while Rafi sang. The audience was left enchanted by Rafi’s golden voice!!
It so happened that when Mohd Rafi was performing on the stage, he was noticed by famous film Music director Shyam Sunder, who had specially arrived to listen to K.L.Saigal but was left spellbound by Mohd Rafi’s mellifluous voice. Soon after the stage performance, Shyam Sunder approached Rafi and signed him to sing-song in his Punjabi Film Gul Baloch. The song was Soniye ni Heeriye ni…. Soon Rafi became a name to reckon in the Lahore film industry and Lahore Radio and later arrived in Mumbai.
Mohammed Rafi was a Master in Indian Shastriya Sangeet
Naushad was overwhelmed by Rafi’s command in Indian Shastriya Sangeet. Hence Naushad dared to experiment and gave Mohd Rafi a solo song in Mehboob Khan‘s blockbuster film Anmol Ghadi (1946). The song was Tera Khilauna Toota BalakTera Khilauna Toota…The song became an instant hit. However, what impressed Naushad was Rafi’s ability to adapt to the artist singing on the screen.
Rafi molded his voice with apt expressions and emotions of the hero. Naushad was happy as Indian cinema had discovered India’s first ‘true’ playback singer!
Thus Mohammed Rafi and Naushad had a long-standing association. Naushad not only recognized Rafi’s unparalleled singing skills but explored Rafi’s voice to the ultimate. Naushad made raga-based classical Shastriya Sangeet compositions, which had Indian ethos and the earthy fragrance of Indian folk music. Songs like “Man Tadpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj” ( “Baiju Bawra“), “Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki” (“Dulari“), “Hue Hum Jinke Liye Barbaad” (“Deedar“), “O Door Ke Musafir” (“Uran Khatola“), “Madhuban Mein Radhika Naache Re” (“Kohinoor“), Zindabad Zindabad Ae Mohabbat Zindabad (Mughal-E-Azam) etc. are examples of Rafi –Naushad combination.
Mohammed Rafi was equally adept at Western Music!
Mohd Rafi brought a radical change to Hindi film music with his association with Shanker Jaikishen. While Naushad explored the classical side of Rafi, Shanker Jaikishen tapped the western side of Rafi. With songs like ‘Yahoo! Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe‘ (Junglee), Aasman Se Aaya Farishta (An evening In Paris), Lal Chhadi Maidan Khadi (Janwar), Shanker Jaikishen takes credit for making Rafi completely wild and naughty! He gave a series of super hit songs in the hit film of the ’60s like Khuli Palak Mein Jhoota Gussa (Professor), Tumne Pukara Aur Hum Chale Aaye (Rajkumar), Budtameez Kaho Ya Kaho Janwar (Budtameez), Badan Pe Sitare Lapete Hue (Prince).
Besides Naushad and Shanker Jaikishen, Rafi became the hot favorite of every music director. In the 60s’, regarded as the Golden Era of Indian cinema, Rafi was the most sought-after singer. The decade witnessed Mohd Rafi singing for almost all the top music directors of Bollywood like S D Burman in films Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Guide, Aradhana to O. P. Nayyar in films Naya Daur, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Kashmir Ki Kali. Madan Mohan in films like Ghazal, Mamta, Haqeeqat to Ravi in films Chaudhvin Ka Chand, Kaajal and Do Badan to Roshan in films like Barsaat Ki Raat, Taj Mahal, Chitralekha to Khayyam in films like Shola Aur Shabnam, Shagoon, Aakhri Khat; the list is endless.
Mohammed Rafi was versatile in voice modulation!
The quality that made Rafi distinct from other singers in the race like Mukesh, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, and Kishore Kumar was that Rafi was a versatile singer who could mold his voice to each hero on the screen. For example, Mukesh was best known for his sad songs, while Talat Mehmood had authority in ghazal singing. Manna Dey was preferred to sing classical-based songs, and Kishore Kumar was known for his playful songs.
In stark contrast, Rafi was the only singer whose versatility stretched beyond the imagination. The varied approach he adopted to sing a particular genre for different heroes was so exceptional that film buffs could identify the hero singing the song on the screen by listening to the song on the radio!
Rafi had a distinct style for every actor. For Shammi Kapoor, Rafi adopted a peppy voice. Listen to O Haseena Zulfonwale Jane Jahan( Teesri Manzil), for Rajendra Kumar, Rafi used a silken voice. Listen to Baharon Phool Barsao (Suraj). Similarly, for comedian Johnny Walker, Rafi gave a different twist in his voice that harmonized with the hilarious style of Johnny Walker. Listen to the song Sar jo Tera Chakraye (Pyaasa) (1957). Likewise, Rafi used perfectly synchronize his voice for comedian Mehmood. Listen to the song Hum Kale Hai Tu Kiya Huwa Dilwale Hai(Gumnaam).
Mohammad Rafi could sing bhajans and ghazals with equal ease!
When he sang the bhajans, his voice transformed, and the ambiance turned divine. Who can forget his bhajans like Brindaban Ka Krishna Kanahaiya, (Miss Mary), Badi Der Bhai Nandlala… (Khandaan) or Sukh Ke Sab Sathi Dukh Mein Na Koi… (Gopi). Similarly, when Rafi sang ghazals, he overtook the exceptional ghazal maestro Talat Mehmood. Remember some hit ghazals of Rafi like Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare… (Kala Pani), Rang Aur Noor Ki Baraat Kise Pesh Karoon.. (Ghazal), Sham Unka Khayal Aa Gaya…(Mere Hamdam Mere Dost).
Rafi could sing high octave songs like Chale Aaj Tum Jahaan Se (Uran Khatola), Oh Duniya Ke Rakhwale (Baiju Bawra) with equal mastery as he could sing the lowest octave. Remember, Aaj ki raat yeh kaisi raat, ke humko neend nahi aati.(Aman) or Mein gaoon, tum so jao. (Brahmachari). Similarly, he could sing any variety of song whether a Qawali like Parda hai Parda (Amar Akbar Anthony) or a Patriotic song like Kar Chale Hum Fida (Haqeeqat) or a Comedy song like Hum Kaale Hai To Kya Hua (Gumnaam) or a Tragedy song like Kya Hua Tera Wada (Hum Kisise Kum Nahin), etc.
Mohammad Rafi was an acknowledged Genius Singer!
Mohammad Rafi’s potential as a singer was not hidden, hence even his die-hard critics had to bow and salute his genius. IFH hereunder explains how Rafi proved his genius, and the film industry acknowledged Rafi as an unparallel Genius!
Let’s go back to the ’50s when Raj Kapoor was ruling the roost. Raj Kapoor and Mukesh shared a unique combination. Mukesh sung all the songs pictured on Raj Kapoor, and Mukesh was recognized as the voice of Raj Kapoor. However, in a few films, Mukesh had to back out as he could not sing certain high-pitched songs or challenging songs! Hence Raj Kapoor had to invite Rafi Sahab to sing such songs. Remember the song – Main Zindagi Mein Har Dum Rota Hi Raha Hoon (Barsaat). In the film Chhalia (1960) all songs were sung by Mukesh, but the last song was sung by Rafi and picturized on Raj Kapoor. The song was Gali Gali Seeta Roye Aaj Mere Desh Mein. Raj Kapoor always invited Rafi in his RK films whenever the demand for a Rafi song arose like Ramaiya Wasta Waiya… (Shree 420), Nanhe Munne Bachche Teri… (Boot Polish), or the super hit song Yeh Mera Prem Patra … (Sangam).
What is more shocking is that Rafi has also given playback to singer Kishore Kumar! Shocked!! It may be stunning, but the truth is that when Kishore Kumar acted in films, he had to take playback singing of Rafi when he was in a tight corner to sing a raga-based classical song. Mohammed Rafi sang for Kishore Kumar in the film Raagini. The song was a classical number Man Mora Baawara.
The other hit song that Rafi sang for Kishore Kumar is Ajab hai dastan Teri aye Zindagi Kabhi Hansa Diya Rula… (Shararat). Rafi sang in other films for Kishore Kumar like Baagi, Shehzaada, etc.
Mohammad Rafi’s versatility as a ‘Great singer’ came on the horizon during the Rajesh Khanna era!
Rafi’s authority as a singer par excellence can be gauged from the fact that in the ’70s when Rajesh Khanna became a phenomenal superstar and his Jodi with Kishore Kumar made waves, Rafi still dominated the scene! True, the list of his songs declined, but Rafi’s status as an incredible singer remained unbeaten! It was during the 70’s Rafi’s versatility as a Great singer came on the horizon. In most of Rajesh Khanna’s films, when Kishore Kumar lacked the skill to sing a difficult song, Rafi Sahab was inevitably invited!
Remember Rajesh Khanna’s hit film Haathi Mere Saathi. The film had all Kishore Kumar songs. However, the climax song Nafrat Ki Duniya Ko Chhod Ke was sung by Mohammad Rafi. Wanna know why?
Well, music director Laxmikant of Laxmikant–Pyarelal fame, in an interview informed, “The song was initially to be sung by Kishore Kumar, but after many re-takes, Kishore Kumar was dropped as he was not able to render the emotional pathos that the song demanded. Hence we suggested film director M. A. Thirumugam hire Rafi Sahab for the song, but the director declined. He insisted on Kishore Kumar as Kishore Kumar was the star signer.”
Laxikant added, “Since Kishore Kumar was not able to bring out the heartrending sentiment of the situation. Hence we decided to delete the song. When Rajesh Khanna came to know that we have planned to delete the song, he was angry and convinced the director to hire Rafi Sahab. The director agreed. Interestingly, when the film was released, the song became the most successful song of the year!”
Later, Rafi sung many songs for Rajesh Khanna like Yeh Reshmi Zulfen… (Do Raste), Gulabi aankhen jo teri dekhi. Sharabi ye dil ho gaya.. (The Train), Yun Hi Tum Mujhse Baat Karti Ho… (Sachaa Jhutha) etc.