The incomparable Mohammad Rafi
It will be 29 years since Mohammad Rafi arguably the best playback singer ever died at the age of 55 on July 31, 1980. However, the thespian with the magical voice continues to dominate radio programmes and his songs are still amongst those frequently played on various programmes and channels.
Rafi was no ordinary singer. He was a legend in his lifetime and I never tire listening to his voice. There was unmatched versatility in his vocal chords and his range was unimaginable. From Bhajans to classical, he could sing every type of vocal presentation.
His place in the Hindi film industry continues to remain unfilled. Many clones have come and gone but nobody can ever replace this talented singer who ruled the Hindi film music industry for more than 20 years to be temporarily displaced by another talented singer Kishore Kumar in the early seventies. However, had Rafi lived, he may have regained his number one position given that his last popular number, Kya hua tera wada did indicate precisely that all was not over for him as a singer.
I have many Rafi favourites. Among them are Maine Chaand aur sitaaron ki tamanna ki thi (for N.Dutta), Chaudvian ka chand ho (Ravi), Hum Bekhoodi se tum ko pukar (S.D.Burman), Man Tarpat Hari Darshan ko aaj (Naushad), Zindagi bhar nahin bhoole gi who barssat ki raat (Roshan), pukarata Chala hoon main (O. P.Nayyar), Mohabbat Zinda rahati hai (Hansraj Behl), Sawan ke mahine mein (Madan Mohan), Main Gaaon tum so jaao (Shankar Jaikishan). and Chahoon ka main tujhe saanj savere (Lakshmikant Pyarelal). As a matter of fact it is always difficult to choose a favourite Rafi song since there are so many songs one would want to be included in the list. The most popular hindi song played by wedding bands till this day is also a Rafi song, Lal Lal Gaal. He gave his best for virtually every top composer and was the voice of almost all heroes as also comedians.
When he sang, Sar jo tera chakraye for Johnny Walker in Pyaasa, he had got into the comedian’s mode. When he sang, Door ke Musaafir for Dilip Kumar, his voice became synonymous with the great actor. Shammi Kapoor’s Yahoo image was as much due to Rafi as it was due to both Shankar Jaikishen and O.P.Nayyar. Rajendra Kumar owed his initial success to his magical voice which rendered Teri pyari pyari soorat ko (Sasural) and Yeh Mera Prem Patra padh kar (Sangam). Bharat Bhushan sang some of the best Rafi songs on the screen and Guru Dutt was immortalized due to his own genius as well as because of Rafi in both Pyaasa and Kagaz ke Phool. Rafi was at ease singing with any other singer. His duets with Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum always stood out though he also gave equally refreshing numbers while singing with Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle. There was a time when there was just one Filmfare best singer award. The fact that Rafi won it more times than Lata showed his class/range.
With Manna Dey, Rafi sang some memorable duets such as Tu hai mera prem devata and with Mukesh (and Lata) he sang Ramaiya Vasta Vayiya. He could sing Punjabi folk music with great ease and therefore O.P.Nayyar, the orignal Rhythm King used his voice to give an outstanding score in CID (Leke Pehla pehla pyaar), Phagun (Ek Pardesi mera dil legaya) and Tum Sa Nahin dekha (Sar Pe topi lal haat pe). Shankar Jaikishan and S.D.Burman besides Naushad also composed some of the best songs for this talented singer. Not many people know that Rafi also provided playback for Kishore Kumar.
Two of these songs were Man Mora Banwara’ for O.P.,Nayyar and Ajab hai dastaan hai teri hai zindagi for Shankar Jaikshan.
Rafi also sang some great Qawallis especially for Roshan. Na to karvan ki taalash hai for Baraat ki Raat also featuring Manna Dey, Lata and S.D.Baatish remains as the best Qawalli till date. Rafi also sang another one Tum Meri Tasveer leke kya karo ge tum meri tasveer lekar’’. Rafi was a Godfearing man and exceptionally disciplined. He was indispensable for the music industry. Once his tiff with Lata became a point where music composers had to look for alternatives. SJ used Suman Kalyanpur during those days and also used Mubarak Begum for a brief period. O.P.Nayyar never had this problem since he always used Asha, Geeta or Shamshad Begum. Every morning Rafi also would make it a point, come Sunday or Monday, to play badminton.
Not many know that the legendary singer was discovered by another luminary K.L.Saigal who spotted him singing for a small group in Lahore. He recommended his name to a few music directors and he got his first break for a Punjabi film, Gul Baloch. His major break came when he sang a duet with Noor Jahan under Feroze Nizami’s baton for Jugnu. The song, Yahan Badla wafa ka bewafi ke siva kya hai is a hit till this day.
A little known fact is that Rafi based his singing style on a lesser-known singer, G.M.Durrani and not any of the big names. Durrani and he later sang a duet for Hum Sab Chor Hain (Hum Ko Hanste desk zamana jalta hai). He also refrained from singing with Mahindra Kapoor as he found his voice resembling his own. However, Naushad managed to record one duet with the two for Aadmi.
Saigal died in 1948 and it was Talat Mehmood who became Numero Uno. But Rafi was already making waves. His songs, Suno suno ae duniyawalaon bapu ki yeh amar kahan , Main zindagi mein hardam rootan hi raha hoon and Yeh zindagi ke mele propelled him to the number one slot. The tale goes like this; Talat had gone on a Haj and on return he found that Rafi had superseded him.
Rafi’s voice will always live on. As also his freshness and enthusiastic approach to life. He was without any doubt outstandingly remarkable of them all.