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Mohammad Rafi – The Singer

By Manish Chhabra

Mohd Rafi

Mohd Rafi

His was the voice which suited every hero of his era, yet, his was the voice which was so different that we are still looking for one, 32 years since his untimely death.

Rafi ruled the Hindi Film Music’s golden period of 1950s and 1960s.In fact, it won’t be an overstatement that Mohammad Rafi’s golden period was Hindi film music’s golden period.

Rafi was so popular during the 1950s and 1960s, that literally, no Hindi film worth its name was complete without his songs in it. There were singers who suited and suited very well on a particular style of compositions/heroes but Rafi was a fit-all singer.

He was ‘The Singer’ for all successful and great music directors, heroes and producers/directors of that era. Maestros and legends like Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishan, Roshan, Laxmikant Pyarelal SD Burman, Madan Mohan, C Ramchandra, Hemant Kumar, OP Nayyar, Ravi, Khayyam, Chitragupta used his voice to the best and gave Indian music lovers a treasure to last for years to come.

Even RD Burman, who patronized Kishore, also started his career with Rafi’s vocals in films like Chhote Nawab and Teesri Manzil etc. and turned to him again in his later films. Rafi was not a strict ‘No’ for anyone but rather a first choice most of the times for all kinds of songs.

So what was so unique about Rafi ? I believe there were quite a few reasons, one –  Rafi’s voice – so smooth, so clear and so soft that you can keep on hearing it for hours and days together. It was a very balanced voice, neither too husky, nor too trembling and it fitted everyone. Two – he had a great range. Three- a unique singing style with a great throw of words and which never sounds too mechanical. Four – the ease with which he sang songs of all genres. Five – The feel which he brought into a song. Six – His soul stirring style and range which just takes you to the another world and which connects you to God.Listening to his songs is not less than a meditation for most.

The list of his superhits is endless but I will just try to give you an example of his singing range : Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki (Dulari), Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj (Baiju Bawra), Ye Mahlon Ye Takhton Ye Taajon Ki Duniya( Pyaasa), Khoya Khoya Chand (Kala Bazaar), Hum Bekhudi Mein Tum Ko (Kala Paani), Yeh Mera Prem Patra Padh Ke (Sangam), Ramayaa Vasta Vayya (Shree 420), Parda Hai Parda (Aar Akbar Anthony), Hum Kissi Se Kam Nahin (Title song), Rang Aur Noor Ki Baraat (Ghazal), Din Dhal Jaaye(Guide), Badan Pe Sitaare (Prince), Baar Baar Dekho (China Town), Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho (Hanste Zakhm), Nain Lad Jai Hain (Ganga Jumna),Door Rah Kar Na Karo Baat (Amaanat), Dard-E-Dil (Karz), Madhuban Mein Radhika (Kohinoor) etc. etc.. were all sung by this great singer.

Rafi’s supremacy was challenged by Kishore and RD Burman (and Gulzar) combination in the late 60s (post Aradhana, 1969) and until mid 1970s but let us remember that, that was a very short period in comparison to his singing career of over 36 years. The period was a period of craze and fashion of a particular style and was not a permanent change. And even during that short period, Rafi was still a favorite of most of the music directors including the great duo of that time Laxmikant Pyarelal, for whom Rafi was always the first choice. If Kishore was a hit for Rajesh Khanna, Dev Anand and Amitabh (to an extent), Rafi was still favored by others including Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar, Rishi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Rajendra Kumar and many others.

Arguably, no one in the film music world, worldwide has remained at the top for such a long and continuous period and it is one of the rarest feat by any standards in any industry.

Mohammad Rafi died on 31st July, 1980 and I remember 1st August 1980, when I was just 9 years old.I noticed my sister crying after listening to the news of Rafi’s death on the radio. Music, for me, and for millions like me was synonymous with Mohammad Rafi and it had died.

Rafi’s sudden death had created a big vacuum and many aspiring singers and clones tried to take his place after his death.But, his range and his voice to his side, no one and I stress, no one, even until now, could ever come close. Singers like him are not born twice. Period.

I remember the days that when I used to get a monthly pocket money of Rs.200 during 1989-92, the first thing I used to do was to buy Rafi cassettes. I bought the cassettes even if there was only a single song which was not yet part of my collection. Unfortunately, in those days, when mp3s were not norm and Internet was just a new term launched, getting a rare song was a task in itself and believe me or not, I had not left any shop ‘unvisited’ in my home town Jaipur where I did not go and look for Rafi’s rare songs.

I have grown up listening to his songs and will happily die listening to his songs. It is my good fortune that I could enjoy his magical voice during my life time. I am sure millions agree with me and my own ‘Sher’ :

Gaayak hue hazaaron, aur bhi honge,
Magar Rafi, Tere geet zuban se kabhi juda na honge.

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40 Blog Comments to “Mohammad Rafi – The Singer”

  1. Akhtar says:

    i love i respect mohammed rafi saheb like all other millions do. sangeet ku aap mohammed rafi par naaz hai. Greatest voice of all times.

  2. Fouzia Basha says:

    Mohammed Rafi sahab was a versatile singer,Rafi sahab deserve Bharat Ratna award,when lata got this award why not Rafi sahab?

  3. jo jhuthe dharmik he dharm ka dikhawa karte he unhe sabak lena chahiye .be’coz ishwar ki aradhana suron se bhi ki ja sakati .we must try to touch GOD by our heart,with heart’s deapth. bhagawan apane pyaron ko es gandi jhuthhi duniya me jyada din ke liye nahi chhodata.ek kalakar sirf ek insan hota he.

  4. not a human voice , this is “VOICE OF GOD” not be other RAFI sahab. it is our good luck, we can listen singing an angel. no words on the earth to praise RAFI sahab. an ocean of Saptswars.

  5. shammi says:

    I totally agree that there is no point for anyone trying to compare the likes of the heavenly voice of mohd rafisahab with kishore kumar because there simply is no comparison. Mohd rafi was singing for decades before kishore hit the high time.

    It’s also nice to read comments such as comment no 35 where people can admire and appreciate mohd rafisahabs songs even if they’re not familiar with the language as his voice was truly mesmerising and melodious which cannot be said for kishore kumar’s voice.

    AS for Yash chopra I think it was his loss in the long run because I didn’t really like any of his film because interesting and beautiful locations in my opinion do not make a good film!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Dr.Salahudin says:

    I am a very good fan of RAFI Saab and crazy about his songs. If I sing some of his songs I get goose pimples. The only thing is that I dont understand hindi. His songs are melodious and no one can sing like him. His voice is immortal

  7. Ruds says:

    Rafi SAHAAB is the greatest singer of all time. I am a 14 year oldie hard fan from Australia

  8. Manish says:

    It is disturbing to notice that rafi is time and again compared with kk..let us stop doing that..rafi was light years ahead of kk and it is belittling rafi if we keep comapring him with kk and with some or other justifications..
    Let us talk about rafi and not rafi vs point.

  9. Sudhir Dwivedi says:

    Tum Bin Jaau Kaha was first recorded by Kishore da, later on when RDB asked Rafi to hum “Tum Bina jaau kaha “after Nisultana Recording then RDB was so impressed that he recorded this song for Shashi twice in this movie,Kishore da had already recorded 2 version of this song.Thus this song has 4 versions 2 by Kishore da and the same number by Rafi saab.My personal favorite is “Meri nazar me tum hi tum ho” brilliantly rendered by our beloved Rafi saab.

  10. manish says:

    It is kishore kumar,s voice

  11. post 27 rajesh ji –your father was one of the best screen play writers the industry ever had.. being a small writer myself i adore his rightly described the unfortunate co- incidence of three consecutive deaths in 1980..

  12. Rajiv Dhuri says:

    Dear Friends,

    One doubt
    who had sung lines with Rafi Sahab for Song Parda Hai Parda.. the Lines for Amitabh.
    Is it Rafi Sahab himself after changing the Scale ??
    pls reply me
    Thanks and Regards to all
    Rajiv Dhuri

  13. santosh says:

    Dear Rajesh,

    Very nice to know about ur father.We never knew this fact.Great Songs were those.Really thanks to have made us aware of this and also to know you.Rafi saab was the best there was , there will be, I am just priviliged to be able to go to his house during my visits for monthly meeting in mumbai and spend some time at his house .Pl let me get in touch with u

  14. RAJESH V. GAUR says:

    Rafi sahab was a true legend and even after so many years of his death his fans have increased and not decreased. plus he was a wonderful soft hearted human being too. 1980 is considered a black year in the annals of taye Hindi film industry.
    Actor Uttam Kumar passed away on 24th July which was a Thursday followed by Rafi sahab on 31st July againa Thursday. And last but not the least writer Vrajendra Gaur, who gave super hits like kati patang, Sharmeelee, Geet Gaata Chal, Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye saraswatichandra, Anuraag, Teen Deviyaan, Bimal da’s Parineeta, Warrant, The Great Gambler, etc.etc. passed away on 7th August which was again a Thursday. It was an eerie coincidence that these three stalwarts passed away on three counsecicutive Thursdays on 1980. By the way writer Vrajendra Gaur was my father and a great friend of rafi sahab. Email:

  15. It is high time that Mohammad Rafi Sab should be awarded Bharat Ratna.

  16. manish says:

    Yes salim ji, this was a difficult and great song but was not as big a hit as was tu hindu banega na mussalman banega.
    As i wrote in my article, only a very few in the history of world, have been able to achieve what rafi saab achieved by staying at the top for so many years..and i feel proud, as an indian that an indian did so…it is a rare feat to stay at top for so many consecutive years..but very few people outside indian subcontinent appreciate this fact, may be due to rafi saab’s extremely simple nature..otherwise i do not think even michael jackson and beatles stayed at top for so many years…

  17. salimk says:

    Well done Manish. How can one forget the unmatched rendition “damaan mein aag lagabaithe bete” from Dhool ka phool.

  18. manish says:

    Rafi sang in kala patthar and dharmputra too..dastaan was a br films movie and not a yash chopra movie..secondly both br chopra and yash chopra encouraged rafi,s clone Mahendra kapoor in a number of movies toobut it is also true that br chopra favored rafi imore n comparison to yash chopra

  19. Babu T says:

    Rafi’s voice possessed an energy, very unique which no other singer possessed.
    When we hear him this energy transcends to us and make us energetic.

  20. binu nair says:

    more song s rajesh ranga ji…..Post 20

    composer ravi has told b r chopra that the title song from waqt could ‘only’ be sung by mohd rafi.

    waqt was directed by yash chopra.

    b r chopra – agreed to the composer’s point even though rafi saaheb was not singing for any b r films.

    another song which rafi saaheb sung for b r film is from dastaan : Na tu zameen ke liye na tu aasmaan ke liye. but, this was a background song sung for dilip kumar for whom the legend had stopped singing .


  22. Mohammad Akhter says:

    Rafi Sahab possessed a Heavenly voice which was a gift from our Lord to us, the inhabitants of this world. But this indeed is a world of greed, betrayal, torture, exploitation, injustice and so on. So, the Lord took him up there where there are no such things. May be the Heaven Dwellers are enjoying his golden voice as we speak here and missing him. He was just a saint for me and, I believe, for many others.

  23. krishna says:

    kash mere pas time machine hoti to mai playback singing k god se jarur mil kar aata. .

  24. mumbaikar8 says:

    You really hit the nail when you mentioned that one can listen to Rafi Saheb’s songs for hours. I think he is the only male singer whom, atleast, I can listen for hours and not get bored.

  25. Sal Rafi says:

    Is there any censures in this forum? My earlier post is missing. Can some one tell me who contact to clear this and publish an article.

  26. manish says:

    strange but very true, but it is also true that by 1969, it is said that it was rdb, who called the shots and it is no secret that rdb favored kk over rafi at least for until mid 70s post 69..and then rafi saab had also stopped singing for quite a while in 70s…

    i would talk about many other geniuses who favored rafi all the time and created timeless gems instead of a duo who used rafi (and most other singers) on an on and off basis despite of rafi giving them many of their best numbers through out their career.

    for me, naushad, mandan mohan,sj, roshan, ravi, lp,chitragupta,opn and most others who never left him and for whom rafi was supreme and for whom rafi created gems like no one else could ever have matter much more than this duo.

  27. binu nair says:

    i am not a great record keeper but what my friend told me stunned me.

    his opinion was that sdb recorded most of his songs with rafi saaheb prior to 1969 and then abruptly stopped taking rafi saaheb.

    prior to this all the romantic and difficult hit ghazals – went to mohd rafi and the lighter easier ones went to the lap of kishore kumar like the gaata rahe mera dil number which any singer could sing including the newcomers singing in the tv make believe competitions.

    two facts must be mentioned herein. first that sdb’s market equations was always on par being ever green all time.

    second, the father and son team always had hits with mohd rafi and those songs are cherished even today.

    who could have sung ‘kahin bekhayal hokar… and mera man tera pyaasa….the way the legend has sung.

  28. manish says:

    Thanks binu ji and bishtji for your appreciation.thru this forum, may i request if anyone has copies of newspapers of 1st Aug 1980 and if he can share it with the rafians.

  29. Aditya says:

    Mohd Rafi was, is and will remain the best male playback singer ever…no one can sing like the way he did..he was amazing! just amazing…an angel of the Lord.

  30. Post 7 gautam jee.. pl read binu nair’s post 4 between the lines.. no doubt sdb was senior in age and therefore obviously he started his career before rafi sahib. however, the fact remains that sdb is remembered for his rafi songs and not for his 1930 irony may be recalled here is that when filmfare gave life time achievement award to shashi kapoor – the song being played was none other than ” tum bin jaaoon kahaan ..” but in kishore kumar’s voice ( ! )whereas in the film rafi saab had beautifully rendered this song for young shashi..any comment/reply for this ..?

  31. manish says:

    gautam, it is true that sdb used rafi less before 1957 but it is equally true that sdb became sdb only post 1957..his pre 1957 tunes were hits but not as big as post 57.rafi gave mds the freedom of creativity as his singing had no limits with rafi, the mds grew too.arguably,few mds who could not exploit rafi’s talent finished sooner relatively.keep writing.

  32. Premkumar says:

    I fully concur with the views of Jawad Rana. Rafi & Latha are trend setters with no basis for comparison with others!!

  33. Jawad Rana says:

    Rafi Jee and Lata Jee are the dictionary of playback singing full stop. comparing them to any singer, or talking about there up and downs is an insult to them, they are, they will, and will always remain the optimum of playback singing. New, upcoming, and Old Singers can only be compared but never equaled.

  34. Gautam Banerjee says:

    Mr. Binu Nayar In reply to you post I would like to say please don’t mix up r.d. burman with S.D.Burman. They may be father and son but they have an ocean of difference in the quality of music. Please be informed that S.D.Burman was pioneer of modern music from Bengal. Not only that He was the Best singer from 30s along with K.L.Saigal and Pankaj Mullick. Now for your information I would like to mention that S.D.Burman’s career did take off without Rafi saheb(my most favorit singer from post Saigal era). S.D.Burman had huge number of hit songs with Talat Mehmood, Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar before he finally switched to Md. Rafi in 1957, i guess. Even that had a history. You will notice that Lata stopped singing S.D’s tune since 1956-62. Asha and Geeta was singing all female voice in S.D’s tune. I guess S.D. was not feeling very confident about his film songs being hit like before. So he switched to Rafi for the male voice of his tune from PYAASA in 1957, i guess.

  35. dear manish, I totally agreed with you. Singers like rafi sahab born once in a thousand years and when next time such singer will born he will be rafi sahab only. I have the same wish just like you. rafi sahab’s popularity is going strong day by day even after 32 years of his departure. I wish this trend will continue till the universe exists. rafi sahab jindabad. Birendra Singh Bisht

  36. binu nair says:

    Post number one is under moderation……………

    pls look in to this and suggesting a method so that regular contributors comments are ‘not held’ up due to red-tapism, i would term it.


    binu nair

  37. binu nair says:

    can u think of s d burman and r d burmans career taking off ‘without rafi saaheb’ (Post 3 ).

    can you think of lata’s and asha’s duets becoming a hit ‘without’ the dulcet voice of mohammad rafi saaheb?

    r d burman first records “tum bin jaaoo kahan” in the legends voice and then give it to the other singer to improvise the song.

    how many of us know that there are more than three versions of ‘tum bin jaaoo kahan”?

    mohd rafi saaheb is evergreen and immortal and come this december – all the auditoriums are booked for mohd rafi shows on his 88th birth aniversary at mumbai and elsewhere.

  38. sundeep pahwa says:

    hi manish like you there are many who were born when rafi saheb was
    at his peak RDB when started his journey in bombay as a MD was
    totally dependent on rafi saheb as his father SDB some earlier films
    i remember are Teesra kaun 1965, Waris 1969, Train 1970 Chandan ka palna
    1967 apart from the films mentioned by you the debate will never end
    as to who sang better the song Tum bin jaon kahan from the film
    Pyar ka mausam

  39. rl arora says:

    Rafi Saab can’t be compared with any bollywood playback singer. he had unique style of singing. i prefer to listen only those songs which hv his voice otherwise i dont consider hearing the song. yes, if his song is being broadcast then no other other programm can divert my attention till his song is over. Can’t get another Rafi Saab on this earth. besides his excellent voice, he was a very kind hearted and soft spoken person and socially a saint.

  40. binu nair says:

    great write-up right from the heart manish ji.

    your story of buying a cassette from the pocket money will be echoed by many rafi saaheb lovers.

    on aug 1st when we opened the news papers it was the most dreaded day of our lives as it had the picture of rafi saaheb with the news : Mohd Rafi dead.

    i know of a cancer patiend stumping to the ground at Kem hospital at parel, mumbai when he heard the news. He forgot his pain from the stomach cancer for a while and started to cry loudly………

    one fact man y wont know is about rafi saaheb is that he had stopped singing for a while during the seventies and that was the reason why his songs were heard less.
    but, once he decided to sing again, mohd rafi had said : ‘ I will be the number one and then leave this world ‘

    how prophetic it was as from 1978 onwards, it was a different mohd rafi that our ears heard.

    there were hits after hits. i myself heard him belting out one hit after another at the famous shanmukhananda hall.

    mai jath yamla pagla diwana was the gem that floored the audiences along with his swan song – oh duniya ke rakhwale.

    almost eleven songs in the binaca geet mala out of sixteen – few months before rafi saaheb left us.

    rafi saaheb had stormed the bollywood music industry to use a lighter phrase – like no one.

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