Mohammad Rafi – The Singer
By Manish Chhabra
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.