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Mohd Rafi An Enduring Legacy

This article is by Sajdah@HF

Mohd Rafi. The very name transports you immediately to the vintage era of Hindi film music. The thought crosses your mind; what would the world of Hindi music, have been like, had there been no Rafi? Imagine living in a world without colour? That’s how it would it would have been! Every time we listen to Rafi, we celebrate LIFE. Life in all its BRIGHT, VIVID, BEAUTIFUL colours! Like a painter plays with textures on a canvas, Rafi Saab’s voice glides through every imaginable emotion, that God intended us to feel.
There are singers. And, then there is Mohd Rafi. No singer, then or now, could ever hope to match his intensity. He sang like a dream. His voice mesmerised you. Part of it was his amazing persona ; he was such a gentle human being ! He is what’s called a gentleman singer-the likes of which we will never see again.

The world knows quite a bit about his struggling days as a singer, and later on his triumphant success in the 60’s, so this article will not be going there. Instead, it is going to focus on those personalities of the cinema and music world, with whom Rafi Saab enjoyed a lot of popular success, but later went their separate ways.

Raj Kapoor and Mukesh- We all know how wonderful a pair they made. Raj Kapoor and Mohd Rafi -What would that have been like? Well, we don’t need to speculate, because we KNOW. The early 50’s B/W Hindi movies of RK with private banners, had Rafi Saab as his playback artiste. In fact, in the movie Andaaz, co-starring two lead actors-Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, Mukesh was Dilip’s voice, while it was Rafi Saab who sang for RK. The songs ‘Yun toh milte hain‘ {with Nargis},’Yeh sawan rut‘ {with Suraiya} for Dastaan, ‘Hum tum yeh bahaar‘ {with Nargis} for the movie Ambar, and ‘‘Tum hi tum ho‘ {with Waheeda} for Ek dil sau afsaane are solid proof that together they could have created some great music. BUt it wasn’t fated to be.

Manoj Kumar was fortunate enough to get some of the most beautiful SAD songs, ever picturised on any lead actor on the Hindi silver screen, all sung by Rafi, in the movie Do Badan. Sample the pathos of a lover’s broken heart in ‘Raha gardishon main hardam‘, ‘Bhari duniya mein akhir dil‘ and ‘Naseeb mein jis ke joh‘. Manoj Kumar’s early movies like Banarsi Thag, Gumnaam and Sawan ki ghata, also had Rafi Saab providing his magical vocals. Two of their last popular songs together, in the 70’s are ‘Pathar ke sanam’and ‘Saajan saajan pukaroon’, both coincidentally being ‘title’ songs.

Rafi Saab and Dev Anand. What could be more perfect than this ? Sharabi, Bambai ka babu, Maya, Jab pyar kisi se hota hai, Love Marriage, Tere ghar ke saamne, Teen Deviyan, Asli Naqli, Baat ek raat ki, Duniya, CID, Solvan Saal, Nau do gyarah, Kala Bazaar, Kala Pani, Jewel Thief, Hum Donon, Gambler and Guide are some movies, where together they created sheer magic onscreen.

Indeed, you just have to listen to Rafi Saab’s voice, and images of Dev Anand, lip-synching the songs onscreen, cloud into your head. Remember, Dev striding down the moonlit hill slopes singing the enchanting
Khoya khoya chaand‘, the hopelessly-in-love ‘Apni toh har aah‘; picturised inside a rail coach with Waheeda on the upper berth, or the tongue-in-cheek number supposed to extol the value of money in ‘Teri dhoom har kahin‘. The soulful ‘Hum bekhudi mein‘ { with Nalini Jaywant}, the teasing duets ‘Acchaji main haari‘ { with MadhuBala}, ‘Kali ke roop mein‘ and ‘Aaja pancchi akela‘ {with wife Kalpana Kartik}, ‘Dekho roota na karo‘ { to Nutan}, and the eternally romantic duets with Lata Mangeshkar–‘Tasveer teri dil‘, ‘Tere ghar ke saamne‘, ‘Tujhe jeevan ki dor‘, ‘Dheere dheere chal‘ and ‘Yeh ankhen uff‘! Listen to ‘Jiya o jiya‘ and you immediately recall Dev serenading Asha Parekh, from the top of a rail coach. What about the one-of-a-kind ‘cricket’ song ‘She ne khela he se‘ { to Mala Sinha}, the nonchalant ‘Sanam tu chal‘ { again to Mala} and the I’ll-do-anything-for-love ‘Ek buth banaoonga‘ { for Sadhana }? What about the breathtakingly beautiful ghazals ‘Aise toh na dekho‘ and ‘Yun hi bekhayaaal hokar‘ { for Nanda}, the bitter, angry at Fate ‘Saathi na koi manzil‘ {with a puzzled Suchitra Sen in the back ground}, and the waiting-for-love ‘Akela hoon main‘ ? Or the philosophical ‘Main zindagi ka saath‘, and the life’s- like- that ghazal ‘Kabhi khud pe‘ ? Who can forget , the now classic numbers from Guide- the lonesome ‘Din dhal jaaye‘, the we-pledge-our-love-to-each-other ‘Tere mere sapne‘ and the come-to-the-senses-after-falling-out-of-love ‘Kya se kya ho gaya‘ ?

A song to suit every mood, and one voice- Mohd Rafi’s, cruising fluidly with ease through it all !

All good things have to come to an end, some day,and so did the Rafi / Dev Anand partnership. The last memorable song, they had together was in Man Pasand – ‘Logon ka dil agar‘. How, the lines seemed to mirror Rafi Saab’s persona, you cannot help, but wonder ?

Among the music composers, Rafi was out of favour with Anil Biswas, Salil Chaudhary and RD Burman. Anil Biswas condescendingly used Rafi’s voice in the movie Heer. Salil Chaudhary was a little more generous than that! Maya and Madhumati had some immortal songs in Rafi Saab’s voice. But in Us ne kaha tha, Chaaya, Do bheega zamin and Jaagte Raho, Rafi was given the less hummable numbers. Nowhere is this bias more pronounced than in Kabuli Waala. Rafi had to be contend with ‘Aye saba kehna mere dildaar se‘. To his credit, he pulled off the Pashtun accent with great panache.

Today, everyone gushes over the RDB / Kishore Kumar partnership. But, what is less commonly known is that, when RDB got his first independent film as a composer for Mehmood’s Bhoot Bangla, he turned to none other than Rafi. Good for him that he did so! Probably, he did not believe in taking any chances with his career. Remember that song ‘Ilaahi tu sunle hamali dua‘ by the immature chote nawab-Mehmood, who is pleading for the life of his dying father? The song is so moving, that it cannot, but touch to the core of one’s heart. Why, it could bring tears to even a tyrant’s eyes! That was the effect produced by, Rafi’s voice and way of singing. Listen closely to the words; it is hamaLI and not hamaRI dua. That’s because the spoilt chote nawab, had a pronounced LISP in his speech, in the first half of the movie. And Rafi Saab, had sung it LISP AND ALL, with AMAZING DIGNITY! Could anyone, but Rafi have ever taken this song to the height of sensibility, as it is now ? Impossible! And RDB was well aware of it. The movie had other lively duets with Lata Mangeshkar, which are extremely popular even to this day. The real turning point in RDB’s career came about with the movie Teesri Manzil. The music and the movie clicked. Rafi Saab had an amazing lot to do with the music’s success. It is very hard to ignore Rafi’s contribution to RDB’s career especially, in the beginning. But the self proclaimed admirers of RDB, in today’s time, are quite guilty of forgetting this. Rafi and RDB also went on to create some evergreen songs in movies like The Train, Caravan, Mela, Baharon ke sapne, Abhilasha, Pyar ka mausam, Hum kisi se kam nahin, Abdullah, Adhikar, The Burning Train, Shaan…

1969 – The year Aradhana was released. They say that the Hindi music scene, changed for ever, with its release. But, how many of us really know that, the songs of this movie, were first intended to be sung by Rafi Saab? Rafi was the first choice! Thunderstruck, are you ? Well, according to Shakti Samanta {sound-byte available with Vividh Bharati}, Rafi was on a world tour at that time, and so Shakti was told that the recordings would have to wait, until Rafi’s return to Mumbai, after two months. Apparently, NO ONE felt the need to wait.

The 70’s was a painful phase in Rafi Saab’s career. Even though he kept himself busy singing, there was no ‘work satisfaction’ for him. According to Naushad, on at least one occasion, Rafi had confided that he didn’t get any ‘Suqoon’ singing the kind of songs, that were being offered to him.

But even in the 70’s Rafi came up with some truly beautiful music. Memorable songs like ‘Pathar ke sanam‘, ‘Joh unki tamanna‘, ‘Aayi baharon ki shaam‘, ‘Yeh duniya yeh mehfil‘, ‘Kya hua tere vaada‘, ‘Tum joh mil gaye ho‘, ‘Tum se kahoon‘, ‘Teri galiyon mein‘, ‘Donon ne kiya‘, ‘Khilona jaankar‘, ‘O maanjhi chal‘, ‘Khush rahe tu sada‘, ‘Tere naam ka diwana‘, ‘Jab bhi yeh dil‘, ‘Hum ko toh jaan se‘, ‘Kaali ghata chaaye‘, ‘Kahin ek masoom‘, ‘Main ek raja hoon‘, ‘Tu is tarah se meri‘, ‘Jeena toh hai usi ka‘, ‘Aane se uske‘, ‘Khushboo hoon main‘ ….among others.

The tide was slowly but surely, turning in his favour. The qawwalis in the movie Amar Akbar Anthony, the melodies in LailaMajnu, Asha, Abdullah, Pratigya, Loafer, Geet, The Burning Train, Naseeb, Karz and Sargam proclaimed the return of the king. Raj Kapoor couldn’t have said it better “Rafi Saab is the uncrowned king of the music world“. The throne was his all along, and he was NEVER ‘dethroned’ as the critics crudely put it.

Mohd Rafi was a living legend. He certainly deserved more than he ever got in his own lifetime. Sadly, he didn’t! According to critics Rafi wasn’t media savvy. Rafi Saab liked his privacy, he had every right to be. But how this admirable quality, could be ever considered a flaw, never ceases to amaze me! It is also true that he did not tom tom his achievements to the media. He didn’t have to. His work spoke for itself! Had he been around, he would have reinvented himself with amazing grace.

Today, anyone with some access to modern technology, such as a multiple track recording system, digitally enhancing voice and pitch correction system can turn into a professional singer overnight. But to even attempt a Rafi – It would be like deceiving yourself. It just cannot be done!

MohdRafi was peerless. He not only had complete mastery over his voice, but his voice itself was a paragon of BEAUTY, REFINEMENT, and MELODY. It had everything that any singer could only dream of – CLARITY, EXQUISITE EXPRESSION,CHARM and PASSION. Listening to him can only be defined as one sublime experience. Because his voice is simply DIVINE !

It is a real mystery, why Rafi has not received the recognition, he truly deserves. The position that Lata Mangeshkar, holds undisputed among her female contemporaries, is what Rafi should rightfully hold, among the male singers. But does he? Now that’s another story. And there lies the supreme irony of it all!

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One Comment to “Mohd Rafi An Enduring Legacy”

  1. Mohan Flora says:

    Good article. Just to correct that the first independent movie by RDB was
    Mehmood’s Chhote Nawab and not Bhoot Bangla also produced by Mehmood.Keep up the good work of bringing out the newer insights of King Rafi’s life.

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