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Rafi saab – King of Playback Singing

I am Sunil Handa, I wrote earlier to your site regarding the Great Mohd Rafisaab, and the reactions that I got for my article has encouraged me to write again, because being Rafisaab’s great fan I feel it is my duty to share my views with fellow Rafians’ who have grown listening to Rafisaab’s song and are still listening to those wonderful and everlasting songs, sung by the King of Playback Singing.

I downloaded a 1977 BBC Interview of Rafi saab that was placed on your website, and when I listened to that interview, Rafisaab’s spoke so voice softly that you just cannot believe that this is the voice of a man who has sung so many songs and when he used to sing his voice was totally transformed. It is really amazing and remarkable. Also, I read other articles published on your website, written by different people who used to know Rafi saab, and what I realize from all those articles, that Rafi saab was a very god fearing, simple and soft spoken man, and how he used to reduce his price whenever he has to sing for small time or new music directors, that was the greatness of the man. Also I think it will be unfair to compare Rafi saab and Kishore Kumar, they are both legends in their own right, they both had their individual styles of singing and both were simply great. Well different people will have different opinion, but what makes Rafi saab totally different from other playback singers of his time was the range of songs that Rafi saab sang.

In an article I read that music director Salil Chaudhary, didn’t like to use Rafi saab for his song as he though Rafi saab’s voice was to loud for his kind of music, that’s why he preferred Mukesh or Talat Mehmood because their voice was soft. I am not an expert on music, but I would like to ask you Rafians out there, is this argument valid. Was Rafi saab’s voice to loud. Here are few examples that show how wrong this argument is e.g. Yeh Mehlon Ye Takhto Ye Taio ki Duniya…(Pyassa), Dekhi Zamane ki yaari…(Kagaz Ke Phool), Mai Yeh Soch Kar Uske Dar Se Utha Tha… (Haqquiet), Apni to har aaah ek toofan hai .. and so many other slow numbers like these. The depth and softness in Rafi saab’s voice was the main reason that he was able to sing these difficult songs without any difficulty, and of course Desh bhakti songs like Ae Watan Ae Watan Humko Teri Kasam… (Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed), Ab Tumahre Hawale Watan Sathiyo… (Haqquiet), Apni Azadi Ko Hum Hargiz…(Leader) etc. Then compare these songs with songs from Shammi Kapoor’s films. The songs had different feel altogether. Only a versatile and genius could sing all those different songs effortlessly. The kind of soul and emotion that Rafi saab used to put into his songs is what that makes him the King of Playback singing even 26 years after his death.

Out of so may songs that Rafi saab sang, I would like to give an example that how in a single movie Rafi saab’s versatility can be seen. The film is Chaudvin Ka Chand and the sings are The Title song Chaudvin Ka Chand ho… and the, the comic song.. Mera Yaar Bana Hai Dulha (picturised on Johhny Walker) and finally Mili Khak Me Mohabbat, Jala Dil ka Ashiyana….. all the three songs were of different mood and were sung so beautifully by Rafi saab. And to say that in the early 70’s Rafi saab went through a slump because of Kishore Kumar wave makes me very angry. Take an example of Superstar Amitabh Bachchan, 10 years ago people said that he is finished because his movies starting flopping and because new actors like Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan etc. came in the industry, but look at him today, he is the undisputed king of bollywood. Rafi saab’s career was also like that after ruling the music industry during, 50’s & 60’s if because of Kishore Kumar he sang less number of songs doesn’t mean he was finished, it was a bad phase that comes in everybody’s life, but then there is a saying in english “You can not keep a good man down for too long” and ultimately Rafi saab came back strongly mainly through Manmohan Desai’s movies. And to add further, may be Rafi saab sang less number of songs during these so called slump years, but all of his songs sung during this period were hits with movies like, Amar Akbar Anthony, Chacha Bhatija, Dharmveer, Naseeb, Suhag, Shaan, Sargam, Asha, Dostana, Hum Kissi se Ka Nahin…. etc.

There is so much to write about Rafi saab’s songs. But I think one of his songs says it all

Dil ka suna saaz tarana dudhnega…
Mujhko mere baad zamana dudhnega….

And truly we are all searching for Rafi saab, but a legend like him is only born once in a century and we are lucky that we have the treasure of his songs which will stay with us till we are alive.

Finally, I would like to get touch with true Rafians who think like me. Pls feel free to write to me at

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21 Blog Comments to “Rafi saab – King of Playback Singing”

  1. SomeguyOnVacation says:

    I have been surfing on the web for far too long now, and I found your post to be among the best constructed articles and will definitely pass this along to a few pals. Thank you. Time to get back to these wonderful beaches in Brazil!

  2. Gokuldas Kumar says:

    Dear all my Rafian friends,
    Why waste time lamenting about Rafi not getting Bharat Ratna! Even otherwise, did you ever think that selection of artists for consideration of these awards was based on merits! As one Rafian put it, the problem with Rafi was he did not know how to market himself. For Rafi, Bharat Ratna is still inadequate. He is something more than that. Rafi still lives in the breath of thousands and thousands of his fans, all over the world! Which award can match this ?
    Gokuldas Kumar.M

  3. mukesh says:

    when i red this the vibrations were producing all across my body.
    surely the singing god deserves bharat ratna n much more
    i think some of us should open the eyes of award giving authorities n they will have to do this
    thanks .

  4. sushilbagal says:

    I am a great fan of Rafisahab and I am very glad to know that there are many more around like me. I would like to be in the loop with all of you so that we can share our views and likings about this great maestro.

    Probably yes Rafisahab did not receive the honour that he should have got. Even Bharat Ratna would have fallen short to honor this singing legend. But I am sure that as long as we have Rafi fans like us the light of the songs of this genious will be lit forever.

    Probabaly the real talent of Rafisahab was fully exploited by the sangeet samrats SHANKAR – JAIKISHAN who were the first duo to commercialise Hindi music in the real sense which was further taken ahead by LAXMIKANT – PYARELAL.

    LAXMIKANTJI (I am a great fan of this MD.) did most of the composing and PYARELALJI did most of the arranging, they created unforgettable numbers. Rafisahab is the most melodious singer of the Indian film industry and the bench mark he has set is the highest.

    I am really thankful to both of you and I wish we share more information thru mails.

  5. sushilbagal says:

    Dear Mohan Floraji / Kalyaniji / Sagarji / Nairji / Sunil Handaji / Venkat Brahmaji

    I am a great fan of Rafisahab and I am very glad to know that there are many more around like me. I would like to be in the loop with all of you so that we can share our views and likings about this great maestro.

    Probably yes Rafisahab did not receive the honour that he should have got. Even Bharat Ratna would have fallen short to honor this singing legend. But I am sure that as long as we have Rafi fans like us the light of the songs of this genious will be lit forever.

    Probabaly the real talent of Rafisahab was fully exploited by the sangeet samrats SHANKAR – JAIKISHAN who were the first duo to commercialise Hindi music in the real sense which was further taken ahead by LAXMIKANT – PYARELAL.

    LAXMIKANTJI (I am a great fan of this MD.) did most of the composing and PYARELALJI did most of the arranging, they created unforgettable numbers. Rafisahab is the most melodious singer of the Indian film industry and the bench mark he has set is the highest.

    I am really thankful to all of you and I wish we share more information by exchanging mails.

  6. mohanflora says:

    Efforts made by the greats of Indian film music created good music and great listening. Accoding to Dr.Narasinha Kamath,classical music exponent:

    One of the most famous bhajans to be used in a Hindi movie is the evergreen bhajan Man Tadpat from the movie Baiju Bawra that was released in 1953. The music was set to tune by maestro Naushad Ali. All the songs in this film were based on Classical ragas. Man Tadpat was sung by the immortal Mohammed Rafi. Initially, the Urdu-speaking Mohammed Rafi had problems pronouncing some Sanskrit words of this bhajan. So the music director, Naushad had to invite Sanskrit pundits from Varanasi to train Mohammed Rafi so that he could pronounce the Sanskrit lyrics of the bhajan correctly. The pundits had to work very hard to improve Mohammed Rafi’s diction. But after a great deal of effort, the pundits finally did succeed in improving Rafi’s pronunciation to the desired extent. After several rehearsals, Naushad gave them his final approval to record this bhajan. This bhajan is popular even today. This bhajan has been sung in most of the temples all over the world. We have heard this bhajan thousands of times, and we still want to listen to it over and over again. This does not surprise me when I consider all the effort that went into the rehearsals of this great bhajan before it was recorded. I do not think there is any another composition in Hindi films based on Raga Malkauns that is better than Man Tadpat. This is just my view

  7. Nair says:

    “Polyphonic beats” was a new stylistic which was introduced into the Hindi film music by the year 1980. Laxmikanth-Pyarelal was the one who took the initiative. The peripheral requirements for polyphonic beats [in Indian film music] are vibrant tunes and skilled drummers, whereas the most imperative requirement is a grand voice to hum the tune in accordance with the drumming and a stylish singing mode. Elegance/stylishness is synthetic; the singer instills this quality into his [dignified] voice. It is a requirement of style; like a fashionable dress makes a person stylish in appearance, a dignified voice makes the singing stylish. But the important aspect is that there should be such a dress with the person.

    LP was very well aware that Mohammed Rafi’s is the only one voice that suits the requirements of polyphonic beats and he is the only singer capable of making the song stylish. Yes, the same Mohammed Rafi, who decades back sang with Sarangi and harmonium as accompaniments, now to hum with polyphonic beats. Dard-e-Dil was their first venture; the only Rafi song in the whole film, but the most stylish song ever rendered in Hindi film music (ridiculously turned down by the Filmfare Award authorities). Every word is pronounced by Rafi Sahab as if those are measured and then letting out of his mouth, each word is pronounced in style (e.g., please listen to “Aap Ko Dhoondoonga Kaise Raste Kho Jayenge”). He gives adequate room for the drums and cymbal beats to be heard and adjusts the singing accordingly. For Om Shanti Om, LP did use neither cymbals nor polyphonic beats but only triple drums.

    Afterwards came “John Jani Janardhan” – this time frequent use of crash-cymbals with drums. Amitabh Bachan on screen and Rafi’s voice. Why? Of course, the stylishness: that’s it. A beautiful tune, beautiful orchestration, and the most elegant singing style, the result is a stylish foot tapping number. For all other songs in the same film only triple drums were used. In Rang Jamake Jayenge, although it sounds like polyphonic beats, it seems that those are not produced by drum cymbals.

    After the demise of Rafi, LP gave Kishore Kumar chance to hum with polyphonic beats, e.g. Sanam Teri Kasam. Among the present day singers, Sonu Nigam’s voice is best suited for polyphonic beats (Pardes).

    Later on Bappi Lahri, in Disco Dancer, by excessive and improper use destroyed the beauty of PB.

    P.S. I just felt, but poignantly, that had Rafi Sahab been alive, A.R. Rahman and Himesh Reshammiya would have composed a few numbers with the most adaptable Mohammed Rafi.

  8. kalyani says:

    Well said Mohan Floraji,
    Iam daughter of P.Narayanan who used to write comments in this web regularly but is preoccupied with his hectic tours n schedules.
    For all mortal beings like us Rafi Sahab is the only Anmol Ratan who has simly mesemerised us with array of melodious songs.
    In fact if u carefully listen to the Madhumati,Jagte Raho,Maya and Do Bhiga Zameen to some extent Salilda n Rafi sahabs combo was superb. There is no reason Salilda would have commented like that but probablyit is a big loss to him that whatever small assingments in hindi films he had it was with other singers notably Mukesh n Manna dey.
    There are innumerable slow soft songs of Rafi Sahab like the Lal Qila song “itna hai badnasib hai Jaffar” from Mere mehboob ” Hai husn zara jaag mere ishq” ” Dil ka bhanwar kare pukaar” ” haseen rukh pe aaj” ” meri awaaz suno” ” Tumhare zulf ke saaye mein shyam ” ‘ Ek haseeen sham ko dil mere kho gaya” Tukde hai mere dil ke” Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar” Immortal Chaudavin ka chand ho mentioned by u Sunil Handa,
    Chahunga main tujhe etc prove amply that the loss is Salil da’s .
    Kalyani Bangalore

  9. mparth says:

    Nice article!

  10. mohanflora says:

    You are right Sagar, but to appease fans of Lata and others some twist of words is deemed normal.

  11. Sagar says:

    Dear Mohan Flora Sir,

    Very well said but there is one mistake in your write up :

    ” Rafi Sahab was as good as Lata, if not better.”

    Sir, the statement instead should be as follows :

    ” LATA – NIGHT TINGLING , tried to sing like RAFI SAHAB , but FAILED for ever ”

    RAFI SAHAB was never GOOD in singing in comparison with others, but others tried to come near him in singing.

    Rest is fine thanks


  12. shambu says:

    Jab unka khayal aajata hai bechain tabyat hoti hai,
    Aisa be zamana aata hai jab gham ki zaroorat hoti hai.
    Today I want to be sad so I can listen his songs from my heart.

  13. mohanflora says:

    Only Rafi could have sung such a song. Rare instance of Rafi singing for Raj Kapoor in his own production and rarer still that RK had three playback singers for himself in Mera Naam Joker- normally it was Mukesh or Manna Dey or both!

  14. venkat_brahma says:

    Mr. Mohan,
    Thank you veru much for sending me this gem, ‘Sadke Heer Tujh pe’. See how Rafi saab sings that bit, “Tu to Phoolonki sej pe ja baithi” and how he ends ‘baithi’. None but he could have sung like that!

    Also, this is one of the many cases where Rafi Saab made a great impact to a film’s music, with only one song sung by him! Other examples: Sangam, Mirza Ghalib, Mughal-e-Azm


  15. venkat_brahma says:

    Dear Mohanflora,

    Very nice write-up! My firm view is that Rafi saab is way above Lata as a singer.

    Mohanflora, you have asked me to send you my email id for you to send me that Mera Naam Joker song. My email id is:


  16. mohanflora says:

    Rafi was KING no doubt about that. While browsing the web I came across some comments on Rafi after some article on him recently. They make interesting reading and are as follows:

    The fact is that with Rafi available, composers could be at their creative best, fully aware that Rafi would do justice to any type of song they created. Why did a Kishore-bhakt like SD Burman record 3 crucial songs in Rafi’s voice in “Guide”, despite this being a Dev Anand film, whose playback assignments were primarily handled by Kishore? Surely the great composers knew the goldmine in Rafi’s throat. The writer also talks about BR Chopra resisting the temptation to use Rafi in his films. For his information, it was Rafi who took a young Mahendra Kapoor to BR Chopra’s house, as the film maker recalled in an interview to Times FM (Radio Mirchi in its new avatar), recommending him to the film maker. So, to some extent, Chopra’s success with Kapoor is due to Rafi. And to add, even for Dastaan, the pivotal and the most popular song, “Na tu zameen ke liye”, was rendered by Rafi, impeccably as usual.”

    Rafi dominated at the time when Mukesh, Talat, Manna and Hemant, were at their vocal peaks, so he always had tough competition despite being so dominant. He would have been acutely aware that he always had Talat competing for a ghazal, Manna for a classical number and Mukesh for a sad song. Even Kishore was no light a force at that time, it’s just that composers of the time thought otherwise. So Rafi still dominated not because of any absence of competitors, but in spite of them, which only adds to his greatness. And in 1971, when Kishore was so far ahead that Rafi was almost declared passe, the fact that Rafi attempted to come back against such heavy odds, culminating in his 1977 National and Fimfare awards, is a tribute to the man and his artistry.

    And why should heroes not plump for Rafi when even they knew that he would always deliver? Rajesh Khanna’s ghost voice in his first few films was Rafi. Are the songs in his films like Aurat, Doli, Aakhri Khat, and Raaz not successes? It was no different when the heroes in the 1970s insisted on Kishore. Then why not the assertion that music of the 1970s would have been richer, had composers looked beyond Kishore? After all, Rafi and Manna Dey were still actively singing. Would the author feel that Madan Mohan and Laxmikant-Pyarelal, two composers who regularly looked beyond Kishore in the 1970s, gave far richer music than contemporaries, whose inlay cards were dominated by Kishore?

    Your observation (of Lata being the only one deserving the Bharat Ratna) is certainly far away from truth Sir. Rafi Sahab was as good as Lata, if not better. Infact I’d like to point out that one can easily make out the better voice control that Rafi Sahab had if one listens to those songs which have two solo versions, one each sung by Rafi Sahab and Lata. And its not difficult as there are just too many of them. The first that comes to my mind is ‘Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar’ where Lata struggles with the higher notes which are sung so very lucidly by the Maestro.
    Moreover, Rafi Sahab had fierce competition from the likes of Mannada, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Mahendra Kapoor, Kishor, et al, while Lata had only one single serious competitor in her own sister Asha.
    Therefore, please refrain from the temptation of making crass comments on a human who had no peers in his times. (The present crop of singers are just too hopeless to be even in contention)

    Rafisaab is No 1, he was the only one about whom Lata (bharat ratna and dadasaheb phalke winner) has said that jab Rafi saab ke saath gaate the to dhyan dena padhta tha qk wo apni additional inputs daal diya kar dete and to be in competition she also used to add some nuances from her side.

    Zanab Mohammad Rafi’s figure has strongly been in the soul of our country-India- and, the people of India, the culture of India, the music of India has inheritted Rafi Sahab for every moment of time/age being passed. Thought he is such a precious stone which is higher than all best value and hence whatever given to him can not match his value, but people of India have, are and shall be always in best paying honour to the Greatest Musician of India saheb mohammad Rafi.

  17. mohanflora says:

    Rafi’s shadow hangs over a lot of Indian Singers in the diaspora. Read this clip from desiclub,com:-
    On Sept. 9, 1997, the City of Moscow celebrated its 850th Anniversary before a live audience of over 500,000 people in Red Square. In front of an estimated television audience of over 200 million worldwide, the legendary Tenor Luciano Pavaraotti opened the performance, accompanied by a host of world famous acts who also appeared, Silinder Pardesi and his band had the elite honor of representing the Bhangra industry for a rousing 20-minute live set.

    “That was an honor which words alone cannot portray… I cannot describe what that felt like.”
    Silinder was influenced by his singing idols, the late Mohammed Rafi and by the Punjabi singer Asa Singh Mastana. From the spirit and style of Rafi’s voice alone, Silinder tutored himself to verse, harmonize and sculpture his vocal style.

  18. Sagar says:

    Dear Sunil Handa,

    Your perception is wrong I mean not so true , Salil Chowdhary agreed didn’t liked RAFI SAHAB but it was not because his voice was loud but the reasons were pretty personal.

    Salil Chowdhary himself was aware that the magic which Rafi Sahab had in him were not in KK , Talat and Hemant Kumar etc……….

    Unfortunately right now I have forgotten one song which Rafi Sahab sang for Salil Da Chowdhary … that song is a huge hit and one of the best compositions… Salil Da himself called Rafi Sahab to sing that song for him because he knew the quality and perfection will be only given by RAFI SAHAB…….

    Do you want me to give a good example of RAFI SAHAB’S voice , just listen to the JINGLE of ” SAI BABA BOLO SAI BABA BOLO , SAI SHAAM BOLO SAI RAAM BOLO , ALLAH SAI BOLO , MAULAH SAI BOLO…. ”

    Just listen to the 3.57 sec Jingle of RAFI SAHAB where no music is given..just listen to the flow he has given to it …. It feels as if SAI BABA will really come to us…..

    So there is no issue abt a bad patch about RAFI SAHAB, infact RAFI SAHAB gave KK some time to come up.

    Rafi Sahab never marketed himself like others.

    SANJAY , if you wanna really fall in deep love for GOD listen to this song ” SHIRDI WAALE SAI BABA ” carefully, just check how RAFI SAHAB says
    ” ID aur DIWALI “….

    As time goes on everything changes, tats what happened if you check in 40s,50s,60s hardly any quality MDs preferred KK.

    But as soon as RDB bought WESTERN INSTRUMENTS in India he bought LIGHT HEARTED FLOW songs which KK sang and yodelled for no reason.

    When Rafi Sahab sang, fellow competitors were jealous.But otherwise I have many songs and facts which will prove that RAFI SAHAB mastered everyone.



  19. unknow1 says:

    Dear emdad
    I think there is no one who knows music he or she will take KK in the place of Mohd rafi maybe he or she will take Manny Dey or mukesh but not KK

  20. emdad says:

    Dear Mr. Sunil,

    Salil Chowdhury did not take Rafi in some of his films because he considered that Rafi did not have the bass in his voice. To my knowledge no MDs considered that Rafi’s voice was loud. Rather some MDs considered KK’s voice was loud.

  21. unknow1 says:

    Dear Sunil Handa,
    it is wrong that KK was at top from 1970 to 1977,I hope u know that Mohd rafi didn’t like film line,As u know that Lata Asha KK Rajesh Khanna and RD they tried so hard to keep Mohd Rafi away from singing because Mohd Rafi singed for anyone,for Mohd Rafi there was no great actor or singer or MD or film maker he(Mohd Rafi) worked for all same way and Lata and many other big film maker they don’t want to be new film makers.Mohd Rafi singed for more than 160 films from 1969 to 1976 all also he want for Haji and world tour,Also some said that after coming from Haji he said that he don’t want to sing any more(I am not sure)

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