Rafi versus Kishore- The Rivalry That Never Was
By: Jagat Kant Choudhary
It was inevitable. The Comparison. With two phenomenal singers like Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar dividing the lion’s share of the male playback music industry between themselves, it was only a matter of time before the big question would crop up- who is the better singer?
The huge fan following, bordering on reverence for the two singers coupled with the alleged preferences of certain music directors for one over the other, often triggered this question. However and fortunately so, while the fans swore by their respective idols, and still do, there has never been a clear polarization either in the fan following or the music industry as a whole.
Rafi and Kishore share the microphone:
For all the debate that went around in the outside world, the relationship between Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar was amazingly healthy at professional level. In an era where some of the biggest stars of the film industry were hesitating or even refusing to stand in the same frame with each other, the Rafi-Kishore duo never hesitated to share the mike with each other.
The song “Bane chahhe dushman zamana hamara, salamat rahe dostana hamara” from the film Dostana in the year 1980, turned out to be a great hit. The song provided the film script with a perfect background to weave a story of fallout between the on screen characters played by Amitabh Bachchan and Shartughan Sinha.
Earlier in 1975 Rafi and Kishore produced the boyish and pacy duet “Chal Shuru Ho Ja…Sa Re Ga Ma” in the film “ Chupke Chupke”. The song was picturised beautifully by Hrishikesh Mukherjee on Amitabh and Dharmendra. The same stars were a hit together once again in Ram Balram in 1980, with the song “Ek rasta Aha Aha”, sung by Kishore and Rafi.
The K.L.Saigal influence
If there was one most important similarity between the two great singers, it was the fact that both were originals to the core. During the four decade long career neither singer was ever accused of imitation, nor did they ever cross into each other’s territories. This did not mean that they were never influenced by any singer, contemporary or otherwise. Like most singers of that time, this duo was also greatly influenced by the legendary Kundan Lal Saigal, who had already passed away by the time the two came to terms with the microphone.
While Mohd Rafi considered himself fortunate to sing just a couple of lines with Saigal, Kishore Kumar referred to Saigal as ‘guruji’ and would never sing his songs. Rafi for one, had a voice of his own and the little influence that Saigal had on him, showed only in the first few songs that he recorded. Very soon he would break away from the mould and take playback singing to a higher octave.
Kishore was younger of the two, born on 4th August, 1929 almost 5 years after Mohd Rafi. He, however, started his career as an actor in 1946, almost at the same time as Mohd Rafi launched his singing career. By the time Kishore Kumar recorded his first song in 1948 for Ziddi, Mohd Rafi had already established himself as an upcoming singer of great merit.
The maverick that he was, Kishore Kumar dabbled between singing, acting, writing and producing films and yet managed to keep himself aloft as a singer of great caliber and promise. Kishore Kumar tasted early success with “Qusoor Aapka” in 1951 with S.D.Burman. The song was a hit and was marked with the characteristic ” He He, Aha Aha, Ho Ho” that was to later become the Kishore Kumar trademark.
The Popularity Charts: Together on Top:
At a time when the radio was the king of entertainment, Radio Ceylon came up with the first ever countdown show of Hindi film songs titled “Binaca Geetmala” with Ameen Sayani as the first and the most popular ‘Radio Jockey’ ever in India. The methodology of selecting the songs was quite transparent in the sense that the programme would take into consideration the sale of records of the song and also the number of requests by ‘listener clubs’ or the ‘shrota sanghs’. And week after week ,close to a million people would sit around their radio sets even as Ameen Sayani would take off with his customary “behnon aur bhaiyon….” No doubt, Binaca Geetmala was a pioneer in ranking the popular Hindi songs and therefore the popularity of the singers as well.
Between 1954 and 1976 a string of Rafi/Kishore songs (solo/duet) topped the charts.
|1956||Aye dil hai mushkil||Mohd Rafi|
|1957||Zara samne to aao chhaliye||Mohd Rafi|
|1959||Haal kaisa hai janab ka||Kishore Kumar|
|1960||Zindgi bhar nahi bhoolegi||Mohd Rafi|
|1961||Teri pyari pyari surat ko||Mohd Rafi|
|1962||Ehsaan tera hoga mujh par||Mohd Rafi|
|1963||Jo vaada kiya woh nibhana padega||Mohd Rafi & Lata|
|1966||Baharon phool barsao||Mohd Rafi|
|1971||Zindagi ek safar hai suhana||Kishore Kumar|
|1974||Mera jiwan kora kagaz||Kishore Kumar|
|1979||Khaike paan banaraswala||Kishore Kumar|
|1980||Dafliwale dafli baja||Mohd Rafi & Lata|
If popular choice was any indication, the playback industry was ruled by these two prolific singers throughout the sixties and the seventies. Mohd Rafi stood the podium 8 times against the 4 by Kishore Kumar.
When it came to awards, and there were only a few in those times, the Filmfare Awards was the most coveted. It was instituted by the Filmfare magazine and had a mix of popular and critical flavor in it.
The category for Filmfare best male playback singer was introduced only in 1959 and upto 1968 it used to be a single award for both male and female singers.
|1960||Chaudhvin ka chand ho||Chaudhvin ka chand||Mohd Rafi|
|1961||Teri pyari pyari surat||Sasural||Mohd Rafi|
|1964||Chahoonga main tujhe||Dosti||Mohd Rafi|
|1966||Baharon phool barsao||Suraj||Mohd Rafi|
|1968||Dil ke jharokhe mein||Brahmchari||Mohd Rafi|
|1969||Roop tera mastana||Aradhana||Kishore Kumar|
|1975||Dil aisa Kisine mera toda||Amanush||Kishore Kumar|
|1977||Kya hua tera vaada||Hum kisi se kam nahin||Mohd Rafi|
|1978||Khaike paan banaraswala||Don||Kishore Kumar|
|1980||Hazar Rahen mud ke dekhi||Thodi si Bewafai||Kishore Kumar|
|1983||Pag ghungroo baandh||Namak Halal||Kishore Kumar|
|1984||Hamein aur jeene ki||Agar tum na hote||Kishore Kumar|
|1985||Manzile apni jagah||Sharabi||Kishore Kumar|
|1986||Sagar kinare dil ye pukare||Sagar||Kishore Kumar|
Again, between 1960 and 1980, Rafi bagged 6 awards against 4 by Kishore. In fact such was the rate at which Mohd Rafi was producing hits, that his own songs competed with each other at many annual awards.
Besides, with the exception of probably ‘Sagar Kinare’, the award winning songs between 1981 and 1985 were pedestrian by Kishore Kumar’s standards. Clearly the golden era of Hindi music was behind KK and in a world without Mukesh and Mohd Rafi, there was virtually no competition worth its name for Kishore Kumar to deal with.
At personal level, the two singers were very different people if not exactly the opposite. Kishore Kumar had the reputation of doing the unthinkable. He would tease a journalist by talking to the trees and plants, drive to a producer’s house and then shout at the top of his voice for the money that was due to him. He would invite a producer to have a chat with him inside a cupboard and then lock him inside because the producer had something to do with his income tax mess. In effect, he was such a busy man that one wondered as to how on earth he got the time to record those wonderful songs.
Kishore Kumar married four times and each one had a story of its own. Despite his so called miser and eccentric ways, the industry never doubted his tremendous potential to create hits out of the ordinary and to create master pieces out of the seriously good stuff. As many were the stories about him, name, fame and money came in equally good measure and Kishore lived life the way he liked and on his own terms.
Mohd Rafi in contrast, was all dedicated to his singing career. Life for him was limited, from home to the studios and back to home. He had an impeccable reputation in the industry and people swore by his name. He was known to sing for a token amount of one rupee for the producers who could not afford to pay his fees. Rafi was a happily married man with beautiful children in whose company he spent all the time outside of the studios.
As One King Treats The Other:
If Rafi and Kishore were the Lions of the music industry, they behaved like ones. Not only they respected each other but also never crossed into each others’ territory. Both were versatile and there were no limitations to their range and ability. While the producers and music directors did have their preferences for a particular singer, neither of them was ever accused of lobbying with them for work. Far from the one-upmanship norm of the industry, Kishore Kumar invited Mohd Rafi to sing for his directorial venture “Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi” and Rafi reciprocated the fraternal gesture by charging just a token rupee for the two songs that he sang for the film.
Interestingly, Mohd Rafi sang many songs for Kishore Kumar the actor. One of the most popular of these was the song Ajab hai dastaan teri aye zindgi from the film ‘Shararat’ wherein the music was scored by Shankar Jaikishan. The song which had two versions in the film became a huge hit and it once again underscored the superb control that Rafi had when he suddenly moved from the low to the high pitch.
When Rafi heard the song “Dukhi man mere sun mera kahna” he is said to have congratulated Kishore Kumar for doing such a fine job. Kishore Kumar was equally candid when it came to accepting his competitor’s prowess. On a number of occasions he is said to have remarked that only Rafi could sing the song. For instance, he sang all the songs for the film ‘Hathi Mere Sathi’, but when the climax song “nafrat ki duniya ko” came up for recording, Kishore Kumar put his hands up. “ Only Mohd Rafi and nobody else can sing this song”. So the song went to Rafi and it turned out to be the outstanding song of the film. In fact it was this climax song that gave the story line a meaning and offered Rajesh Khanna the opportunity to test his histrionics. The gentleman Mohd Rafi on his part, did not bother to know as to why only one song was given to him.
Rafi, the Yodeler
Kishore Kumar was a natural yodeler, having picked up the art as a growing-up boy, by listening to the Austrian records owned by his brother Anup Kumar. When he entered the arena of playback singing the music directors were quick to discover his potential and utilized it to the hilt. Kishore yodeled in the song “Piya Piya Piya Mora Jiya Pukare” from “Baap Re Baap(1955)” under music director O.P.Nayyar and then in a number of songs from his home production” Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi” (1958), under S.D.Burman. Kishore went overboard with his yodeling in another of his home production Jhumroo (1961), for which he was the lyricist and music director and his fans loved it.
By this time he was established as the official yodeler of Bollywood not only because he was very good at it but because in most cases the songs were picturised on himself and he had no problems giving perfect lip service to his own songs, both comical and romantic. It is unlikely that any other established actor would have risked this much of yodeling lest he got typed. But Kishore was Kishore and he did what he liked.
Yet again, and as it would come as a surprise to many, if there was any competition to Kishore Kumar at yodeling, it was from Mohd Rafi. Mohd Rafi exhibited his yodeling skill in a playful song “unse rippy tippy ho gayee” with Geeta Dutt in “Agra Road” (1957). He then yodeled in a style of his own in few films including “hello sweety seventeen” (1959) with Asha Bhosle in the film Doctro Z.
If yodeling was an art, Rafi had a perfect hold on it. Take for instance the 1962 film “Reporter Raju” produced by Homi Wadia and music scored by S.Mohinder. The young khan, Feroze does a la-Shammi Kapoor as he jumps all over the heroine wooing her with the beautifully sung “Chale ho kahan kaho kuchh to meri jaan kaho”. Many more songs of Rafi in the same mood would follow in the next two decades but this was a very special song. Rafi does a wonderful yodeling in the song and when he ends the song with the yodel he sounds exactly like Kishore Kumar. The natural ease with which Rafi has yodeled in this song is marvellous.
It is strange indeed, that Rafi did not choose to yodel in more of his songs which had plenty of scope and situation to do so. Whether it was his own decision or the restraint put by the music directors, his fans definitely were deprived of a very interesting facet of this endlessly versatile singer. Or was it the “territory” that he willingly left for the others to explore and benefit from? The inimitable Rafi had a hundred different shades to add to the colour of his songs and yodeling was only one such shade which he used with brevity.
With Rafi opting not to, Kishore made yodeling his second nature and his fans loved it. Through the sixties and the seventies, Kishore Kumar moderated his yodeling and the actual “Yudl – Ay – EEE – Ooooo” was often replaced by yodeling of the lyrics itself. The result was magical and the fans were eating out of his hand. The yodeling start to the song ‘Ye dil, na hotaa bechara‘ from Jewel Thief (1967) ” gave Dev Anand just the right mood to create a perfect net for his lady love who drives the car slow enough to let him catch up with her, even as he merrily walks through the song.
“Kitne Sapne Kitne Arman“, ‘Chala Jata Hoon‘ from Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972), and ‘Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana‘ from Andaz (1971) gave Rajesh Khanna the perfect platform to generate a mass hysteria that swept the country and crowned him the first super star of Bollywood.
If Rafi gave up some ground to Kishore Kumar in yodeling, he more than made up else where. Quawwali for instance was Mohd Rafi’s forte. Rafi teamed up with his contemporaries like Manna Dey, to create the unforgettable “Na to Karwan ki Talash Hai”. And then came the ultimate grosser of all times “ Parda Hai Parda Hai” from Amar Akbar Anthony. From the word go, Rafi is all magic in this quawwali and the energetic and dashing Rishi Kapoor takes it to greater heights with his splendid performance on screen. No wonder when mid way through the song, Amitabh Bachchan pulls out currency notes from under his jacket, many in the audience in cinema halls are said to have followed suit. Despite the presence of two other stalwarts like Kishore Kumar and Mukesh in the film, ‘Akbar’ walked away with most memorable song of the film.
The Charismatic Duo:
Kishore Kumar was a complete entertainer. He had a persona that the media loved to write about. He was a hit with his stage shows, not just for his songs but for his witty manners and the way he interacted with the audience. Rafi too drew huge crowds wherever he went. Only in his case, the greater reason for which people flocked from all over the place was slightly different. They came to ‘see’ him and to believe for themselves, that a man with the voice of God, actually existed on this earth!!!
Sri Pervez, the son-in-law of Mohd Rafi Sahab, narrated an interesting incident that occurred at a stage show of Rafi in Lucknow in the late sixties. Rafi was put up in the Clarke hotel there and when he came on stage, the crowd went berserk. One song after the other, and yet the appetite of the crowd was only growing. By the time the show came to an end the police had to resort to a mild lathi charge. Despite the lathi charge, however, the fans somehow managed to come up to the stage and mobbed a bewildered Mohd. Rafi. Suddenly a number of hands lifted Rafi in the air and for a while he literally floated in the air from one set of hands into another set of hands and he virtually went out of the hands of the organizers !
Fraternity wins over Competition:
The blank faced Kishore Kumar at the funeral of Mohd Rafi said the story of a lifetime bonding between the two legends of the music industry. For the pen crazy media that often mocked at his miser ways, Kishore Kumar was magnanimous with words when he paid tribute to his fellow singer. “ Rafi Sahab was a great singer. I stood no competition with him, he was a much better artiste than me. I sing in a couple of ways but he used to sing in hundreds of ways, that is why he will always be with us”.
His own sky high reputation as one of the best singers in the industry not withstanding, it needed a lot of courage to say what Kishore Kumar said. His words reflected the genuine appreciation that one great artiste had for another, irrespective of the portrayal by the media and the fans.
In the so called lean phase of Mohd Rafi during the early seventies and when much was being seen into his non-existing rivalry with Kishore Kumar, the father-son duo of Kishore and Amit were on a singing tour to London. Incidentally, Mohd Rafi was also in London at that time with his son who used to live there. Rafi invited Kishore and Amit to his house there and served them an exotic home made dinner. Throughout the evening Rafi and Kishore sang and recalled their initial days in the industry. Two of the best singers and two of the most wonderful human beings had crossed close to three decades in the music industry in admiration of each other.
The seventies belonged to Kishore just the way the 50s and 60s belonged to Rafi. But the Hindi Film Industry has always had room for more than one, even if the top slot has often been restricted. So when Rafi was on top there still were equally great names like Mukesh, Talat, Kishore Kumar and Mahendra Kapoor contributing handsomely to the rich oeuvre of Hindi film music. The same was true when Kishore Kumar hit it big time in the 70s.
There is an interesting story that the industry people have to say and which scoffs at all the stories about so called rivalry between the two giants of playback singing. During the 70s when Kishore was going great guns, emergency was clamped in the country and unfortunately he fell out with the powers that be on the issue of stage performances. As a result, Kishore Kumar was banned at the Radio and Doordarshan and not only Kishore but the producers and music directors were also hurt very badly.
At the same time, the stars were turning favourable for Rafi and he started giving hits. As an exemplary gesture, Rafi offered to take the cause of Kishore Kumar to the powers at the centre and even offered to do stage shows on his behalf. The Industry was stunned. Rafi was asked as to why was he doing such a thing, when suddenly the wave was going in his favour. The innocent and gentle soul that he was, Rafi is supposed to have said “ he (KIshore) is a fellow singer, it is his profession to sing and so why should he be punished for no fault of his “
And just because for a while, one of them was singing a few songs less than the other, some people unhesitatingly chose to give it the name of rivalry.
Competition yes, and it ought to be, in order to bring out the best, even if the names in question are as big as Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar.
Rivalry, NO WAY, NEVER.