Mohammad Rafi = Lata + Asha + Geeta, etc
by Sarah Modi
There are several people who compare Rafi saab with Lata ji and debate who is better. I believe, that the premise, structure, and conclusion of their arguments are all flawed. There is no doubt that if there is any other singing legend that matches up to the greatness of Rafi, it is indeed none other than Lata ji. However, Rafi is Lata, Asha, and Geeta all combined into one. If Lataji represents the serious, pristine, and classic flavors of Indian music and Asha and Geeta represent the western, naughty, and seducing flavors, Rafi saab alone portrays all of these flavors and more. He can impeccably sing classical songs, westerns songs, bhajans, ghazals, cabarets, light romantic songs, qawalis, etc. A music director had to look no further than Rafi saab for any kind of song whether it inculcated southern, northern, eastern, or western styles of music.
If Lata ji stood towering tall with soulful renditions like yeh zindagi usiki hain (Anarkali), aayega aanewala (Mahal), and jab pyaar kiya to darna kya (Mughal-e-Azam), Rafi saab equally, if not more, matched her singing prowess with eternal songs such as mere mehboob tujhe (Mere mehboob), chale aaj hum jahan se (Udan Khatola), and zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi (Barsat Ki Raat). To match Lata ji’s heart wrenching ghazals like yun hasraton ke daag (Adalat) and unko yeh shikayat hain (Adalat), there were Rafi saab’s gems such as rang aur noor ki baaraat (Ghazal), hum intezar karenge (Bahu beghum), chaundhvi ka chand ho (Chaundhvi ka Chand), huyi shaam unka khayal aa gaya (Jahan Aara). If Lata invoked the devotion in you with bhajans such as jogan ban jaungi (Shabab) allah tero naam (Hum Dono), Rafi put the devotee in trance with his o duniya ke rakhwale (Baiju Bawra), man tarpat hari darshan (Baiju Bawra), and duniya na bhaaye mohe (basant bahaar). Similarly if Lataji could boast of knowledge of indian classical singing in songs such as thare rahiyo (Pakeeza), ja ja re ja balamwa (Basant Bahar) and kaise aaun jamuna ke teer (Devta), Rafi’s exhilarating renditions of madhuban mein radhika (Kohinoor), naache man mora (Teri Surat Meri Aankhen) and saaz ho tum awaaz hun (Saaz aur Awaaz), left everyone speechless. If there’s a God of music, Lata and Rafi represent the two personas of the same God, you can find evidence of this in their perfections merging into one in kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya (Suvarn Sundari), jhan jhan jhan paayal (Rani Rupmati), man ki been matwari (Shabab), tu ganga ki mauj (Baiju Bawra), and jo waada kiya woh (TajMahal).
But Rafi’s repertoire of songs does not end or stay confined in these styles alone, they extend to include Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt’s genres too. The husky, naughty, and seductive quality of these two female singers find a perfect match in Rafi’s equally intoxicating and vibrant vocals. To witness this you have to look no further than Rafi-Asha’s playful aaja aaja main hun pyaar tera and o haseena zulfon wali (Teesri Manzil), abhi na jao chhod ke (Hum Dono), aap yuhi agar humse (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina), deewana mastana hua dil (Bombay Ka Babu), isharon isharon mein (Kashmir Ki Kali), sar par topi laal haath mein (Tumsa Nahin Deka), bade hain dil ke kaale (Dil Deke Dekho), etc. Also, Geeta-Rafi rocked in teasing melodies such as aankhon hi aankhon mein (CID), chal diye banda nawaaz and jaane kahan mera jigar (Mr. & Mrs. 55), sun sun zalima (Aar Par), and hum aapki aankhon mein (Pyaasa), among others.
Whether it was Naushad saab’s raga based music or Shankar Jaikishan’s western style compositions, these two stalwarts did not have any reservations about Rafi saab’s ability to convey the finest nuances of their compositions. For the male part, they had to never scramble for a voice to suit their changing ryhthems, but for the female parts they could not just rely on Lata ji, they had to turn to Asha and Geeta to bring out the teasing sultry tones. Such is the immense reach and versatility of Rafi Saab. You would be hard pressed to find Lata ji singing songs that have the restless and romantic frenzy of Rafi saab’s taarif karun kya uski (Kashmir Ki Kali), or his comic timings in songs such as suku suku (Junglee), sar jo tera charaye (Pyaasa) or jungle mein mor naacha (Madhumati).
(As a caveat, I must add here that I am not sure if Lataji was not given cabaret and other sultry or seductive kind of songs, because she deliberately chose to stay away from them or because she was incapable of rendering them. Since I am also a die-hard and ardent Lata fan, I choose to beileve that the former reasoning is more accurate. I cannot imagine Lataji not being able to sing any particular kind of song. However, since she has not done so, that is why, as a matter of fact, I have to conclude that Rafi saab was a master even in those type of songs which Lataji never sang and left for other female singers. I myself had once written that: “lata dil ki chaahat hain aur rafi dard ki raahat hain, in dono mein se hum kisi ek ko chune, to yeh mosiqui se bagaawat hain”).
Therefore, factually, there is absolutely no other singer who has proven to be in complete command and in absolute top form in every kind of music genre as Rafi saab is, be it qawalli (parda hain parda from Amar Akbar Anthony); bhajan (man tarpat hari from Baiju Bawra); ghazal (mere meboob tujhe from Mere Mehboob), classical (madhuman mein radhika from Kohinoor), sad songs (yaad na jaaye from Dil Ek Mandir, meri kahani bhoolne wale from Deedar, kabhi khud pe kabhi haalat from Hum Dono, koi saagar dil ko from Dil Diya Dard Liya), utterly romantic songs (jo baat tujh mein hain from Tajmahal, maine shayad tujhe from Barsat ki Raat, husnwale tera jawaab nahin from Gharana, aye phoolon ki rani from Aarzoo); philosophical songs (main zindagi ka saath from Hum Dono, man re tu kahe na from Chitralekha); patriotic songs (ab tumhare hawale watan from Haqeeqat, jinhe naaz hain hind per from Pyaasa, yeh desh hain veer jawano ka from Naya Daur), poetic verses (tang aa chuke hain and gham is kadar from Pyaasa) rebellious songs (jalaa do, mitaa do, phoonk dalo yeh duniya from Pyaasa, yeh duniya yeh mehfil from Heer Ranjha), full of fun masti songs (meri jaan balle balle from Kashmir ki Kali, dekhi sabki yaari mera dil jalaao na from Kaala Pani, deewana hua baadal Kashmir ki Kali, lakhon hain nigahon mein from Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hoon); seductive songs (dilruba dil pe tu from Rajkumar, aaja re aa zara aa from Love in Tokyo, aaj ki raat yeh kaisi raat from Aman); folk songs (govinda aala re aala from Bluff Master, haule haule ghunghat pat khole from Goonj Uthi Shenaai); and comic songs (sar jo tera chakraye from Madhumati).
Some may argue that Kishore Da has sung songs of all genres. This is true to some extent, but frankly the command that Rafi saab has on indian ragas and murkhiyaans is unparalleled. If legends like Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan, S.D. Burman, Roshan, Madan Mohan, and Ravi could not trust Kishore da’s voice to do complete justice to their songs who are we to argue otherwise. Kishore da excelled in an era that, over time, kept distancing itself further and further away from classical and semi classical compositions. No one in their right minds will call 70s or 80s the era of golden music. That distinction belongs to the music of 50s and 60s, primarily due to Rafi Saab and Lata ji. Also, Kishore da’s most loyal music director R.D.Burman also carved out gems for Rafi Saab (kya hua tera waada and hain agar dushman from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin; pal do pal ka saath humara from The Burning Train; kitna pyara wada hain from Carvaan; yaadon ki baraat and chura liya hain tumne from Yaadon Ki Baraat; and who can forget the trendsetting songs from Teesri Manzil—aaja aaja, o haseena, o mere sona re, etc.), but I have not seen Rafi loyalists such as Naushad or Shankar Jaikishan or Madan Mohan or Roshan carve out special melodies to suit Kishore Da’s voice.
Also, when it came to legendary writers such as Sahir Ludhianvi, Shaqeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra and Kaifi Azmi, Rafi’s voice immortalized their soulful writings. Sahir’s angst in, “yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai” so effortlessly merges with Rafi’s intense voice. When Shaqeel writes the most delicately romantic lines such as, “tere saaye ko samajhkar main hansi tajmahal, chandni raat mein nazron se tujhe pyaar karun,” or the most melancholy poetry such as, “zindagi ke aaine ko tod do, ismein ab kuch bhi nazar aata nahin, koi saagar dil ko bahlata nahin,” we cannot imgaine any other sensitive and emotive voice but that of Rafi. Similarly, when Majrooh’s shayari was the best and most introspective, there was one voice that conveyed all emotions with tremendous bhaav and laykaari —- in aapne yaad dilaya to mujhe yaad aaya ke mere dil pe pada tha koi gham ka saaya from Aarti; hum bekhudi mein tumko pukaare chale gaye from Kaala Pani; or maine puchha chand se ke dekha hain kahin mere yaar sa hasi from Abdullah. Shailendra’s poetry rose to frenzied heights with ever so tender and soft rendition by Rafi in teri pyaari pyaari surat ko from Sasural and baharo phool barsao mera mehboob aaya hain from Suraj. Kaifi Azmi’s satire found a stinging resonance in Rafi when he sang dekhi zamaane ki yaari bichhde sabhi baari baari from Kaagaz Ke Phool or yeh duniya, yeh mehfil mere kaam ki nahin from Heer Ranjha.
India has several great singers who are very good in their own specific styles and genres but if you were to roll Lata, Asha, Geeta, Kishore, Mukesh, Talat, Manna Dey, all into one you will find Rafi saab!! Manna Dey was very good in classical songs, Talat Mahmood was a master in singing ghazals/nazams, and Mukesh was great in sad heart breaking melodies, but if there was one singer who could tresspass in their individual and characteristic musical territories and still come out victorious it was Rafi Saab!!
Also, please see my poetic tribute to Rafi in form of a ghazal written by me (Dil Rafi Pe Kurbaan) which was posted in the May 2010 edition, and which is linked here for your convenience.
© by Sarah Modi 2010 USA