What was so special about Rafi Saab?
By H.V.Guru Murthy
We, Hindi movie retro-music lovers always compare the present day music to that of the songs from fifties and sixties, and always the present day numbers are found wanting in so many ways. We either find fault with the loud orchestra or the meaningless lyrics or the way the singers have rendered and compare them to the earlier era which had meaningful lyrics, Indian classical based tunes and soulfully rendered, which always appealed to our heart, whether it was a romantic number or a classical song, whether it was patriotic or soulful or bhajans or even qawwalis.
Whenever a Ghazal player is performing, we always compare him with the Ghazal King Talat Mehmood, a classical or qawali singer with Mannada, a ‘dard bhara’ singer with Mukesh, a singer at higher pitch to Mahendra Kapoor, a Bengali Rabindra Sangeet performer to Hemant Da and a humorous singer to Kishore Da though KK himself was a versatile genius. Who among the present day singers can render sensuous numbers like Asha Bhonsle did and who can match the ‘Maa Saraswati’, the versatile Latadi in putting feelings into a song.
If we cannot exactly compare them with any of the above singers, then we always have the most versatile Mohammed Rafi Sahab who was adept at singing all type of above such songs as good and sometimes, even better than anybody else. He mesmerized with his divine voice a whole generation of music lovers during his career of nearly four decades.
In fact, when I listened to Kishore Da’s “Aake Seedhi Lagi Dil Pe” from HALF TICKET, where KK sings in both male and female voice, I thought perhaps this was one song which Rafi Saab could not have rendered. No Sir, I thought too soon. I was wrong because, till then, I had not heard Rafiji’s “Maike Se Aaja Biwiri” from DEVAR BHABHI, where he has changed his voice completely to match the peculiar voice of the character actor Radhakrishna. Wow, this man could have carried off any songs with the ease with which he sang some of those all-time hits. Just enjoy this song.
Even yodeling is always associated with KK, but how many have heard Rafi Saab yodeling in movies like REPORTER RAJU (Gussa Fuzool Hai) and AGRA ROAD (Unse Rippi Tippi), he showed that he is as good as KK even in this genre.
There are umpteen numbers of classical songs where Rafi Saab and the classically trained versatile Mannada have sung together like ‘Tu Hai Mera Prem Devta’, ‘Shud Bitar Gayi Aaz’, etc. Most of the qawwalis were rendered by Rafi Ji and Mannada together and it is a treat as both of them have competed at each and every stage. Both have matched each other and we are benefited by having such classics in our CDs. He not only matched Mannada, but even RDB Pancham in “Yamma Yamma”.
Rafiji excelled even in Classical Carnatic music numbers like “Kuhu Kuhu” from SUVARNA SUNDARI.
What was so special about him that even after thirty six years after his exit from this World, no day passes for any of the retro-music lovers without listening to his voice at least once. In fact, my day starts with my mobile alarm number itself, “Jai Raghunandan Jai Siyaram”.
Think over, what was so great about him? Yes, he had a divine voice which could be transformed like Water into any song. True, his voice suited most of the actors – heroes, comedians, character actors and even villains of the time so that while lip synching, it never appeared odd. Agreed, he was highly talented having got inputs from so many stalwarts, but so were most of his contemporaries. No doubt, his diction was perfect whether it was Hindi or any other language, a person could grasp the lyrics at the first attempt itself. He could scale up and scale down his voice without losing ‘Sur’. He was steady at both higher Octaves as well as lower. Of course, he spent hours together in his ‘riyaz’ perfecting every word of his song.
We also know that for him song came first and remuneration later, so loyal was he to music. He never bothered about the reputation of his Lyricists, Music Directors or actors. Also agreed that he was a thorough Gentleman, and generous, which made us love him and respect him that much more. Perhaps his ever present smile also attracted us to him and made us partial to him. But still when one compares his singing prowess with any other singer, he always stood out. What was that EXTRA and UNIQUE thing he possessed which made him such a singing Star.
Reasons can be many including all the above indicated qualities. But I attribute mainly to his capacity to put feelings into any song. While rendering romantic songs, he would see to it that the listener would day-dream with songs – ‘Jaane Bahar Husna’ or ‘Kahin Ek Masoom’. He made us weep with his soulful numbers – ‘Babul Ki Duayen’ or ‘Aman Ka Farishta’ or ‘Dil Ek Mandir Hai’. He made us dance with ‘Aaja Aaja’ or ‘Dekho Abto’. He would have been equally adept at today’s pop songs as he showed in songs like ‘Jaan Pehchaan Ho’ or ‘Laal Laal Gaal’. His sensuous numbers like ‘Tumse Kahun’ or ‘Haseen Dilruba’ arouse passionate feelings in the listeners. He brought tears with his patriotic numbers like ‘Kar Chale’ or ‘Ae Watan’. He made us think with his revolutionary songs like ‘Yeh Mehlon’ or ‘Ye Kooche Ye Neelaam’. How beautifully the tempo is built from almost whispering “Ye Mehlon Ye Takhton” in the beginning to the full throated “Jalado Jalado” in the end. Even a non-filmy guy but interested in Hindustani classical sangeet, would marvel at the rendition of ‘Madhuban Me Radhika’ or ‘Nache Man Mora’. A qawal would love to reproduce the mother of all qawalis, ‘Na To Caravan’ or ‘Meri Tasveer Lekar’ like Rafi Saab has recorded.
What can one say about the GUIDE solo, “Din Dhal Jaye”, the song had so many shades of emotions – bitterness, frustration, love-lost, disappointment and Rafi Saab brought out all those emotions into this one song making it easy for the ever youthful Dev Anand to give perhaps the best performance of his career. No wonder, this song is considered as one of the best song ever recorded in the Hindi Film Industry.
Yes, this is precisely the thing that Rafi Saab gave with his songs, the mood for the listener to hear those songs in the same mood. It was as if he was rendering those songs to each of the listener. How much he must have struggled in those fifteen or twenty days of ‘practice’ before the song was finally recorded, practicing to perfect the diction, putting feelings into each and every word, a pause here and a ‘harqat’ there, full throated in one line and suddenly soft crooning (“tumse bhi pyaar, inse bhi pyaar” from GANWAR’s ‘Duniya Haseen’) so that the final product goes straight to the listener’s heart. If one closely observes the way he pronounced words like ‘Zaam’, ‘Nasha’, ‘Sharab’, ‘Khumar’, etc. it would appear as if this teetotaler himself had a peg before recording these songs. Similarly, if carefully listened, one can experience the tiredness in his voice when he pronounces the word, ‘thak’ in the first stanza in “Meri Aawaaz Suno”. Rafi Saab had a unique way of pronouncing ‘Mohabbat’ and ‘Pyaar’. ‘Mohabbat’ was always pronounced as ‘Muhabbat’ and his voice would become soft while rendering ‘Pyaar’. Listen to “Phir Wo Bhoolisi Yaad” and carefully listen to his singing “Rote Hi” in the final stanza, it appears as if he himself is weeping while pronouncing the word. The emotions he expressed while singing “Aman Ka Farishta” and “Babul Ki Duaen” cannot be matched.
The title song of AADMI was a big hit. In you-tube, we can get another version sung by another popular playback singer, but one can easily see the difference. Though the second version has been sung well, but the disappointment, confusion and other emotions suited to the picturized scene in the Rafi Saab version is totally missing.
Well Rafi Saab, I have a complaint, you have set such a high benchmark that we always feel like comparing all the singers with you and in the process feel disappointed. But I dread to think what would have happened to all of us if Singers like you were not born. Even your most romantic songs bring tears to me, as I start thinking whether any ordinary human being can sing so perfectly. They say any beautiful thing will make your heart weep, and I weep when I listen to you, because your songs are the most beautiful sound one can hear in this World. You have won so many awards, but even after so many years you are still in the hearts of so many people and that is the greatest award, you have earned. Not only people of earlier generation, but even young people including very young children enjoy singing your songs, as proved in the many TV music competitions.
Rafi Saab, you have given us so much pleasure all our life, and continue to give us with your songs, a BIG thank you very much.