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The Last Journey of Mohd Rafi

This article is by Raju Bharatan

Mohammed Rafi is to song what Naushad is to music. Where Naushad is Sangeet Samrat, Rafi is Geet Samrat. Mohammed Rafi’s demise at the age of 55 was perhaps the most traumatic happening , in the annals of Hindustani cine sangeet since the passing of Kundal Lal Saigal in his prime. Not just the nation but the subcontinent was stunned that D-Day is July 31st 1980. The world, in fact, was stunned , for Rafi’s was a voice that in its range and popularity transcended all geographical barriers. He lived in the minds and hearts of millions upon millions all over the globe. Not far from Naushad bungalow is Rafi Villa – from where The Last Journey began. It was one of the wettest ever days in Bombay. Yet the stunned thousands who drenched themselves in Rafi’s Last Journey(on 31st July 1980) provided a tuneful testimony to this singer’s matchless equation with the common man. The unprecedented crowds that followed his cortege, from the Jumma Masjid in the Bandra suburb of mubai, provided a spot pointer to the unique niche that this Singer’s Singer occupied in the mass imagination. An even bigger crowd had gathered at the burial ground, their eyes misty in the numbing knowledge that the Last journey was beginning to end.

The Last Journey of Mohd Rafi

Rafi had grown to be Number One among India’s popular male playback singers under the bountiful baton of Naushad. Baiju Bawra mounting the silver screen in 1952, had seen the Naushad-Rafi team reach its apogee.

Up to that point, Mohammed Rafi was groping for a distinct vocal identity – the competition from Mukesh, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey and Hemant Kumar was intense. But Baiju Bawra saw thoroughbreds Naushad and Rafi just race clear of the field. Baiju Bawra in fact, became a landmark film that witnessed Naushad give a healthy classical turn to Hindustani Cine Sangeet at a time when it was being disturbingly invaded by alien modes. Baiju Bawra as it won star status for Bharat Bhooshan in the title role, also saw Naushad beginning a totally new dimension to Rafi’s vocalizing- something that set this supremely versatile singer on the pathway to capturing the classical imagination of the masses like no male singer before him had done in the annals of Indian Cinema.

Looking to this enviable line-up in which the dua empathized so tellingly, would Rafi have been as evocative, as expressive, as effective a singer sans the erudite baton of Naushad? Remember, Rafi was still a fresher in that 1946 Anmol Ghadi in which he came to Naushad for his first solo recording with that composer Tera Khilauna toota baalak. There was clearly gold in his throat. But someone initiated; someone inventive and innovative, someone resourceful enough, with his hand on the public pulse, was needed to tap that GOLD in Rafi’s thoat. And Naushad was predestined to be the previleged one to sense the classical potential latent in Rafi’s malleable voice.

Film music is as much a craft as an art, Into the bare three minutes of a 70-rpm record those days, had to be compressed the harmonied creativity of the composer and the singer a like. No less a composer than S.D. Burman ackowledged that to score something catchy was simple enough, to bring a classical tone to the tune, without in any way sacrificing its popular appeal, was an art given to Naushad alone. And Mohd. Rafi had a vocal role to play in Naushad’s being able to so equate with the lay audience at a classical level. There were, on the scene, others well versed in the classical idiom when Rafi came to Naushad. But there was, Naushad divined, a classical tined soz in Rafi’s vocals that could be moulded to yeild a fluidity of expression that no other male singer commanded. This soz, this soulfulness, in Rafi’s vocals came pre-eminently to the fore in the composong custody of Naushad. Rafi’s urdu diction, his intonation, his inflection, his whole musical vision metamorphosed as Naushad set meticulouly to work on him. There was really only one playback performer in Indian Cinema for naushad and that was Rafi. The two together came up with the quality of sangeet they did because, musically, Naushad and Rafi were made for each other. And in Rafi, Naushad discovered a performer whose dedication and commitment to singing, as an art, matched his to composing, as an art form.

Could there be another Naushad? Another Rafi? Certainly, never again are we going to get a classical combination like Naushad-Rafi in something so mainstream as popular cinema.

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4 Blog Comments to “The Last Journey of Mohd Rafi”

  1. Sharafudeen, Cochin says:

    A very good and expressive article which speaks only the truth of the duo Rafi Saheb and Naushad Saheb. I am proud that I am present during the period of these two musical giants India has ever seen. Maybe the new generation may be blessed with more maestros but not same like these two. God has destined these two to live hand in hand with to bless all of us with their divine musical magic.

  2. Prakash shah says:

    Agreed that naushad a real master ofclassical ragas with desi instrument given best and everlasting songs with rafi from anmol ghadi to my friend except mehboob’s andaaz and rajendra kumar starrer saathi.(both have mukesh)
    but rafi always given hit with all of those days composer like sj,mm,sd,ka,rd,uk,lp,so,etc.etc.
    than one can realize that only the common factor toall music director is non other than mohammad rafi.
    Only rafis jaadus worked to hit the movie, even lyrics,music directors,even producer,directors
    Go in past and see any of the movie of nazir hussain,mohan kumar,,p.chakroborthy,even ramanand sagatr -either it is love trangle ,or loss and found,or law and out law the same story line up and audience were knowing before release of movie that where story will go but they just watched all this movie to watch his favourite hero on screen sung by his favourite song by rafiji only.

    so directly or indirectly behind every sucsessful film it was rafijis hit songs.

  3. Nasir Ali says:

    Yes, the duo of Naushad-Rafi was formidable. But I am sure it was Rafi Sahaab with his great range of voice who must have compelled Naushad to harness his great talent. Dont forget that in Naushads own home production of 1950, Babul, it was Talat Mehmood all the way singing for Dilip Kumar. There, Rafi’s voice used as a background for NADI KINARE.. But in Naushad’s later home production, Uran Khatola (1954), only Rafi sang all the male lead songs, with the evergreen: O door ke musafir. And yes, in his another own production Palki, only Rafi could sing for Rajendra kumar, except for the title background song that was rendered by Manna Dey. I personally feel, it was Rafi Sahaab who amply paid back Naushad Sahaab for the intial trust the latter had reposed in him.

  4. Bonifacius says:

    Great article. I am just sad I dont know how to reply properly, though, since I want to show my appreciation like many other.

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