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Did Mohammad Rafi get his due?

This article is by Arthur J Pais for Rediff. Its available at

Last week, a Bangladeshi musician claimed that Mohammad Rafi was not given his rightful due in India. In a week-long series finds out if the great Rafisaab was indeed ignored by the Hindi film industry and the government. Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Arthur J Pais argues that Rafi was the most worshipped singer of his time, unwittingly at the expense of singers like Talat Mahmood and Manna Dey’s careers.

It is wonderful to hear 85-year-old Manna Dey, himself a singing legend, talk about how honoured India is to have had a singer like Mohammad Rafi. It is nice to hear the much younger Sonu Nigam talk about Rafi — who died in July 1980 — and his heritage. “Not only did I dream of becoming a singer because of Rafisaab,” he told me the other day, “I also feel he was and will always be the giant of the musical scene in India.”

But it is certainly not a nice thing to hear that Rafi did not get his due in his own country, and that he had to be content with a Padma Shri while his contemporary Lata Mangeshkar was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian accolade.

Even as one factors in the absurdity inherent in giving out awards including the Oscars — Alfred Hitchcock never got one and Martin Scorsese is still waiting for his — one ought to note that Rafi had received his Padma Shri in 1965. Lata received a higher award, the Padma Bhushan, but after four years. She received the Bharat Ratna in 2001. Rafi had long passed into the ages by then.

Lata is among very few musicians including M S Subbulakshmi who have received the Bharat Ratna. Does that mean other eminent musicians like Ravi Shankar, Balamurali Krishna, Bhimsen Joshi or Bade Ali Ghulam Khan did not win sufficient recognition in India?

Rafi was a singing meteor of his time. Just a dozen songs from films like Baiju Bawra, Kohinoor and Guide assures him immortality. And yet, with virtually every composer and singer worshipping him, especially between 1950 and 1970, he got an undue number of songs to sing and unwittingly hurt the careers of contemporaries like Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, and to a lesser degree, Hemant Kumar.

He was overexposed to such an extent that some of his songs, especially in films like Aman (composed by Shankar-Jaikishen) and Palki (composer: Naushad Ali) sounded overstretched and over dramatic. And yet some of the most eminent composers including S D Burman were afraid to tell the producers and the stars, especially Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor and Dharmendra, that there were other good singers.

One can count the number of songs Manna Dey sang for Burman; it is another story that those few songs — Poocho Na Kaise in Teri Surat Meri Aanken turned out to be milestones.

Even when Kishore Kumar became a phenomenon with his songs in Aradhana (1970) and monopolised the musical scene for two decades, Rafi was not sidelined. He sang lovely numbers like Kya Hua Tera Wada and Chura Liya for R D Burman even as Kishore hogged the scene. Producers like Nasir Hussain and Manmohan Desai preferred Rafi to Kishore, and older actors like Dharmendra were in Rafi’s camp.

I don’t remember ever reading or hearing that Rafi, who was known for his impeccable courtesy and great humanity, felt the least discomfort when Kishore Kumar monopolised the Hindi film music scene. As one listens to some of the great singers of that era including Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood and Mukesh, one wonders why they did not get more songs.

“There were many occasions I thought of using Manna Dey for my songs,” composer Ravi told me two years ago, quickly adding that he was in awe of Rafi’s voice. “But the actors often demanded Rafi.” The few songs Manna Dey sang for Ravi in films like Waqt and Ek Phool Do Maali have become classics.

One producer to resist the We-must-have-Rafi syndrome was B R Chopra. He gave Mahendra Kapoor a good break in Gumrah and repeated him in many films including Dastaan, which featured Dilip Kumar who was beholden to Rafi.

Indian film music would perhaps have been richer had composers ranging from Madan Mohan to O P Nayyar to Salil Choudhury to S D Burman shown a stronger independent streak and nourished the singing career of other singers.

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21 Blog Comments to “Did Mohammad Rafi get his due?”

  1. M.R.Vedanarayanan says:

    I feel unhappy why “The King Rafi Sahab” is not fully understood by the music lovers. We should be proud of having had such a Great singer. There is not a single singer still now after Rafi. Rafi is Rafi. No doubt. There is no award for Him to donate since He a music God. If the Govt. is not still not giving Him Bharath Ratna means , they are not interested in music. It is a great loss for India. So I kindly request the Govt. to treat the Great singer and the only Rafi in a good manner by giving him atleast Bharath Rathna

  2. Aaisha says:

    The legend ‘Rafi’ never got his due..i wish he was here coz i was a kid when he passed away & i longed to meet him which was impossible. I wish he is given his due at least now which he deserved every bit…

  3. N Ramasubramanian says:

    If I meet God and he grants me only one boon – My wish would be – Oh God – Please send Rafi saab back.

    I die hard fan of Rafi saab

  4. Dr V R Chitguppi says:

    Any artiste’s worth is measured by how fondly he is remembered by generations that follow. And not by the awards that are bestowed upon.
    As an example please do consider the following artiste….
    Khansaheb Abdul Kareem Khan, the foremost among pioneers of Kirana Gharana did not get material benefits as a reward for all the divine classical music he weaved and the Gharana he established.
    But he is still today fondly remembered and adored as one of the sweetest voices of India. He was aloof to earthly material benefits and awards.
    No award could have been big enough to honour him adequately.
    Let not awards be a measure of any great man, whether an artiste or a scientist……
    Rafi saheb lives in the hearts of real music lovers.
    That is the ultimate honour……
    Dr V R Chitguppi

  5. sid says:

    heh heh,

    if they had given rafi songs to manna or mukesh it would have been poorer.

  6. Fahim Khan says:

    Hi all i think my chacha has a singing voice near to Md.rafi ,,
    here is the link to the song he has sung .
    Reply if u like it.

  7. R SHAHI says:

    If you start thinking like that, you will have to consider most of the forgotten talents of the Hindi film industry. Then there will be a long list of bollywood figures lined up to contest for Padmabhooshan, Bharat ratna and all.

    Remember, Indian film industry does not comprise of only Hindi films. And Rafi is not the only one singer who left his mark. So when they give away such awards they are bound to consider personalities from all walks of life and from the entire nation. There are also other talents who are exceptionally eminent in their field of art or profession. May be in the due course of time they will consider Rafi also.
    Healthy admiration is good. Being a fan is also acceptable. You can do that only by listening to his songs over and over. But, by slinging mud on other singers, under estimating them, and attempting to compare them with Rafi, you are unknowingly tarnishing the image of the great personality you aren admiring. May be Rafi is best, according to you. But the opinion differs from person to person.
    So in my personal opinion, raising this question is totally unwanted.

  8. Meenu says:

    hi mohanflora
    Your comments –
    In songs which have a Rafi version and a Lata version, invariably the Rafi version has fared better and even went on to become superhits. Examples:

    -Mere Mehboob tujhe (Mere Mehboob)
    -Dil jo na keh saka (Bheegi Raat)
    -Ehsaan Tera hoga mujhpar (Junglee)
    -Akele Hai chale aao (Raaz)
    -Jab jab bahar aayee (Taqdeer)
    -Pardesiyon Se na aakhiyan (Jab jab phool khile)
    -Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi (Barsat Ki Raat)

    The Lata versions are of sad mood. Akele Hai chale aao (Raaz) is equally good even sung by Lata on higher scale . It is not other singer’s cup of tea.
    Khil te hia guli yaha of Kishore is better than Lata as it is of jolly mood.If song is of two different moods then you can not compare.
    You can compare ‘Tum bin jaau kaha song’ of Kishore and Rafi.

  9. Samar Das says:

    I have had a long career in a PSU with lot of promotions,commendations and appreciations. But nothing could provide me more joy and delight than listening to Rafi songs, I like all his songs starting with O DUNYA KE RAKHOWALE, MONO TARAPATA,KHUDA VI ASMA, TERI ANKHON KE SIVA DUNIYE ME RAKHHA KEYA HAI ETC. ETC.

  10. raja babu says:

    taarif karu kya uski jisne tujhe(md rafi) banaya.

  11. Even Leo Tolstoy & Gandhi was not considered for Nobel Prize. It means that these personalities are more greater than the Nobel Prize, lilewise Mohd Rafi Saheb is far more greater than any ather awards to be conferred upon him. Rafi Saheb’s contribution cannot be measured by any awards.

  12. Prasad TRM says:

    He did not get his due when alive!better late than never!hemust be awardwd “bharatratna’ posthumusly!

  13. irony80 says:


  14. Anmol Singh says:

    Here is a link which explain in detail on what sort of hassels Rafi had gone through in early 70s.

  15. kalyani says:

    Thanks Mohan Floraji and Surekha Venugopalji,
    The entire story about Rafi Sahabs greatness has come out very honestly in ur comments. It is indeed true that if there is little semblance of political influence the two major awards would have come to Rafi Sahab along with his very highly connected Lata di.
    But should we the mortal fans of this maestro aspire of any award for their master ?. I would say no because all these awards as others are to please the powers of politics.
    Also the longivity suggested by Nair sir is a valid comment. If Rafi Sahab would have lived till 1986 or so he would have got both the awards.
    But again for all of us he himself is an award by the treasure of songs to cherish and on the contrary both the state govts and the centre should install an award in the name of Tansen of hindi film world Rafi Sahab soon to give his growing legions of fans a due and make them happy.

  16. Nair says:

    Nice comment Unknow1.

  17. unknow1 says:

    Thanks Sir mohanflora,
    Sir I don’t think that Lata ji can be 50% of Mohd Rafi because if we go for female singer there are many but male there is one only mohd rafi.Some one said that if u want to know that is Lata ji is singing jest close u r eyes u will know that is Lata and if she is Asha close u r eyes u will see the actress but for Mohd Rafi no need to close u r eyes.

  18. mohanflora says:

    Some comments from the web on this subject:

    Subject: Did Rafi get his due?

    Rafi is a national treasure, which transforms into \\\”Bharat Ratna\\\”. It is amazing that at any singing competition, songs of the earlier genre is sung much more than the current genre and Rafisaab was one of the \\\’ratnas\\\’ of the earlier genre.

    There have been films where his songs have carried the film on its shoulders and there have been films which have been seen by people only till his songs and then they have walked out. A film which comes to mind is \\\”Farz ki jung\\\” starring Govinda. The film sank without a trace, but Rafi\\\’s last released song on screen will be remembered for long.

    sadly no—-till date what ever the ocassion there is song sung my rafi and it seem that is the best for the ocassion like birthday we go back to the farz song and patrioting song we go back to the leader song and when we r at wedding and the bride is going our eyes get filled with tears when we hear rafi sahebs…babul ki duaaa and doli o doli—deserves the dada palki—

    I don’t know how can one say that Rafi saab got his due !! I say, even Dadasaheb Phalke award and Bharat Ratna if bestowed, were even too less. Rafi saab,even after his death….26 years, people love him the same. We all love rafi saab’s evergreen songs, that will never be faded away. That is his achievement and people’s love for him is his biggest award. BUT YES, Rafi saab should have been awarded with country’s highest Civil and Filmi honour.

    VERY SAD ~~

    I am totally of the view that he deserves both the Bharat Ratna and the Dadasaheb Phalke award.

    In my opinion yes Rafi Sabeb got his dues. His voice is always is in our heart and soul. He cannot be fogtton by us. I do not remember the name of one PM of India, who once quoted that after the Tan Sen, Rafi is only person who can touch any heights.

    He is and will always remian as a source of inspiration for all music lovers. We salute his talent.

    About the prizes, he got many awards and as far as Baba Sabeb Phalke award, definately he desirved in his life time. He will get this award later or sooner.

    Yes because he still lives on in the hearts of millions of fans…….

    yes because he got some of the best and most memorable songs in the HFM history (songs which became such mega hits only because they were graced by his golden voice)

    yes because he is still the undisputed king of singing for both the connoisseur as well as the simpleton
    yes because he is still the zenith of the art of combining excellence with sheer felicity

    yes because the top three songs of all time chosen by a group of eminent musicians are sung by him (and all 3 are the solo songs of the ‘God’) – please refer to a recent issue of the Outlook Magazine

    yes because even today when we talk about the speciality of a particular singer, we dare not include Rafi Sahab in such an inane discussion (specialities of styles of all singers taken together would certainly fall short in case of such a comparison)

    No, because he was an equal and more than an equal for Lata, but had to remain content with a simple Padma Shree. (guess the only virtue he lacked was proficiency in politics which the others used to their advantage in order to gain ascendency inspite of their limited singing skills)

    The only reason I have not participated in this debate till now is because of the meaningless question you have asked ! Has Md Rafi been given his due? Never. Have they been fair to him ? Never.
    Md Rafi is the greatest male playback singer we’ve had- his singing is incomparable.
    Give him please, posthumously, a Dada Saheb Phalke Award or a Bharat Ratna.
    Atlong, long last,when at least the thought has come,please implement it.
    Of course even if one does not,Md Rafi lives forever!
    Surekha Tenneti Venugopal

    It is true that Latha acted nastily on many decent people. Rafi saab was one among them while others included great musicians Shankar JaiKishan. Latha being a great singer didnt have great heart to encourage other people in the industry. She was impatient when singers such as Vani jayaram and Sharada were tried. These singers who were good were no way competetors to Latha. Still Latha was particular and ensured their elimination. In that process even Shankar Jaikishan who introduced Sharada were effected. Surprisingly, the industry was behind Latha instead of being fair. Same thing happened to Rafi Saab as well, when he tried to be fair with the industry. The summary is that industry doesnt deserve the fairness, instead head strong and arrogant people were respected more.

    It is surprising that we are trying to compare Rafi with other singers.
    Show me one singer who can change his voice to suit the actor, even with out knowing the cast you will know for whom Rafi Saab have sang.
    His crystal clear voice is incomparable; I wonder sometimes, with today’s latest technology what he would have done.
    No body can come close to him, be it classical, regular songs, qawalis, gazals or patriotic songs, religious songs, there is no parallel.
    Can any song come close to Maduban dikhana, ‘O’ Dunya ke Rakhwala etc?
    Show me singer whose songs are enjoyed by the young generation even after so many years after his death.
    He has a truly Immortal voice.
    The Govt. need to create a bigger award than Bharat Ratna, give it to him and close the award.
    Only the other person who can come close to Rafi Saab is Lata.
    May his soul rest in peace.

    The awards in India are always controversial. One should compare the awards received by singers such as SP Balu, Susheela, Asha and assess them with what they actually deserve. I don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’t think Balu received anything beyond Padmasri or even the great Telugu singer Ghantasala received anything beyond padmasri. Some artists receive undue attention (be it their luck or public attention or their political connections). The awards are given mostly based on political reasons. MGR received Bharat Ratna and not many other great politicians. Mother Teresa received it but not Baba Amte. Satyajit Ray and Ravishankar received it only after outsiders recognized them. Government awards are no indication of one\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’s greatness. Rafi is great and he received public admiration like very few others have ever received.

    It is decades since we lost this extremely gifted singer whose songs we cherish still today and it goes without saying that his voice was adored by young , old , poor , rich and the very common man for whom he sang and created a niche in the music industry . His songs were mesmerising and the soothing , pulsating , romantic voice still remains in our midst and even after a quarter of century after his passing away , leaving thousands of his beloved fans in a state of shock , his voice remains unparalled and difficult to fill up and we continue to miss his supreme voice and have to console by listening to his evergreen musical songs which he sang with his heart out and still lingers in our memory .It will be difficult to fill the vaccum left by him and it is right that the Govt should have honoured with more awards .

    A singer like Rafi is born once in thousand years if at all..In a way, I can associate a Rafi song to every moment of my life- ecstasy, grief, pangs, even indifference..

    In songs which have a Rafi version and a Lata version, invariably the Rafi version has fared better and even went on to become superhits. Examples:

    -Mere Mehboob tujhe (Mere Mehboob)
    -Dil jo na keh saka (Bheegi Raat)
    -Ehsaan Tera hoga mujhpar (Junglee)
    -Akele Hai chale aao (Raaz)
    -Jab jab bahar aayee (Taqdeer)
    -Pardesiyon Se na aakhiyan (Jab jab phool khile)
    -Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi (Barsat Ki Raat)

    He was THE greatest Male singer of ALL time! If Lata gets all the awards then definetly Rafi Saab should get it too! He ruled the Hindi Film Industry as the top male singer longer then anyone! Plus, his songs r gems for generations to come! He was THE most versatile singer of india. Its truly sad, even after 26 years after his death, we can still discussing IF he deserves Bharat Ratna or not! Its truly shameful situation! While he was alive, Kishore managed to rule the industry for 3 1/2. That shows the greatness of Rafi Saab! Even with ALL prejudice, he managed to secure the top slot. Who cares if RD\\Anil\\C. Ramchander or Salil C didn\’t care for him? There were countless of MDs who think of him highly! As they say, you can\’t please everyone!

    It would be nice to see Indian gov\’t bestow him with this award and recog. his immense contribution to music.

    Long Live the King(Rafi Saab)!

  19. Anmol Singh says:

    Hi Mohan,

    What a comment ! Indeed Rafi Saab will provide for ever.

  20. mohanflora says:

    Maybe, Rafisaab did not get his due- but he is still providing !


  21. unknow1 says:


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