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HEADY WINE : Rafi-Dada Burman

By K.V.Ramesh

HEADY WINE : Rafi-Dada Burman

Over the course of human history, Man has discovered a variety of substances and spirits whose sheer variety boggles the mind. But one kind of spirit gives a kick that surpasses any such substance is some special brand of music that was produced by wonderful combo – the musical combination of S.D.Burman as Music Director and Mohammed Rafi as the singer Like many of his contemporaries SD Burman started out with his scores dominated by female voices. Shamshad Begum and Geeta Roy / Dutt were the two earlier voices usually associated with Dada Burman. SD Burman’s “Lota” had still to make her presence felt, though the eternal magic of ‘Thandi hawayen’ was just around the corner. The trend for male voices was seemingly straight forward – to replace Saigal Rafi sang his first song for S.D.Burman in ‘Do Bhai’.

The phrasing and singing style of ‘Duniya mein meri aaj andhera hi andhera’ is very Saigal inspired. In a movie dominated by two Geeta Roy killers – ‘Yaad karoge’ and ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya’ (both sung and emoted with exquisite pain) – it was but natural that this song probably sank without a trace and it’s not present in public consciousness. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to say that the beginnings of this combo were not auspicious. From 1947 till 1954, Rafi sang few songs for S.D.Burman. In 1947 it was just one (Do bhai), 1951 had one in Ek Nazar and two in Naujawan. 1953 had one song in Jeevan Jyoti. A total of five songs in seven years.. And then something happened in 1955 – with Devdas. In the tragedy dominated Devdas, Talat’s voice perfectly reflected the pain and loss when he sang ‘mitwa’ and ‘kisko khabar’. Yet in ‘Kahin ghani chanv hai / Manzil ki chaah me’, Dada’s minimalist instrumentation beautifully set the tone for Rafi describing the two loves and dilemmas of Devdas Rafi’s bare bones humming set to Dada’s equally minimalist orchestration highlighted the entire aura of wistfulness that was the essence and soul of the song. Magic was born!

1957 had Miss India with one song but it was Nau Do Gyarah that set the magical tone for Rafi’s romanticism under S.D.Burman. While Kishore Kumar crooned wonderfully “hum hai rahi pyar ke” and teased and chased in ‘Aankhon me kya jee’, Rafi got two duets from Dada and did full justice to them. ‘O aaja panchi akela hai’ had a romantic mischievous quality while ‘Kali ke roop me‘ was both a plea of reason and eve teasing combined into one. And then came ‘Pyaasa’ in the same year Sahir Ludhianvi’s gut wrenching lyrics set to a minimal score by S.D.Burman was epitomized by three serious songs , one light romantic duet and one comic song for Rafi and two female solos for Geeta Dutt. The inner helplessness and agony of the protagonist is rendered in ‘Ye mahlon ye takthon’ which is the climatic song. The hopeless questioning of ‘kahan hai kahan hai’ makes this writer’s hair stand on its end – a question to all self respecting patriots to rise up and question their own self. Then there is a recitation sans any instrumentation – ‘Gham is Qadar’ all but shatters any illusion of hope. Lyricist poet Sahir Ludhianvi himself couldn’t have done better in asking the question – voiced by Rafi, this blistering poetry, becomes a comment on human beings and their fickleness The flood gates seemed to have burst and that set the ball rolling for the combo to grow and it could be now seen that it was a combo, here to stay. Dada’s best output was always reserved for Dev Anand and his home production Navketan and this was borne out by the next iteration of this team with the 1958 Navketan production “Kaala Paani”. ‘Hum bekhudi me tumko pukare chale gaye’ has a mesmerizing and introspective quality in the singing, befitting the theme of the hero Dev Anand, apparently wooing the vamp but actually reflecting on his jailed father.

This crooning quality is something Rafi reserved specially for Dev Anand and SD Burman – even in films where the score was not by Dada Burman., Rafi would invariably have his butter soft singing voice specifically for Dev Anand (Maya , Hum Dono and Asli Naqli being three such examples) . Now why butter soft ? Two reasons. Dev Anand’s image as a sophisticated city man polished in his speech has to be reflected in the singing. The best way of expressing this personality even in song was to modulate his voice softly – an outstanding deed by Rafi Saab in his encounters with Dev Anand both inside and outside the Navketan camp. The second reason ? The “Yahoo phenomenon” had not yet happened fully (but that’s another story also highlighting the virtuosity of Rafi Saab). 1959 brought the tour de force that was Kagaz ke Phool. On its initial release the film was a resounding flop. Mirroring the condition of the protagonist in the film Kumar Saab, Guru Dutt the producer director also fell into a self destructive pattern. History has since vindicated his artistic vision and the Hindi Film Industry’s only harsh look at itself . This introspection would not have been possible without three things : the absolutely stunning black and white photography by V.K.Murthy, an empathetic performance as the troubled heroine by Waheeda Rehman and of course The Music by S.D.Burman . Geeta Dutt’s ‘waqt ne kiya kya haseen situm’ is a comment for all times, about the cruelty of time in relationships. But a bigger and much bitterer truth comes in the shape of Rafi saab’s 10 minute tour de force ‘Dekhi zamane ke yaari’. Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics were harsh, uncompromising and a realistic comment on the nature of human beings and human relationships in a cruel world, especially the hear-and-now world of films.

This song repeats itself through the film as a motif at crucial times: starting as a slow wistful version, quickly changing to a “bright” version where the director – in a flashback – sees his success and the singing and words reflecting the “good times”, ultimately reaching a crescendo in asking him to run away, the beseeching ‘ud jaa ud jaa pyaase bhanwre’. That the hero-protagonist does run away through the vehicle of death , also amply demonstrates the creative enmeshing of the inputs from the lyricist, the director (Guru Dutt himself) and of course the music/ singing. The comical relief is provided by interlude with Johnny Walker and ‘hum tum jisey kehta hai shaadi’ but it fades into insignificance in face of such powerful lyrics and emoting by Rafi Saab. Time has vindicated the bitter truth of these lyrics to be true – ‘bichde sabhi baari baari’ indeed remains a bitter truth and comment of the whimsical and selfish nature of human beings , especially of the film industry . 1959 also had Sujata but in a film dominated by a feminine theme, the female lead and of course the female singers, Rafi’s satirical ‘Andhe ne bhi sapna dekha’ had no choice but to fade into oblivion. 1960 remains some kind of a high water mark in quantity for the Rafi-S.D.Burman combo There were five releases of this combo in 1960 – Miya Beewi Raazi, Ek ke baad ek, Manzil, Kaala Bazaar and Bambai ka babu. In view of the last three being Dev Anand movies, it was but natural that music would play a strong part in them while the other two more or less sank into obscurity . “Ek ke baad ek” has a single Rafi solo – the teasing ‘Ye jhijhakne’ ending with ‘Thumak thumak chale hai jab’. Bambai ka Babu had 2 terrific duets – the magical ‘Deewana mastana hua dil’ and the under-appreciated Punjabi folk music inspired ‘Pawan chale jab nadi me lehr si’ . But it was the solo – Saathi na koi manzil – that really took the accolades.

If any song at that time epitomized the dilemma of a hero torn between the earth and the stars, this was the one. Rafi’s special Dev Anand voice makes this plea to a silent world and nature, a treasure to cherish. Kaala Bazaar pretty much saw to it that Manzil was more or less consigned to the back seat because of the two great solo outings – both set to Dada’s minimalist style where only the voice of the singer dominates the song. While ‘Apni to har aah’ resembles a prayer to the Almighty, it’s actually picturised in a romantic tone in a train, where the hero Dev Anand is seeking the blessings of the ‘uparwala’, the heroine, sleeping above his berth. This contrasts with the frenetic energy of blind love of ‘Khoya khoya chand’ again set in Burman Dada’s minimalist style. 1962 was a bit of a lean year with only two releases : Baat ek raat ki and Dr. Vidya. The duets in Baat ek raat ki didn’t set the radios on fire – that honor belonged to the comical Manna song ‘kisne chilman se mara’ and the romantic ‘Na tum hamein jaano’. The lone Rafi solo ‘akela hun mai’ was good but somehow seemed not to make it to the public domain. No matter – The best was yet to come. 1963 brought two giant killers from the combo: ‘Meri Surat Teri Aankhen’ and ‘Tere Ghar ke Saamne’. In my opinion and many other dedicated S.D.Burman fans, any of these two should have resulted in some – ANY – kind of award for S.D.Burman. But this was not to be so . There is a famous story of Manna Dey telling a dejected Dada of the sad news that ‘Meri Surat Teri Aankhen’ didn’t win any awards. Dada was sick in a hospital with an eye infection and through his bandaged eyes, Manna saw the tear streaks. Clearly popularity vs. quality is a conundrum which is true in awards selection, then as now. Meri Surat had the incredibly dejected – as befitting the theme – ‘Tere bin soone nain hamare’ directly contrasting with the frenetic energy of a person’s soul literally dancing ‘thikda theegi theegi’.

Tere Ghar ke Saamne” was, is and will continue to remain the prototype for ANY light romantic comedy peppered with wonderful songs – three solos and two duets. No wonder the two female solos, one each by Lata and Asha didn’t register that much in the popular psyche. Rafi fans and Dev Anand fanatics vary over which are their favorites . Is it Tu Kahan, a street by street odyssey where the lover searches for his ‘hidden’ love – ably acted by a flamboyant Dev Anand? Is it the uniquely whispered ‘Dil ka bhanwar karey pukar’ shot in an ever spiraling Qutub Minar? Is it the beseeching of ‘Sun le tu dil ki sada’ ? Or even the titular challenge of building a house opposite the heroine’s home? Whatever, this is one of the Navketan films where Kishore Kumar, Dev Anand’s “ghost” voice, is conspicuous by his absence and Rafi more than abundantly does justice to all the numbers. Comfortably ensconced in the romantic idiom of the film, Rafi Saab brings forth all the multitude of emotions of the hero going through the tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend while their respective fathers, sworn enemies of each other, are at loggerheads. 1964 had ‘Benazir’, Ziddi and ‘Kaise kahun’. Benazir sank without a trace but not before leaving behind a polished gem in the shape of the romantic longing of ‘Dil mein ek jaane tamanna ne jagah paayi hai’. ‘Kaise kahun’ had the soft exhortation to live life today with ‘Zindagi tu jhoom le zara’ while the duet or should we say trio with S.D.Batish and Suman Kalyanpur in ‘Manmohan man me‘ seems like an opportunity for Rafi Saab to come forth and exercise his flair and knowledge for classical.. 1964 also had the Joy Mukherji starrer ‘Ziddi’. Rafi had three solos and one duet but it was Lata who ruled the airwaves with Raat ka Sama and Hai meri Zindagi ek pagal hawa. Not that Pyar ki manzil mast safar’ or ‘Janu kya mera dil’ or ‘Teri surat se nahin milti’ had anything lacking – it just didn’t register in the consciousness.

In a 17 year period the relationship had gone from the shaky to the absolutely confident than the year 1965 came, The year for which Dada Burman has been immortalized. And perhaps any top ten of the Rafi-SD Burman combo should and must have at least four songs from the releases ‘Guide’ and ‘Teen Deviyaan’. One inside the Navketan camp and another outside it, though only peripherally so First ‘Guide’. There is a statement somewhere that Dada Burman has said that if he is immortalized for this one score, then he would be very happy. And happily for all of us he has been immortalized so. Guide still holds up after so many years due to various factors : probably one of the first Dev Anand film to be shot in color in exotic locations, excellent all around performance. And most memorably the music. Three Lata solos, find her in brilliant form with the long ‘Piya tose naina laage re’ being an exhibition of Lata’s vocal talent and Dada Burman’s unusually lush orchestration – completely contrary to his “sparse” bare bones approach. Rafi’s output in this film has to be considered the way they happen in the film. ‘Tere mere sapne ab ek rang hai’ heralds first the melancholic promise that Raju (The Guide) makes to a hapless Rosie(the heroine). Ably enhanced by the lush orchestration and the unique melancholic feel of the saxophone (by Burman camp follower and arranger Manohari Singh), Rafi cleverly balances the orchestra with his soft promise and an emphatic feel with the ‘O mere jeevan saathi’ which is ‘echoed’ and keeps echoing as a theme / mirror throughout the movie, in the way the relationship between Raju and Rosie develops. ‘Din dhal jaaye’ is clearly the killer of the trio of Rafi songs – life and Rosie have moved on and can’t return the lost moments of Raju ; Rafi Saab whispers this loss when he sings ‘apne kabhi the, ab hai paraye’.

Kya se kya ho gaya’ is the natural culmination of love lost , more due to the hero’s own mistakes than anything else, ably reflected in the line ‘hona hai aur kya’ when Raju discovers himself to be at the receiving end of a police handcuff. Clearly ‘Din Dhal Jaaye’ wins with Rafi Saab’s whispered crooning for Dada Burman – a retrospective analysis of almost all Dev Anand songs clearly points out that with Dev Anand , ‘soft’ ‘near whispered’ emotions were the rule than the then prevalent ‘Yahoo’ style Rafi adopted – in direct contrast – for Shammi Kapoor .

Next comes the other film by Navketan camp follower Amarjeet. ‘Teen Deviyan’ could have been a frothy romantic comedy about the vagaries of spreading oneself thin while seeking the attention of three women but it descends instead into a overblown piece about Dev Anand who dominates the frames from the first to the last reel, presaging his later self obsession of the late 1970s and 1980s. The other downer of the film is that it had an Adult certificate – apparently the limp topic was considered too ‘hot’ for those conservative times. No wonder the film didn’t do too well at the box office but the music was a sheer delight. Before the resolution of the hero Dev’s obsession for the three heroines Dada Burman got Kishore to sing four songs and Rafi to sing two for Dev Anand

In my opinion, ‘Aise to na dekho’ is pure aural erotica. The “ke humko nasha” is truly nasha and its amazing in the way the teetotaler Rafi conveys the intoxication of newly blooming love.

Kahin Bekhayal hokar gives Rafi abundant opportunity to display his expertise in the ghazal idiom which is truly up Rafi’s alley and is clearly a walk in the park for him. Clearly Dada Burman allowed Rafi to flower in his specialty and comfort zone. For me , ‘Aise to na dekho’ belongs in any top 10 romantic / compilations of Rafi.

Two years later in 1967, came the truly wonderful Hollywood style caper movie, Jewel Thief which even today holds up to repeated viewing. Its clever wheels within wheels theme is neatly balanced by the ‘modern’ touches given by S.D.Burman with the result that the only ‘traditional’ song, the eternally lovely duet ‘Dil Pukare aare aare’ is the only excursion of Rafi in this film.

Two more years passed and in 1969 – as hard core Kishore fans would like to say gleefully – Aradhana happened. The movie ran close to 75 weeks in one theater in Bombay, Rajesh Khanna was propelled into super stardom by Kishore Kumar’s voice. Mere sapnon ki rani dominated the airwaves. In this atmosphere if the two Rafi songs were overlooked, then no one could have been blamed. Singing for Rajesh Khanna , Rafi brings forth his patented ‘butter soft’ style which is his style while singing for Dada Burman – only this time its for tyro and future Super Star Rajesh Khanna. While ‘Gunguna rahen hain bhanwre’ was for the ‘father Rajesh Khanna’, ‘baagon me bahar hai’ is for the ‘son Rajesh Khanna’ who is the boisterous son of the heroine is romancing a girl who refuses to be conned into saying yes to him. Still they were hits in keeping with the overall Aradhana madness.

Aradhana also did the unthinkable or perhaps one should say the unpardonable. In my opinion, Dada should have continued using Rafi but this was the time of the Kishore tsunami where even heroes who used Rafi as their main singer– like Dharmendra, Dilip Kumar – suddenly found that they were singing to Kishore’s voice.

Dada, ever the ruthless professional, discarded Rafi’s velvet voicing for Kishore’s malleable flexibility, in accordance with market diktats. The other release of 1969 was Talash and the two duets had completely contrasting moods – Palkon ke peeche se was a more laidback teasing quality to it while ‘Aaj ko junli raat ma’ was a boisterous celebration of love. Both found Rafi in excellent form under S.D.Burman .

1970’s Ishq par zor Nahin was a mediocre film reflected in its insipid commercial fortunes but the music was a hit. The specialty of ‘Ye dil diwana hai’ is that the full song had phrasing of 5 – 6 words in keeping with the beat. Here and in the romantic ‘mehbooba teri tasveer’ , Rafi brings in the magic all over again – away from the Dev Anand camp, his voice is similarly magical . 1971 saw Dada Burman climb the charts with ‘Gambler’, ‘Naya Zamana’, ‘Sharmilee’, ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ but in this cauldron of hit songs, only Gambler had the lone Rafi solo – that too for Dev Anand , the wistful hope filled ‘Mera man tera pyaasa’. It was almost as if Rafi himself was beseeching Dada Burman to give him more songs but clearly commercial pressures and the runaway success of Kishore in his phoenix like appearance as the new God of playback singing, probably fell on deaf ears of the producers who wanted Kishore and more Kishore.

It seems appallingly sad yet its true that from 1971 till his death in 1975, Dada Burman used Rafi exactly four times – ‘Anuraag’ with ‘tere nainon ke mai deep’, ‘Abhiman’ with ‘teri bindiya re’, ‘Chupke Chupke’ with the male duet ‘Sa re ga ma’, ‘Us Paar’ with ‘Ai mere man mai hun magan’. Four songs in four years. Clearly this was a reflection of the Kishore wave and the commercial pressures with which both Rafi and Kishore had to deal with.
In summary what was special about this combination can be summarized by the following observations :

  1. Strong melody – Rafi brought out the melody and the beauty of each of the songs
  2. Intense feeling : every song , especially in the ‘classic’ period from 1955 to 1971 has intense emotion, be it of happiness or sorrow.
  3. Mutual strength – if Dada Burman seemed to draw out Rafi’s special characteristics in singing, it also seemed that Rafi was equally intent that he would give something beyond his best for Dada
  4. Softness – Most , if not all of S.D.Burman ’s compositions bring out and even enhance Rafi’s soft singing , one can even say its whisper soft. (A close friend of mine just calls it ‘absolute makhan’ )

Perhaps the swan song of this relationship can be best summarized from the song sung by Manna Dey in ‘Us Paar

Piya maine kya kiya, mujhe chod ke jaiyo na

Manwa pooch na p aye ho, ho gayi kaun si bhool re.
Chod gaya mera saath ho, beech bhanwar me .
Roothe hain na jane kyun, koi to samjhaiyo han.

The words may have been sung and emoted by Manna but the feelings surely could have been applied to Rafi who must have been probably asking these very questions in his head but was too professional and non-judgmental to do so.

Even allowing for such sentimental speculations from me, this is one heady wine that grows more and more mature with each passing year. If intoxication is what one is looking for, then I would strongly recommend this heady wine. They don’t make them like that any more.

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11 Blog Comments to “HEADY WINE : Rafi-Dada Burman”

  1. Dr Surender Bhutani says:

    A remarkable presentation of facts and analysis.My heartiest congratulations to the author who has written a very objective thesis. Seldom one finds this kind of research.

  2. Binu Nair says:

    In every City People Rush to Hear MELODIOUS MOHD RAFI MUSICALs…….His songs are FOREVER…..

    Rafi Saaheb attracts fans as No One Else.

    Only the Organisers Change – I have seen…

    Bharat Ke Ratna Indeed.

  3. The legend who’s an angels voice thorns all around the universe till khayamath
    it is impossible to forget the heavenly performance of Jannati mohammed rafi

  4. K.P.Hassan says:

    Dear Rameshji,

    very very thanks for this valuable information. Expect more and more interesting information from you about our beloved Rafi Sahab in future also.

    wish you all the best.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dear Rameshji,

    Very very thanks for this valuable information. we all the Rafians expect more and more interesting information from you about our beloved Rafi sahab in future also.

    wish you all the best.

  6. Gautam says:

    Very true and indepth study of Rafi-Dada a lethal combination . Also rightfully compared vis a vis Kishore era .

  7. Mr. KV Ramesh has very well said. Thanks a lot. Everyone feels nostalgic after hearing SD Burman’s Compositions, sung by Mohd. Rafi sahib.

  8. vinod mehru says:

    Dear Ramesh,

    Thanks for great information, you taken to me in the past, my childhood ,a great article, god bless u.
    Vinod mehru

  9. A very fine write up. Kudos to the author of this article in which he has
    brought out the best of Burmans with Rafi. I doubt whether any song
    has gone unmentioned. A painstaking effort has been taken by the writer.

    In my friends circle I used to discuss whether Md.Rafi has sung best songs of his life for S.D.Burman or O P Nayar or Ravi or Madan Mohan
    or Shankar Jaikishan or Laxmikanth Pyerelal or Naushad. The discussion did not bring any result or reached any consensus.

    If one sits back and listen in relaxation and listen to the gems of these
    composers it is difficult to say to whom Rafi has sung his best.

    Rafi never compared any music directors though he may have a few
    favorite music directors like O P Nayar but one thing we all agree that Md Rafi has always given his best to a song irrespective of whom he has given his voice or who was the composer. That is his greatness and that is his humility.

    Md Rafi songs will live with us for ever.

  10. Uma Maheswar Nakka says:

    Good Morning
    Excellent write up with memorable details.
    Thanks, regards and blessings.

    Uma Maheswar Nakka

  11. Binu Nair says:

    Excellent Prose and Rafi music History along with watershed songs.

    With SDB.

    From Rafi Foundation Trust.

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