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Mohammad Rafi – One of the most versatile voices in our last century

This article is written by Mr. Souvik Chatterji, Master of Law, Warwick University, UK, Master of Law Case Western Reserve University, USA.

Music had played a very significant role in translating Indian thoughts throughout thousands of years. Right from the time of maharajas and nawabs it used to be presented in their courtrooms either by ustads or by the ruler himself. There was music inherently existing at every place, every part of society, every geographical location irrespective of being sung by sants or bairagis or fakirs or majhimollas. Indian cinema in the last century had based its feet on the strong story base of such characters. Now one of the main reason of reaching the stories to millions of people in our country and abroad was the everlasting music produced during 1940s, 50s, 60s. Mohammad Rafi is a name which has galvanized the musical history of the golden era of Indian cinema.1

Mohd Rafi
Mohd Rafi

Now being very popular icon of the 50s, 60s and the 70s a lot had been said about the man with the golden voice in all the leading electronic media including, newspaper, journals, television and radio. What has not being said is the everlasting treasure of rich lyrics, compositions, tunes, orchestrations that had been left by the great legend for millions of his lovers to cherish for decades and decades.2

Pradeep Kumar as Shahjahan in Taj Mahal
Pradeep Kumar as Shahjahan in Taj Mahal

1950s and 60s can be described as an era of classical prose, poetry, shayeris. Although the subject matter of Indian cinema ranged from Historical classics like “ Tajmahal”, “ Mughal-I –Azam” to classic literature like ”Devdas” (written by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee) “ Kabuliwala” (written by Rabindranath Tagore) to Suspense Thrillers like “ Woh kaun thi” “ Mera saya”. The list can go on. But what were common to all those films were the pains, devotion and imagination with which lyricists and music composers composed the songs. And of course the expression, andaz, style and perfection Mohammad Rafi had presented which is a rich asset for future generations.

If the compositions of the legendary music directors are analysed it can be said that each of them had their own foundation “ in musical terms we call it gharana”. It was a rich combination of ghazals, qawallis, Hindustani classical, mujras, thumris, kajris, bhajans, folksongs ( like bhatiyali, bayul) , light songs, rock and roll, western.. The composers included Shanker Jaikishan, Naushad, Roshan, Madanmohan, SD Burman, Gulam Mohammad, Wasant Desai, Khemchand Prakash, Salil Chowdhury, OP Nayyar, C.Ramchandran, Anil Biswas, Khayyam, Jaidev, Iqbal Qureshi, Ravi, Dattaram, S.N. Tripathi and others. Typically in those days musical sequences used to be created on the basis of the situation the story required, and both the lyricist and the composer used to create music which suited such sequence. Mohammad Rafi had the record of transforming the creation into history.3

ShahjahanIf we look at the film “ Tajmahal” ,released in 1963, after the demise of mumtaz mahal , Shahjahan was associated with the lyrics ” hum ate rahen hai, hum ate rahenge, muhabbat ki rasme nibhate rahenge, jan-e-wafa tum do sada fir kya thikana humko ana parega.” The lyrics was written by Sahir Ludhianvi and music composed by Roshan in Rag- Pahari.. Rafi had transformed his passion with the badshahi andaz of Shahjahan that existed at that time.The song had not lost its immortal value even today.

Similarly in the film “ Bahubegum” , released in 1967, Meenakumari had waited for Pradipkumar a long time and was almost deciding to marry Ashokekumar when came the classic song “hum intezar karenge, tera qayamat tak,khuda Karen ki qayamat ho aur tu aye”. The song had such an everlasting impact that people forgot to pay homage to the serious performance of Ashoke kumar who burnt himself in that film.4

There are songs where Rafi had made people intoxicated. There are other songs where he had awakened the audience. One of the example is in the Film “ Bheegi Raat” . At the frag end of the film, the song “Dil Jo na kah saka wohi raz-e dil, kaheneki raat ayee.” It was picturised on Pradeep kumar in 1965 and song composed by Roshan in raag kalyan.

Bharat BhushanIn the film “Zahanara” Rafi’s immortal song “ Baad muddat ke yeh ghari ayee, ap aye to zindagi ayee, isq marmar ke kamyab hua , aaj ek zarra aaftab hua” and “ kisiki yaad me aapnako hai bhulaye hue” had brought poetic passion in numerous Indians. People could not understand what to appreciate, Rafi’s poetic passion , or Bharat Bhusan’s natural performance or the strong lyrics or Madan mohan’s composition. In the film “ Mirza Ghalib” Rafi had brought life into few quality ghazals composed by Ghalib himself where tunes were given by Ghulam Mohammad.5

In the film “ Mere mehboob” released in 1963, the title song “ Mere mehboob tujhe meri muhhobat ki kasam , phir teri nargisi aankhoka sahara deden, mera khoyahua rangeen nazara deden” had brought the cultured pardanashin community of Aligarh to Cinemahall. Rafi’s sweetness and bass had overpowered the majestic screen presence of Jubilikumar “ Rajender kumar”, classic creation of Naushad and rich lyrics of Shakeel Badayani.The pandemonium hall of Aligarh University was opened for the classic song.

Guru Dutt
Guru Dutt

In Gurudutt’s Pyasa released in 1957, the climax of the film came into being when Guru dutt did not accept the recognition given to him by brothers in open hall. The famous song “ yeh mahalon, yeh takhton, yeh tajon ki duniya“ had created unrest in the cinema halls. Rafi’s voice had helped in social awakening. The song was composed by SD Burman. The same Rafi had mesmerized the listeners with his romantic mood in the film “Chawdavi ka chand” acted by Guru dutt , released in 1960,with the title song, “Chawdavi ka chand ho, yah aaftab ho, jobhi ho tum khuda ki kasam lajawab ho”. The music was composed by Ravi. Rafi’s tragic andaz in the film Kagaz ka phool , released in 1959 had brought tears in the eyes of the audience with “ are dekhi zamane ki yaari, bichre sabhi, bari, bari.” The sensitive words were put in by Sahir Ludhiyanvi.

In most of the tragic situations Rafi had felt the pathos in himself while analyzing what the situation demanded. His song “koi sagar dil ko bahalata nahin” in the film “Dil diya dard liya” composed in raag kalawati had transformed intoxication into tragedy. It was released in 1966. In the film “ aadmi”, released in 1967, his song “ aaj purani raahon par koi mujhe awaz na den, dard me dube geet na den , gham ka sisakta saz naden” had made people think who was a better tragedian, Dilipkumar or Rafi himself. Both the lyrics were written by Shakeel Badayani and music composed by Naushad. In the film “ Kohinoor” released in 1960, Rafi had presented a pure classical andaz in the song “ Madhubanme radhika nacchere, giridharki muraliya bajere”. It was composed by Naushad in raag hamir and was picturised on Dilip kumar. In the same film there was totally different melody in the song “ Do sitaronka zammen par hai Milan aaj ki raat”. The words of Shakeel Badayani had been given adequate expression by Rafi. Naushad had given some serious compositions to Rafi like “ Ek shahanshah ne banwake hasin tajmahal sari duniyako muhabbatka nishani di hai.” It was composed in raag lalit in 1964 in the film “Leader” acted by Dilip kumar.

In the film “Meri surat teri aankhe” acted by Ashoke kumar , SD Burman had given Rafi one of the tragic raag Pilu, the song was “ Tere bin sune nayan hamare”. It was composed on the same lines as “ ami chinu eka basoro jagaye” in Bengali, sung by SD Burman himself. Other notable creations of SD Burman were “Aise to na dekho” in raag Gara in the film “ Teen Deviya” , “ hum bekhudime tumko pukare chaalegaye” in “Kalapani”, 1960 and “Din dhal jaye” in Guide, 1965.6

Shankar JaikishenIn the film “ Lal patthar”(1971), Shankar jaikishan had composed for Rafi “ unke khayal aye to ate chaale gaye” in raag gara. There the nostalgic mood of badshah was presented by Rafi. Other quality creations of Shankar Jaikishan included “ Aji ruth kar ab kahan jaiyega” in raag desh in Aarzoo (1966) starring Rajender kumar, “ Khuda bhi asma se jab zamin par dekhta hoga” in the film “Dharti,” “ mujhko apne gale lagalo ai mere humrahi” ( Humrahi, 1962) “surahidar gardan koel sihi awaz” in the film “ Aman”. The lyrics were written by Hasrat Jaipuri.

In creations of OP Nayyar, Rafi had mixed the eastern passion with western flavour. So in the song “Zulfke chayon me chehreka ujala lekar” in “Phir wahi dil laya hoon” (1963) written by Majrooh sultanpuri or “ Mujhe dekhkar aapka muskurana” in “ Ek musafir ek hasina” (1962) picturised on Joy Mukherjee , or “ Tukre hai mere dilke ai jan tera aansoo” in “Mere Sanam” (1965) picturised on Biswajeet, we find the voice floating with western air to suit the compositions.

Besides Rafi‘s voice had been used in “Kabhi khudpe kabhi halatpe rona aya” (Humdono, 1961) by Jaidev, “Parabatoke Pedo par shamka basera hai” by Khayyam, “ ek sawal tum karon, ek sawal hum Karen” (Goonj uthi sahnai, 1959) by Wasant Desai.There were other composers also in those decade who had given their best creations to Mohammad Rafi. It is difficult to compile major songs of the legend who did sing around 25000 songs in a span of 35 years. But the songs are expected to be preserved for future generations as rich historical remains because the alfaz (words) and sur ( musical composition) were created not mechanically, but with the deepest thoughts from the core of the heart.

Dilip Kumar
Dilip Kumar

Tragedy King Dilip kumar had rightly said that “jaise indradhanush ke andar saat rang kaid hai, usi tarah rafi ki awaz ki ehmiat tafteez karne ke liye mere pass alfaaz nahin hai”, Meaning the way the seven colours (vibgyor), are immersed in a rainbow, in the same way it is not possible to express the significance of Rafi’s golden voice in words. An Archive on Mohamad Rafi’s works should be established where the creations of musical giants can be preserved. Furthermore the future generations can get inspiration for rich creation in future.

Souvik Chatterji
Souvik Chatterji – the author of this article

6 My father Sri Chittaranjan Chatterji, Ex Chief Public Prosecutor of Bankshall Court, Kolkata had interviewed classical Bengali singer “ Manobendra Mukherjee” who said his performance in the Bengali feature film “ Lalubhulu” featuring a blind and a handicapped young boy as friends was superceded by Rafi’s performance in the Hindi film “Dosti” for which Laxmikant Pyarellal won their first filmfare award in 1964. Manobendra Mukherjee said it was Rafi only who could have matched his performance.

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25 Blog Comments to “Mohammad Rafi – One of the most versatile voices in our last century”

  1. ali says:

    Hi fans
    I dont know who is Ghantasala sorry. he is great singer but we are not here to compare,please stop to compare…..
    One of you said that when he was i kid,he spoke with mohd rafi and said to mohd rafi that I am not your fan and I fan of ……. and i like his songs and mohd Rafi was that i am also his fan and he sang that singer song for that kid..
    when Mannay Day said to Mohd rafi how can sing it so easy Mohd rafi reply was i am your fan and mannay da reply was I need to born again to sing like you..
    people all who worked with mohd rafi all said that there be no other mohd rafi….
    we know more than these music people………..

  2. Ahamed Kutty says:

    the ‘music giants’ such as gantasala,t.m.sounder rajan,yesudas,spb etc.are
    very precious for our of the greatest culture of the world i.e.
    indian culture teaching us to respect each please do not try to
    defame them.

    this site is a divine one and meant for rafi saab who was not against
    anybody or tried dirty games for keeping his position.

  3. Bhushan says:

    Mr. Anurag

    Pl. do not again try to create disruptions, a humble request. What do you know about ghantasala ? Your post clearly has loopholes. Pl. do not think otherwise. Can you name any classical singer who was as successful as ghantasala as playback singer (3 decades monarch without any competition – none could stand before him) or any playback singer who was as accomplished in classical singing as ghantasala ? The toughest ever songs in film singing have been composed in telugu film music sung by ghantasala and there is no genre or pitch which was beyond his reach. There lies the answer. Just see wikipedia, encyclopaedia on ghantasala, you will know what he is and where he stands and then come back please. I do not want to put much on this as already this has been discussed at length earlier.


  4. anurag says:

    True, one can sing Ghantasala also after learning classical music, but can not attempt Rafi. Even if one sings Rafi correct gramatically, some huge thing will be missing! One big example is Mahendra kapur, who sang well but… ? There is some magic in Rafi’s soft velvet voice with the required expressions to the right amount. ‘ and effortless singing… not overburdening you with a feel of classical demonstration, not required in film music; though not missing accuracy and delivering difficult notes also in filmy style!!!

  5. ebrahim says:

    what to say about this legend? everybody sings. and everybody enjoys…but is there any person who matches with this laegend till now.? no it wont happen..its happens once in a blue moon…but it wont happen again, becoz hes is a special human to the almighty..who sen him here to show his creativity.. to be honest..i can sing almost everybodys songs and can do justice to it. But am afraid to sing a rafi saheb’s song…thats the way he sings.
    may his soul rest in peace….and when you listen to rafisab’s songs you feel that you can sing the particular song..but when you attempt it..then you will know how hard it is to sing a rafi sab’s song…he maintains a level in his high notes and lower notes…the same pich amazing..that why i scribbled here god send him here to sho his creativity.

  6. gani says:

    Dear murthy ji, I agree totally with your comments since I am well aware and conversant with both telugu and hindi songs. But remember that this is a tribute to rafi ji and hence no comparisons can be made though it is agreed that ghantasala’s voice is the most majestic voice. Both are eminent singers and both are masters in their own respective fields. However, it is a fact that in terms of high pitch songs, in terms of clarity and melody etc. there is no comparison for ghantasala. Even lata ji’s voice fades in top high pitches but ghantasala’s talent is rare in such high pitch songs. Any how enjoy music of all the talented singers to your pleasure.

  7. murthy says:

    no doubt as stated by our friends, rafi saheb was a very good singer. But India has got so many languages and so many versatile singers. I have heard many languages including southern films and I personally feel that ghantasala venkateshwara rao, the southern film singer, with golden majestic voice is most superior voice in India. This was stated by rafi ji and lata mangeshkar also in yester years. In 1969 lata ji commemorated ghantasala ji by saying that there is no comparison to ghantasala. Once you listen to songs of ghantasala in the 50’s and 60’s you will yourself decide what to say. Anyhow India is great to have produced such singers, whose voices are beautiful and it is a pleasure to hear both the singers.

  8. arif zia says:

    this is arif here, i am a huge fan of mohammed Rafi sahib, indeed this is a very good article. the author of this article did a great job. on this 31 july i have read many article written on mohd Rafi sahib. i think this is best. i have organised a big night on 27th death annivarsary of Rafi sahib, there were 4000 peple in auditorium the have enjoyed four hours show till mid night. i was the singer and host of the show. i am planning one more show for 24th december on Rafi sb. birthday. i am looking for some wall paper of Rafi sahib. if any one could suggest me that where and how can i get it. i will be highly obliged. thanks

  9. r.padmanabhan says:

    july 27,2007

    one of the most profound and impressive articles ever written analysing rafi saab’s genius. not only his voice but the character of the man has come to the fore in this article.the cacophony of today’s music has to learn scores of
    lessons just by listening to the fantastic musical feats of rafi saab.

  10. A S MURTY says:

    I just happened to visit referred in the above article and it is again a very useful and beautiful site for information on any song, singer, movie, actors, music directors etc. All Rafians can visit the same and get more insight and information from other archives on various films where Mohd. Rafi provided the lead playback.

  11. A S MURTY says:

    By far, one of the best articles on our Guruji -MOHD RAFI – written by Mr. Souvik Chatterji . I went on reading it several times and had to read all the responses before giving my own an each one of those responses must have come straight out of their hearts. Fantastic work Mr. Chatterjee and a very timely article too to adorn the front page of this website during the 27th death anniversary of our beloved and most reverred artiste. I will check up the other links/websites referred above. Again hearty congratulations to the writer. Keep it up with many more such finely crafted articles as this gives us all the necessary zeal in this otherwise hectic life.

  12. Nitin Sharma says:

    manyavar mahodaye,

    aap sab ki seva main mera sashtaang dandvat pranam…

    Sach hai ki sukh ka samvad kabhi kabhi dukh ka karan ban jata hai.
    aaj aap sab logo ke kathan padh kar ek taraf hridye prafullit bhi hua aur doosri taraf aankhen bhi nam ho gaye..

    kehte hai ki aag ki garmi ka ehsaas aag ke sameep baith kar hi hota hai parantu main aaj bhi Rafi saheb ke kanth ki madhurta ko yahan bahithe baithe hi mehsoos kar sakta hoon.

    aap sab ke saargarbhit pralekh ke pathan manan se prafullit hridye main umad rahi bhawnaon ke pravah main ek namr nivedaan hai ki aap sab yahan par apni nirantarta se iski dadipyamaan kirno ke dwara nayi rahon ko prakashit karte rahen

    mujh jaisa tuchh shreni vyaktitv aapke samooh dwara nav-anveshit rahon ko prakashmaan karne main ayogya evam asamarth hote hue bhi apne aap ko sammaan ka vishye samajhte hue aapko vishwash dilata hai …ki yadi aawashyak va mahatvapoorn hua to sahyogi hone main mere dwara leshmatr bhi vilamb nahi hoga

    umeed hai ki main apni baat theek se keh paya hoon


    nitin sharma

  13. Narayanan says:

    U have echoed the sentiments of lovers of Rafi sahab era very well and proud to inform that we all belong to that golden era.
    We Love U Rafi Sahab……….

  14. RAMAKRISHNA says:

    I am extremely happy to read the opinions of all my family members about RAFI sahab. ( We all belong to the musical family of RAFI sahab) . Its non other than RAFI sahab who has given us innumerable golden melodies. We cant say which is good, which is average and which is superb, because all are superb. And its only RAFI sahab who has put a seed in every one of us so that we will carry the fragrance of his GOLDEN MELODIES forward so that its frangrance encircles the entire world spreading the message of simplicity, humbleness as RAFI sahab himself was. RAFI SAHAB ZINDABAD. RAFI SAHAB AAP AMAR HAIN.

  15. nazeer says:

    aj purani raho se …this song has some kerala is picturised at the famous varkala beach in tvm district.Varkala cliff has avery prominent place in wold torism map…many old people still remembrs the shooting of that film.many thougt the song was by this part of kerala rafiji was not so popular at that time. but he was immensly popular in the northern kerala due to their extensive bombay connections .a great song

  16. Irfan says:

    Dear Rafians , Please read this ::

    Dear Rediff readers,
    Though I do not have memories associated with the legend but my papa whose lyrics rafi saab sang recollects some of the finest memories.
    One thing that he recollects is that Rafi saab was very particular about the work that he did. He documented each song and all the details related to the song. Thus he appeals to the music collectors & researchers to find those documents to get the list of all 25000+ songs that he has sung.
    secondly since my papa was a salaried employee it was not possible for him to attend the reharsals everytime. in one of the reharsals he was late and O P nayyar did not like it ( since nayyar saab was very particular about time). Realising the situation rafi saab insisted the reharsals be kept on sundays only. This was the great rafi saab.

    My favourite song happens to be one penned by my papa for the film Heera moti – composed by Nayyar saab sung in his unique style by rafi saab. The song is Honth hain tere do laal heere.

    Posted by WASI AQEEL ZAIR on 31-JUL-06

  17. Anmol Singh says:

    It is the voice of all times and the voice of all ages. Truely incredible.

  18. I feel one of the major reasons why Rafi Sahab and his songs will never be forgotten is that his divine voice and the lyrical quality of his songs beautifully complemented each other. His pronounciation was so impeccable that even in high pitched songs, his words were crystal clear. We are truly blessed to have heard him during our lifetime, what to say about people who have seen him singing!

  19. ashwini says:

    he is one avatar(physical )of performing arts

  20. Good artical,whatever amount of praise,emotion,versatility,to Rafiji singing is just a drop of water in ocean.He is unparrallel,non comparable.He is timeless,spaceless genius.

  21. Mehtab says:

    Respected Fans of Rafi Sahib,
    The Article “Mohammad Rafi – One of the most versatile voices in our last century” is good one. Mr. Souvik Chatterji has rightly elaborated about the Great accentor.
    I think the voice of the great singer shall always remain immortal in every century because such perfect, melodious, sweet like our own heart’s voice can never be available. In India, Mohd. Rafi can never be forgotten. Everyone feels today that Rafi Sahib’s popularity is increasing day by day despite the fact that he has been no more with us for 27 years. His repertoire of valuable songs is a motivation for all of us.
    –MEHTAB +91-98157 03226, E-Mail :

  22. H.V.GURU MURTHY says:

    A very good and informative article touching briefly on all aspects of Rafi Saab and his versatility. In one of the Kannada film musical contest for youngsters being aired on TV, which is being conducted by S.P.Balasubramanyam, in one of the episodes, he was full of praise for the title song of “MERE MEHBOOB” and spoke about Rafiji’s talents. I also read somewhere SPB telling that how many perople can sing the word “Zhooma” the way Rafi sang in the song “Ye Dekhake Dil Zhooma” from KASHMIR KI KALI. It was the sheer genius of Rafi Saab that even lyrics having dis-jointed words, Rafi could sing them wihout any problem just like water flows.

  23. binus2000 says:

    Irfan Ji : v e r y true….

    Rafi saab is a saint in capitals – for all of us. According to a source
    rafi saab focussed only on his singing. He would retire for the
    day at 9.30 p.m., rise up early at 4.00 pm for riyaaz and yoga –
    this was his routine.
    we all know life in the film industry: it begins late in the night and
    ends early morning.
    a rafi fan and a medical doctor recently told me : Only a saint
    can go to bed at 9.30 p.m. I believe this.

    binu nair the rafi foundation Mumbai.. cell 9833 250 701

  24. P. Haldar says:

    Mr. Chatterji, I can’t thank you enough for this great article. Such a well-analysed article with references to some of the greatest songs in hindi film music. Please contribute more to this forum; we would all gain a lot from such articles. i’ve seen both lalubhulu and dosti, and I can fully understand why manabendra holds rafi in high esteem. I have only one comment, though. I think the title could be: “Mohammad Rafi: The most versatile singer in the last century”. But that’s my opinion, and I’d defer to someone as knowledgable as you.

  25. Irfan says:

    One anecdote that I would like to give out was that after recording the song ‘Aaj purani Raho se’ for Aadmi when Naushad saab asked Rafisaab ke ‘Rafisaab gaana to ho gaya gaya ab paise ki baat ki jaaye’ to Rafisaab ne kaha ke ‘kaisi baat kar rahe hai Naushad saab Is gaane ke mai paise nahi lunga aise gaane aajkal bante kaha hai’.So much was the mans love for good music.
    O Rafisaab,May lord elevate your status in Heavens Insha Allah – Ameen

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