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I used to play the tanpura for Rafi saab: Mahendra Kapoor

This article is written by Harish C. Menon, for Indo-Asian News Service. It’s an old article (2006) republished to refresh our memories.

Mohd Rafi and Mahendra KapoorNeither old age nor the vicissitudes of a long singing career have weakened Mahendra Kapoor’s zest for music. The singer who gave us the soulful “Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se” way back in 1963 is now ready with a collection of Sufi songs. Even at 72, the voice that took high pitch singing to unmatched levels still has a lot to offer. The affable veteran singer says that his sufiana album is something he wanted to do after he had his full in other genres of singing.

Dwelling at length on his relationship with the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi, Kapoor says: “Rafi saab had made it very clear, much before my career hit a high note, that we should not sing together, mainly because of two reasons. One because we shared a guru-chela relationship and there should be no competition between us and secondly because our voices are very similar.”

Kapoor crooned some unforgettable Bollywood chartbusters like “Chalo ek baar phir se” (“Gumraah”, 1963), “Aadha hai chandrama” (“Navrang”, 1959), “Neele gagan ke tale” (“Humraaz”, 1967) and “Laakhon hai yahan dilwale” (“Kismat”, 1968).

Even today, he has a music teacher who comes to his Carter Road residence in Bandra in central Mumbai twice a week.

The Amritsar-born singer, who began his career with “Madmast” (1953) is genial enough to sing a couple of lines of that lilting Sahir Ludhianvi gem “Aap Aye to Khayal-e-Dil-e-Nashaad Aaya” without the airs of a veteran for this correspondent.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview with IANS:

Q: How do you feel when you look back at your career?

A: Satisfied is what I would like to say. I have done what I always wanted to do as a child. I have sung in almost all genres – classical, qawwali, bhajans, romantic etc. I perhaps missed out on sufiana music. So this new album will fulfil that aspect.

Q: Your voice was considered best for high pitched numbers like “Na Munh Chupa Ke Jiyo” and “Neele Gagan Ke Tale”…

A: It is goddess Saraswati’s gift and thankfully I could make use of it well in my career. Perhaps that also got me stereotyped as a singer of patriotic songs, making my voice an inseparable ingredient of actors like Manoj Kumar (known as ‘Mr.Bharat’ for his patriotic flicks) and Sunil Dutt saab.

Mohd Rafi with Asha, Mukesh & Mahendra Kapoor
Mohd Rafi with Asha, Mukesh & Mahendra Kapoor

Q: Your reverence of Mohammed Rafi and the subsequent initiation into classical music is Bollywood legend. Something on your relationship with the late singer?

A: In simple terms we shared a guru-chela (teacher-student) relationship. I often used to play the tanpura for Rafi saab during his performances. I used to call him Paaji (elder brother in Punjabi) and we used to speak in Punjabi mostly. Once when we were stepping out of the All India Radio building after a performance and I was holding the tanpura behind him a group of school kids approached him for autograph.

He did not understand and asked me what the fuss was all about. When I told him what the kids wanted he, in a matter of fact manner, asked me to oblige them! And I signed their autographs as Mohammed Rafi! (Laughs) That shows the simplicity of the man. No airs, no arrogance. Just simple human being.

Q: What about your spat with him in connection with the B.R. Chopra-Yash Chopra clan? Is there any truth to it?

A: There was indeed a spat. But the problem was not between us. It was between Rafi saab and the Chopras where the latter totally ignored Rafi saab after he refused to sing a duet with me in one of their movies. Rafi saab had made it very clear much before my career hit a high note that we should not sing together, mainly because of two reasons. One because we shared a guru-chela relationship and there should be no competition between us and secondly because our voices very similar.

Q: Can you pick out favourites in your songs and music directors?

A: In songs perhaps yes. One of my favourites is “Chalo Ek Baar”. I put in a lot of passion while singing it. It is also my favourite because perhaps this was one song that gave me a lot of recognition and a distinct identity. But it is difficult to pick out music directors. It would be an injustice to others.

Q: So can we have a small list of favourites?

A: It’s still difficult. All were greats. Naushad saab, C. Ramchandra, Kalyanji-Anandji, (O.P.) Nayyar saab.

Q: You rarely mention Ravi although most of your best songs were his creations and the Ravi-Mahendra Kapoor-B.R. Films combination held sway for a long time…

A: See this is what happens when I start listing out. It reminds me of the old story where while inviting relatives for a wedding one tends to forget the closest mostly as their presence is considered a ‘given’.

In fact I would say nobody understood and made use of my calibre as much as Ravi saab did.

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32 Blog Comments to “I used to play the tanpura for Rafi saab: Mahendra Kapoor”

  1. anurag says:

    Mahendra Kapur is OK but lacks sweetness, softness, divinity, flexibility , elasticity, clarity, difficult harketein, impact and accuracy. All these are in-built part of Mohd Rafi.
    no one can perfectly copy Rafi.
    See Sonu Nigam screaming at higher pitches, going besura also; his whole body moves but voice does not. Real pity!! these are stars for people who do-not understand music. and why they are surviving ? for the same reason!! there are more people who do not understand music…. so, like singers like Sonu Nigam, Shabbir kumar, and so on.
    rafi sahab developed his own style of taking harkatein and murkiyan. That can not be learnt even after learning classical music.
    That is the reason I never placed Ghantasala above Rafi. beacuse Ghatasala has good classical knowledge, but lacks in all other Deptts.
    one can learn classical music , do practice for 15-20 yrs and can come close to Ghatasala. same practice can not bring anyone near Rafi. rafi is superb. Where-from one will bring the raw material? the voice?

  2. shrikant s.welankiwar says:

    i am also follower of Mohd.Rafi sir, and Papaji(Shri Mahendra Kapoor Sir,)
    I use to sing and follow the voice of papaji and rafi saheb most of the person compare with myvoice of with papaji but i know “mai in dono ke pairo ki dhul bhi nahi hu. everytime when i have been concversation on telephonic with papaji had
    asked about me and of my family members very caring manner and he is everytime down to earth. one day I have asked him about his raaj of voice
    he replied me that jab tak dil saaf na ho awaz kaise saaf hoga.isliy sabhise pyar
    karo.aur be always down to earth.meri har saas, mere geet aur sangeet unke
    aashrwad se me ta umratak bhara rahe aur mai nahi samjhata ke papaji ab duniya me nahi rahe balki wo hamare dilme duniya ke akhari waqt.tak jinda hai.Mai Rohan paa se yeh gujarish karta hu ke woh papaji ki yaad me ek acadmy(music)shuru kare. Mere liye papaji Dronacharya hai to mai unka Eklavya Hu.

  3. Imtiyaz A. Sharif says:

    Ref. post 29, I know only one duet with Rafi sahab i.e. “Ek chand aasman pe hai ek mere paas hai” from film Aadmi.

  4. shashank says:

    Can anybdy tell us how many songs mahendrakapoor and rafisahab sang as a duet. plz. let me know

  5. shashank says:

    Nice article by Menonji, quite different and quite interesting to read it. the fact is Mohdrafi is no.1 playback singer till now also. bt comparing rafisahab is comparing god. I want to tell u in the article of mahendrakapoor, he told tht mohdrafi is his guru and cannot compare with rafisahab. He have a very big photo of rafisahab in his house and when he starts to riyaz, first he takes rafis blessings like a god, so there is no way of comparing mk and rafi. whtever will be mahendrakapoor is also a great singer like any other playback singer in tht era. Its nice to read the articles in the newspapers where he has given a brief interview. the fact is mk was a great fan and devote (i will say) of mohdrafi, also he learnt from rafisahab.

  6. kn.kumar says:

    I agree with Mr Binu Nair that in Boolywood, loyalty is the last thing to be found. It is hard to imagine that Rafi Saab would not have wanted to sing with Mahendra Kapoor saying that their voices were similar. When Rafi Saab has sung many songs with Kishore Kumar, why would he have hesitated to sing with MK? Definately MK is not superior to KK in popularity and range of voice.
    We have only MK,s version of the conversation with Rafi Saab. No doubt MK had a good voice, he cannot be compared to Rafi Saab.After the death of Rafi Saab,MK could have come up but by then the whole industry had changed and most of the great music directors who knew MK had left the scene. Atleast MK says many good things about his Guru-Rafi Saab.We should be grateful for that.

  7. AHAMED KUTTY Pazhayannur says:

    As mr.anil cheriyan said if we take out some of the singing
    qualities of rafi saab it may be mahendre kaoor or sonu
    nigam.i think about 30% quality take away it will be yesudasji.

    once Mr.jayachandran, the south indian singer who entered
    in hindi film music at the age of 64 recently said rafi saab
    is part of god because of his range.

    the hero of this article used to practice while he was in the
    car while going to the recording day due to irritation,
    the driver stopped the car and left the driver job for ever.

  8. Shamzan Awan says:

    i want rafi’s songs

  9. Anil Cherian says:

    Rafisahab’s voice was heaviness, smoothness, strength, softness, suppleness, sweetness, youthfulness, freshness all rolled together. You take some ingradients out and you’ll get Mahendra Kapoorji’s voice; take some other ingradients away and the output would be Sonu or Anwar.
    Mahendra Kapoorji is both right and wrong when he says that his voice resembled rafisahab’s. Similar is the case with Anwar, Mohd. Aziz, Shabbir Kumar, Vipin Sachdeva, Sonu et al.

  10. One point to be noted. What would have happened to Mahendra minus BR Chopra, Ravi, OPN and Manoj Kumar? Though a talented Singer, he was lucky to have the backing of these four people. Among heroes, only Manoj had Mahendra as his main Singer, among Producers, only BR Camp had him as their main Singer. Of course, Ravi used him mainly for BR Films and OPN when he fell out with Rafi. Though other MDs like Naushad, CR, SJ, KA, LP, etc. have all used him, but not regularly. Also though he has sung for other heroes like Rajendra, Jeetendra, Dharmendra, Shashi, Shammi, Dilip, Sunil Dutt, Rajesh, Feroze, etc. he was never the main Singer of these heroes.

  11. Krupesh Patel says:

    I don’t know why MK says his voice simliar to Rafi Saab, that was his personal opinion.

    Ravi used MK because BRC not want to use Rafi saab. If Ravi could have freedom to choose singer he use Rafi saab. Same as with Manoj Kumar his first choice was MK.

    Without BRC & Manoj Kumar Mahendra Kapur nothing. he just like normal singer.

    In rafi saab’s clone, I heard/saw about MK & Sonu Nigam regarding their views about rafi saab, both are frequently change their views & hesitate to give real respect to rafi saab.

    Last year I met with MK in Toronto & ask about his feelings for Rafi Saab…he change the topic & start to speak in punjabi which I can’t understand & not interested to talk with me.

  12. AHAMED KUTTY says:

    Where were these singers who have the same voice
    (if they have) of rafi saab when refi saab passed away?
    When rafi saab performed a live programme in royal
    albert hall,london lataji with mukeshji perfromed live
    programme in the same venu.but rafi saab’s programme
    was better than these two veterans.we have rafi bakth
    who was in mumbai when rafi saab died did not attend
    his funeral.i think there was a cocus against rafi saab
    during 70s to vanish him and some of his bakts were
    part of the cocus.

  13. unknow says:

    it is not far to compare gift of God voice to any other voice……………………
    there was there is and there be singer they be compare with Mohd Rafi because he was he is and he will be only singer who be at the top that is gift of God to bollywood and us and God gift is not so small as Lata ji Bharat Ranta award ………….

  14. K.J.Ravi says:

    It was rather unfortunate that Mahendra Kapoor could not even partially fill the huge void after Rafi Sahab departed from the scene. Despite his immense range and despite all his vocal gymnastics, MK somehow could not make the big leap needed to reach the top.

  15. ABID KHALIL says:

    i respect mr mk for being his chella but comparing with the great singer he seems to be too small for him.he is in no way close to his melody or any any variety of his singing even the’s voice on high pitch songs is like ‘phata hua dhol’ where the great rafi saheb has the same quality and the quantity throughout the last Sur.i request mk to just close his eyes and imagine and honestly ask himself in last years of his age confess where he stands as compare to his guru.this is the blessing of god and his guru who brought mk in the in limelight otherwise no comparison.he had some good numbers in his credit and it is appreciable as a mk. but again ………………….kahan rafi saheb kahan mohinder kapoor………………..
    shayad koi bhi nahin may be some day we might find some thing like him after centuries.

  16. Anmol Singh says:

    Possibly MK should not be compared with Rafi Sahab or any other singer. Like other legends his voice is also unique. As a singer he is excelled in many areas of singer and got recognition in the mid 60s when there was single category award nomination for both male and female singers.

    His Ghazals sung under Ravi from films like Gumraah, Hamaaz, Nikaah, Tawaaif (1985) are perhaps one of the best of all times. His Sanskrit pronounciation is one of the best among all his comtemporires, since is an MA in Sanskirt language. Hence for all the songs of the Mahabharat series he was the perfect singer.

    He equally good in devotional and patriotic numbers. As far as high pitch operation is concern , I will put him on par with Rafi Sahab.

  17. Imran Rustam Ali says:

    Mahendra Kapoor’s voice had little resemblance with Great Rafi Sb. due to specially when he sang in low tone like “Aap Aye to Khyal-e-Dil-e-Nashad Aya” but Rafi Sb’s voice was more melodious than Mahendra Kapoor and even on high pitched songs the same melody remained. On the base of this little resemblance it can not be said that they have same voice.

  18. Binu Nair says:

    this article has some academic interest only but let me tell you one thing all rafi saaheb lovers of the world what usha timothy of mumbai told me in her first interview with me : “sab jalte te rafi saaheb se”. upar se kuch , andhar se kuch.

    i believe usha ji as she was from 8 years under the tutorship of rafi saaheb when her dad passed away. usha has done around 40 world shows and innumerable country wide musicals with our “music badshah”. she was a shishya and a daughter to rafi saaheb; and i believe her.

    indeed, true rafi lovers will always hate double talk and flattery. read the full interview in the forthcoming “sargam” magazine.


    July 31 is fast approaching and rafi lovers who can afford to come to mumbai to offer flowers to rafi saaheb – are welcome. this time i guess the tributes to rafi saaheb will be well covered by the media .
    the electronic media (which i am connected to) is doing a story on mohd rafi to be hosted by tabassum another great rafi lover .

    binu nair , rafi foundation, mumbai, cell 9833 250 701

  19. Well, what MR and MK meant perhaps when Rafiji said that their voices are similar may be the voice as can be heard or as it sounds. That is, as Anwars voice sounds like Rafiji’s, MK’s voice also sounded like Rafi’s. MK, I am sure never meant that his voice has got the range, the melody, etc. of Rafiji. A great fan of Rafi MK himslef is, he will be the first to admit the same. However, it cannot be denied that MK and KK were more versatile than other Singers barring Mannadey and of course, the great Rafi.

  20. A S MURTY says:

    Ref comment number 8 by Binuji. Thanks binuji for providing information on our programme. yes indeed the programme in honour of mubarak begumji is being held on the 5th july. mubarak begumji will herself be singing four to five songs followed by singers from the ‘abadrafi’ – the hyderabad chapter of the rafi foundation. music lovers based in hyderabad who happen to see these columns are requested to get in touch with me at 93912 67272 urgently. will give detailed reporting after the programme.

  21. unknow says:

    Dear fans.
    plz don’t compare Mohd rafi with any one.
    as Naushand said abount Mohd Rafi that is true ,what Modan Mohan said about Mohd Rafi is True,what OP nayar said about Mohd Rafi is true.
    Ravi who gave mostly songs to Mahinder Kapoor but when they asked Ravi aout the best singer the answer is only Mohd Rafi.
    Mahinder Kapoor is great singer but the problem is when we compare him with Mohd Rafi that make Mahinder Kapoor so small singer if you comapare Mahinder Kapoor with other you will see how great was he,also don’t forget as I think singer Anwar was also not less than Mahinder Kapoor(as I think)

  22. Anil Cherian says:

    Mahendra Kapoorji’s voice had some resemblance to the ‘baadshah’s’. But it’s his Rafisque style (pls. don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say MK is another Rafisahab) that reminds us of more the master. He doesn’t throw his voice around, instead he sings with restraint like his ‘guru’ and sugar-coats each words.
    By the way isn’t it amazing that a singer with a heavy voice, actually one of the heaviest in HFM (Mahendra Kapoorji) is as much a Rafi clone as a light-voiced Sonu or Anwar is. Just goes on to prove that Rafisahab’s voice possesses a world of dimensions and characters and it is impossible to brand it (as heavy, light, strong, soft etc.).

  23. Hussein Sheikh says:

    Mahendra Kapoor tried to sing O Duniya Ke Rakhwale in a film called Pati Patni Aur Woh picturised on Sanjeev Kumar, but was totally failed as he went off key.

  24. Shahbaz says:

    Mahinder Kapoor has wrongly stated that our voices are same. I would like 2 say that there is difference of sky and earth between Muhammad RAfi’s and Mahinder Kapoor’s voice. There was a most special quality in Muhammad Raf’s voice that As much as Rafi Sahib when high he voice went more sweet, more melodious more delicating.

    I have come to know that Mahinder Kapoor challanged Muhammad Rafi, that he could better then RAfi SAhib. But when competition was held definately and surely Mahinder Kapoor lost the first position.

  25. Binu Nair says:

    Saturday 5th july the hyderabad chapter of rafi foundation is hosting a prograame and felicitating mubarak begum at a function in hyderabad. mr.murthy at : cell 93912 67272 for further details .
    rafi saaheb fans must not miss this programme, invite their friends too as its confirmed that apart from the “nostalgic” rafi numbers, begum mubarak will sing some of her “vintage” songs including : mujhi apne galle laga-lo, ai mere humraahi, tumko kya batlaoo mai, ke mujhko kithna pyaar hai……
    this song was recorded in 3 hrs time by shankar and jaikishan after lataji did not show up for the recording and the begum called in at very short notice from her then house near charni road, mumbai.

    please enjoy this song – live from mubarak begum herself.

    binu nair, rafi foundation and sargam magazine.

  26. Binu Nair says:

    many many rafi clones have come and gone; they all basked in the glory of rafi songs but could not last the tough terrains of the industry.
    and, talking of rafi clones, sudesh bhosle can copy many singers voice.
    rafi used to tell mahendra kapoor – develop your own style, do not imitate and always gave him guidance in many respects, unlike any singer who would do the contra – dictory actions. (there are examples galore about this but rafi was never bothered about his place).

    talking of rafi centric singers who are down to earth like the maestry in mumbai there are three of them: prof.ashok khare, srikanth narayan and mohd hanif (from bangalore).
    apart from a great voice culture they are nice human beings like our rafi saaheb.
    i would recommend listening to them – atleast once .

    binu nair

  27. Binu Nair says:

    voice is similar; but where is the melody, the divinity, the feelings, the diction which go in to a song. only high range and a similar voice is not the requisite of a vibrant song. it it were, many many many sing alikes would have taken rafi space.

    op nayyar tried it and fail-ed and accepted it as his “biggest folly”. but, mahendra ji has given us some great songs and we are thankful to it. the singers closeness to rafi – throw more light on the magnamity of the “institution” known as mohammad rafi saaheb .

    binu nair, rafi foundation, mumbai…

  28. AHAMED KUTTY says:

    Rafi saab’s and Mahendra Kapoorji’s sounds are similar to
    some extent only.Rafi saab’s sound is steady and sweet in
    highpitch but we can see the difference when MK sings in
    high pitch.

  29. Imtiyaz A. Sharif says:

    I really surprise to know that Rafi sahab said “our voices very similar” since Rafi Sahab voice has sweetness like honey and MK voice lacking this. And sweetness is not only the difference, Rafi Sahab’s style was very special, specially his “harkatein”, “adayein” was superb. MK has the advantage of range but voice quality can’t be compare by Rafi Sahab the greatest.

    Long live Rafi Sahab.

  30. Binu Nair says:

    a die-hard fan of rafi saaheb and his chela once dodged c.m.desai, the well known music historian of mumbai when he wanted to do a interview on mohd rafi on zee t.v.

    the chela said : “if you will do my interview i will come. mr.desai dumped the interview itself.
    i mean people must be honest most of the times if not always.

    binu nair….rafi foundation, mumbai.


  32. Hussein Sheikh says:

    Short article, with nice interview. Rafi Saheb had taught light classical music to Mahendra Kapoor. Although Mahendra Kapoor had ability to sing high pitch songs, but Rafi Saheb’s range was amazing!

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