Rafi identified himself with classes & masses as none else BUT VIVIDH BHARTI INSULTING HIM BY PLAYING HIS C-GRADE SONGS REPEATEDLY.

 We recently lost two great singers of the sub-continent—Mehdi Hasan and Jagjit Singh, both super and superb in the sphere of ghazal singing. But have we ever thought of viewing and analyzing the art and music of Mohd Rafi and comparing him with the other two? Perhaps not. This is presumably because  Mohd Rafi successfully identified  himself both with the classes and the masses, unlike the other two. That is where lay Rafi’s greatness. But that turned into a disadvantage for him too. This is because his critics point to the number of cheap songs which Rafi sang and which the others did not. But that was so because he could do that whereas others could not. It is said that Rafi was too gentle, too noble a soul who would not refuse a producer even if he could not pay him the money he charged. It was his generosity that led him to accept singing songs which he might not have on his own desired to do. It is for the broadcasting agencies to sift the grain from the chaff. Radio Ceylon does that. Vividh Bharti does not. And hence ,on the latter channel, one finds AIR selectors repeating with sickening monotony some of the cheap if not vulgar  songs Rafi rendered for comedians like Johny Walker, Mahmood, Bhagwan, Agha, Gope and others while sparingly playing the unending number of quality songs which he rendered. The Vividh Bharti people, knowingly or unknowingly, are defaming Rafi by repeatedly broadcasting his low-grade songs. But when you tune in to Radio Ceylon, you find quality songs of Rafi strewn like roses, roses all the way.

I write this  for the death anniversary of Rafi Sa’ab. He passed away on 31st July, 1980. There can be no doubt that in Mohammad Rafi we lost one of our most popular singers whose versatility was a shining jewel that gives him a special distinctive place among the play-back singers of the country. Coincidentally, this year his death anniversary has fallen in the holy month of Ramzan. When he passed away in 1980, it was the Last Friday of Ramzan, one of the holiest of days to depart. The noble soul, who sang innumerable devotional songs, must have gone straight to heaven with the song, ‘Parvardigar-e-alam, tera hi hai sahara’ echoing in his ears. There was never any controversy over Rafi the Man. He was supposed to be one of the most noble souls who would very often sing for an upcoming music director without charging anything or taking just nominal amount, a fraction of what is usual charges were. But there are many who contest that he was the best. However, even such hard-boiled critics will concede, though grudgingly at times, that he had sung a few songs beautifully. And on one song there never has been any controversy – not that I know of. ‘O duniya ke rakhvaale, sun dard bhare mere naale’.

Some music directors were simply crazy over him. O.P.Nayyar was one of them. He  would say that they floated on the same wave-length because they hailed from Punjab and were equally wedded to melody, rhythm and bouncing music.  Naushad initially did not care much for him. But subsequently , especially after ‘Baiju Bawra’  Rafi became his prime singer. And Naushad gave Rafi some of his most memorable tunes to sing. Shankar-Jaikishen also opted for Rafi if there was scope. In RK Films they utilized Mukesh, but mainly for Raj Kapoor. They took Rafi from their very first film, ‘Barsaat’ in which Rafi sang a super-hit song, ‘Main zindagi mein hard um rota hi rahunga’. In ‘Awara’ too they utilized Rafi to sing, ‘Naiya teri majhdhar, hoshiyar hoshiyar’ and the song (not available on disc), ‘Julam sahe bhaari Janak dulari’. In ‘Boot Polish’ Rafi sang again hit songs for this children’s film produced by Raj. ‘Nanhe munne bachche teri muthi mein kya  hai’ and ‘Tumhare hain tum se dua mangte hain’ were sung by Rafi.. ‘Aah’ had only Lata and Mukesh. But film ‘Shri 420’ had Rafi in ‘Ramaiya vastavaiya’. Raj took Rafi in ‘Jagte Raho’ to sing with Balbir that famous Bhangra, ‘Ke main jhooth bpleya’. Rafi was not there in ‘Jis desh mein ganga behti hai’ but in ‘Sangam’ he sang that fabulous hit song, ‘Yeh mera prem patra parh kar’. In ‘Mera Nam Joker’ Rafi sang the ‘Heer’. Therefore it will be seen that even in Raj Kapoor’s own films Rafi was utilized by Shankar-Jaikishen..

And so far as Shammi Kapoor is concerned, his first choice was Rafi. And Shankar-Jaikishen brought out some gems from Rafi for Shammi Kapoor. Can we forget the ‘Yahoo’ song of Junglee and those numbers from Professor, ‘Dil Tera Diwana’, ‘Brahmacharya’, ‘Prince’ ‘Raj Kumar’, ‘Singapore’,’April Fool’, ‘Pagla Kahin Ka’ ‘Janwar’,’Andaz’ ‘An Evening in Paris’ and several more which they tuned for the Rafi-Shammi Kapoor combination  ? I will not be surprised if statistics show that Shankar Jaikishen tuned  more songs for Shammi Kapoor in the voice of Rafi than for Raj Kapoor in the voice of Mukesh. Likewise for Devanand Shankar-Jaikishen used Rafi’s voice in films like ‘Jab pyar kisi se hota hai’,   and ‘Love Marriage’  There was one song which Shankar Jaikishen had to compose for Raj in the voice of Rafi. The film was, ‘Ek dil sau afsane’ and the song was, ‘Tum hi tum ho mere jeevan mein’.

While Shankar-Jaikishen used Rafi to sing some popular numbers for Sunil Dutt (Beti-Bete, Gaban) Rajendra Kumar ( Sasural, Hamrahi,’ ‘Aarzoo’, ‘Dil Ek Mandir’ ) the most prestigious film in which they took Rafi was ‘Basant Bahar’ in which the songs, ‘Bari der bhai’ and ‘Duniya na bhaaye’ were masterpieces. In Seema too, the songs he composed for Balraj Sahni (Kahan jaa raha hai tu ai jane wale’ ) and Mumtaz Ali (Hamen bhi de do sahara) were serious numbers to say nothing of the songs Rafi sang for Guru Dutt in Shankar Jaikishen’s direction in ‘Sanjh aur Savera’ ( Aju hoon na aye balamva sawan beeto jaye’)  and for Raaj Kumar in ‘Mere Huzoor’ – all composed by the duo. Who composed more songs for Rafi – Naushad or Shankar Jaikishen ? This would also be of statistical interest. They used Rafi to sing for Kishore in ‘Shararat’.

It is pointless to mention about the Rafi-Nayyar combination.  In the earlier films there was hardly any movie in which Rafi did not feature. Nayyar says that he refused to honour Raj Kapoor’s request to use Mukesh for him in ‘Do Ustad’. He had his way . And it was Rafi who rendered (with Asha) the song, ‘Tere dil ka makaan saiyan barra alishan’.

S.D.Burman used Rafi sparingly in his earlier films though he produced a hit by him in ‘Do Bhai’ the song that Rafi rendered for hero Rajan Haksar in  that film –‘Duniya mein meri aaj andhera  hi andhera’. Burman utilized Rafi fruitfully for several Devanand films.like ‘Kala Pani’, ‘Guide’, ‘Teen Deviyan’ ‘Kala Bazar’, ‘Nau Do Gyarah’, Bombai Ka Bapu and ‘Tere ghar ke saamne’   Burman’s unforgettable numbers by Rafi in ‘Meri soorat teri ankhen’ were also big hits. Rafi-Burman’s  best combination was  in ‘Pyasa’ and ‘Kagaz ke phool’ and so on.

C.Ramchandra  gave a break to Rafi quite early, in Filmistan’s ‘Safar’(starring Kanu Roy and Shobha). That was 1945 or 1946. The sad song was, ‘Keh ke bhi naa aye tum ab chhipne lage taare’. The tune resembled that popular classical number, ‘Baghon mein parrey jhoole, tum bhool gae hum ko, hum tum ko nahin bhoole’. As far as I remember this was sung by Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, younger brother of Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan. Incidentally Rafi took training of basics in classical music from Ustad Barkat Ali Khan too.  C.Ramchandra himself would sing his compositions; and in ‘Safar’ itself he rendered that popular duet with Binapani Mukherjee: ‘Kabhi aar kar ke, gali paar kar ke chali aana hamare angina.’ But in film ‘Sargam’, in which there were several choruses, C.Ramchandra used Rafi in songs like, ‘Main hun Alladin mere paas chirag-e-Chin’. He gave another big hit to Rafi for the film ‘Sajan’ to sing for Ashok Kumar. Actually, till then Ashok Kumar would sing his own songs. In ‘Sajan’ too he sang one solo in his own voice, ‘O Babu Gali Mei Teri Chand Chamka’. And since Filmistan’s important functionary S. Mukherji was Ashok’s brother-in-law, no one dared to tell Dadamoni to give up singing his own songs. But finally C.Ramchandra managed to persuade Ashok Kumar to let others sing for him. And the first song for him was rendered by Mohammad Rafi. It was a bumper hit: the song was, ‘Hum ko tumhara hi aasra tum hamare ho na ho’. The breezy version was a solo by Rafi, But the sad number was a duet in which Rafi is accompanied by Lalita Devoolkar who starts the song with the stanza: ‘Kis ko sunaaoon hale dil…’ and Ashok Kumar (Rafi) joins her in  an emphatic tone: ‘Bolo mujhe tum jawab do, tum se hi mera sawal hai, tere liye beqarar jo, us se hi tu ne ye kya kiya..’ She responds, ‘Kadmon pe tere hoon mar rahi, tum hamare ho na ho, hum ko tumhara hi asra’.  Thus  Ashok-Rafi  combination heralded the end of Ashok Kumar’s singing career; and C.Ramchandra was responsible for it. In ‘Khidki’ there was a famous male quawali, ‘Kismat hamare saath hai jalne wale jala karen’. In this Rafi sings for hero Jawahar Kaul and C.Ramchandra (Chitalkar) for comedian V.H.Desai. Specially the last stanza (which V.H.Desai sings while hitting out at the girls’ hostel warden, Leela Mishra)was a treat, ‘Jala karen,sarra karen, gala karen, mara karen, aji bus apni manhoos shakla le hum ko na ye dikha karen’. The girls (led by Rehana) hit back through the same quawali with Shamshad leading the chorus. But Lata (then new) had a stanza to herself, ‘Mard hain sirf is liye, ke khidmat karen voh auraton ki, haq to chahte hain magar apna haq to ada karen’.. In ‘Albela’ almost all duets were sung by Lata and Chitalkar for Geeta Bali and Bhagwan except one duet in which Rafi replaced Chitalkar. In ‘Patanga’ too Chitalkar sang the juicy-most duets with Shamshad but rendered one male duet with Rafi: ‘Chale aa rahe hain hajamat kara ke’. In ‘Saqi’  he engaged Rafi for Premnath but the Lata Talat duet was a bigger hit. I think very few serious numbers were sung by Rafi for C.R. But among C.Ramchandra’s last film, it was in ‘Amardeep’ that he gave a chance to Rafi to sing a serious duet with Asha: ‘Dekh hamen awaaz na dena O bedard zamane’ (the tune resembles, ‘Yeh mera diwanapan hai’) C.R. either sang the male songs himself (he played back for Raj Kapoor in Sargam and for Dilip Kumar in Azad) or took Talat Mahmood, Kishore Kumar ,Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar and Mukesh to sing for the heroes. Rafi was not on his priority list at all. In his musical hit films like ‘Anarkali’, ‘Nastik’, ‘Navrang’, ‘Devta’, ‘Asha’   there was no Rafi.

Roshan did utilize Rafi though he had a soft corner for Mukesh and others. In ‘Bawre Nain’ while Mukesh got the choice songs, Rafi had to be content with a duet with Asha for a beggar couple, ‘Muhabbat ke maaron ka haal yeh duniya mein hota hai’. But subsequently Roshan too veered round Rafi (without sacrificing Mukesh). How can we forget, ‘Man re tu kahe na  dheer dhare’ that Rafi sang for Roshan in ‘Chitralekha’. The ‘Babar’ ghazal is exquisite, ‘Tum ek baar muhabat ka imtehan to lo’. And how can we forget the contribution of the Roshan-Rafi team in ‘Barsaat ki raat’ ? The title song, ‘Zindagi bhar nahin bhoole gi voh barsaat ki raat’ was fantastic to say nothing of, ‘Main ne shayad tumhen pehle bhi kabhi dekha hai’.And then those memorable quawalis were there too. In ‘Dooj Ka Chand’ it was Rafi singing, ‘Mere saathi khaali jaam’. And who can forget the ‘Chandni Chowk’ song by Rafi composed by Roshan?: ‘Voh Dilli voh Dilli ki galiyan kahan’. The ‘Arti’ solo by Rafi was superbly tuned by Roshan: ‘Ab kya misaal dun main tumhare shabab ki’ to say nothing of the duet, ;’Baar baar tohe kya samjhae payal ki jhankar’ with Lata. In ‘Wallah kya baat hai’ Roshan tuned for Rafi, ‘Gham-e-hasti se bus begaana hota’. In Bheegi Raat it was ‘Dil jo na keh saka vohi raz hoon’. Roshan did a fantastic job in ‘Nai umar ki nai fasal’ by harnessing Rafi to sing, ‘Karwaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe’. But the romantic duet by Rafi & Asha was fantastic, ‘Aj ki raat barri shokh barri natkhat hai, aaj to tere bina neend nahin aye gi’. And finally it was ‘Taj Mahal’ that had some lingering, ever shining gems like, ‘Jo wada kiya voh nibhana parre ga’ as also, ‘Jo baat tujh mein hai teri tasveer mein nahin’. ‘Anokhi Raat’ was Roshan’s last film. He gave a memorable song to Rafi in this film too: ‘Mile na phool to kanton se dosti kar li’ 

When one thinks of Rafi, one cannot help recalling hundreds of hit songs that he sang – and sang them so beautifully. The song could be a comedy. It could be tragic. It could be romantic. It could be devotional. It could be patriotic. It could be classical. It could be a Ghazal, a Bhajan, a Geet or a Naat. Rafi excelled in every type of song he rendered.

Rafi began his singing career in Lahore. He would sing in stage shows. Once when K.L.Saigal  visited Lahore to sing for a function organized to celebrate the silver jubilee celebrations of the reign of King George the V,- silver plates with the Monarch and his Queen’s images engraved were distributed to all school children in Delhi – there was power failure and so the mikes were silent. Saigal could not sing without mike. Even if he were to make an attempt, the voice couldn’t have reached every person in the huge gathering that had assembled there to listen to the legendary singer. To fill up the gap, Rafi was brought on the stage. He was a mere lad but he had a loud voice. He sang in a full-throated voice. He was heard with rapt attention. Then the lights came. Saigal was impressed by the lad’s singing; and he told the station director of AIR Lahore, who was present there, to give Rafi a chance, predicting that one day he would turn into a great singer. The prophetic words came true.

Since that day he had been cherishing the ambition to sing with Saigal. Later on, when he had built a good rapport with Naushad he pestered him to give him a line to sing with Saigal in any of the Shah Jehan songs for which he (Naushad) was composing music. Naushad finally yielded. There was a song in this film, ‘Mere sapnon ki raani, Ruhi, Ruhi, Ruhi….’ The song tried to stress that the whole kingdom was enamored of the girl Roohi’s charms. It was a chorus. So Naushad so manipulated that the last line of the song was sung by Rafi for a beggar to stress that even beggars were bewitched by the beauty of the girl.

Reverting to Lahore once again, it may be worth mentioning that the singer was noticed by music director Shyam Sunder. He gave him the first song of his career to sing in Gul Baloch in 1942. It was a duet which Rafi rendered with Zeenat Begum. The words were : ‘Soniyo ni hirio ni teri yad ne sataya’. Then came film ‘Gaon ki Gori’ in which again Shyam Sunder was the music director. This film, apart from Nur Jehan as the heroine, had Nazir as the hero. There was a breezy qawali in this film. Shyam Sunder included Rafi in it though the chorus was led by G.M. Durani. The song was, ‘Aji dil jo ho qabu mein to dildaar ki aisi taisi’.

Rafi came away secretly from Lahore with his brother Hameed Bhai. His brother brought a recommendatory letter from Lucknow from Naushad’s father. Naushad heard him on the sets of Kardar studios where ‘Pehle Aap’ was being made. Naushad instantly booked him for the patriotic number, ‘Hindustan ke hum hai’ as a chorus singer with Shyam Kumar. I understand Rafi sang three songs (none solo) in this film. I suppose one of these must be ‘Tu Dilli main Agre mere dil se nikle hae faasla sau kos ka hum mein sawan beeto jaaye’. After giving Rafi a chance to sing the last line of the Saigal song in ‘Shah Jehan’, Naushad next took him for the film ‘Anmol Ghadi’ to sing a street vendor’s song selling toys: ‘Tera khilona toota balak’. Although this film had the singing idol Surendra whose solos and a duet with Noor Jehan , ‘Awaz de kahan hai’ became big hits, Rafi’s solo was nevertheless noticed.

Hafiz had given Rafi a song to sing in film ‘Zeenat’ as well.

But the real break was given to Rafi by Feroz Nizami who had known him since the Lahore days. He pitted Rafi to sing with the formidable Noor Jehan the song, ‘Yahan badla wafa ka bewafai ke siva kya hai.’ Rafi was a non-entity then but Noor Jehan was then at her glamorous peak. That duet, in which Rafi sang for the upcoming hero Dilip, became a super-hit song. But credit for the popularity of that song entirely went to Noor Jehan who meanwhile left for Pakistan.

 I think in the initial stages more than Naushad – who just gave him non-hero songs to sing—the music directors from Lahore gave a break to Rafi. The foremost among them were Husanlal-Bhagatram who somehow exploited the tragedy of Gandhiji’s assassination by making Rafi sing in two discs (four sides of three minutes each)of the 78 RPM category)the lyrics composed by another Punjabi, Rajendra Krishna, ‘Suno suno ai duniya walo Bapu ki yeh amar kahani’. It became an instant hit–super-hit if I may say so—because it was released so timely. The song was from a documentary, ‘Bapu ki amar kahani’ of 12 minutes. I wonder if that documentary has been preserved by the archives or not. It has not been shown. But the song is like a narration which revives some memorable historical incidents in which Gandhiji featured. If that documentary can be traced it will be a valuable addition to our music as also history. The song was released only  a few months after Gandhiji’s assassination. And I recall when in Civil Lines, the Sunshines used to play the song on the loudspeaker in the evenings, traffic on S.P. Marg used to come to a grinding halt. Rafi might have been overshadowed by the personality about whom he was singing but he did strike a chord in every music lover’s heart.

Husanlal Bhagatram then took Rafi to glorious heights of popularity by those hit solos from ‘Pyar ki jeet’ and ‘Bari Behen’ (Muhabbat ke dhoke mein koi na aye). The ‘Pyar ki jeet’ solo has often been quoted by politicians like Ram Manohar Lohia and V.P. Singh, ‘Ik dil ke tukre hazaar hue’. Rafi sang a beggar’s song in B.R.Chopra’s ‘Afsana’ in a scene showing Kumbh Mela pilgrims at Allahabad. The song was, ‘Duniya ek kahani re bhaiya’. The singer rendered for the duo songs in films  ‘Naach’, ‘Balam’,’Adhi Raat’ ‘Meena Bazaar’ and ofcourse ‘Shama Parwana’. And Hansraj Behel took Rafi to sing for ‘Raat ki Raani’ (Jin raaton mein neend urr jaati hai)  and ‘Beqasoor’. In the latter the main music director was Anil Biswas. But two duets by Rafi and Lata were tuned by Hansraj Behel. One of these was, ‘Akhiyan gulabi jaise madh ki hain pyaaliyan’.

Incidentally Anil Biswas did not seem to care much for Rafi. There must be very few songs rendered by him for the maestro whose main singers  were Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey and Mukesh. By now Rafi had carved out a name for himself. It was round that time that Naushad gave him two solos to sing for ‘Dil Lagi’ for the late Shyam, who being a Punjabi was recommending Rafi for himself. The two songs were big hits including, ‘Tere kooche mein armano ki duniya leke aya hoon’. Thereafter came  the Dulari solo, ‘Suhani raat dhal chuki’, then ‘Dastan’ (for Raj Kapoor) till finally came Baiju Bawra. And the rest about the Naushad-Rafi combination is history.

I am not mentioning several other prominent music directors  because about them every one knows a lot. It is the earlier music directors who are more important as they gave Rafi a chance to rise upwards. Rafi passed away  32 years ago. But he is still with us.  If you ask me which is my Rafi favorite? I will say I love all his sad numbers and some naughty romantic ones too like ‘Baharo phool barsao mera mehboob aya hai’. But Rafi himself, while visiting Sri Lanka in early 1950s, said at a private dinner hosted by Radio Ceylon’s legendary announcers (late) Vimla and Kamini Ganjwar, that till then his favorite song was, ‘Main ne chand aur sitaron ki tamanna ki thhi: mujh ko raton ki siyahi ke siva kuch na mila’ (written by Sahir and tuned by N.Datta for film ‘Chandrakanta’). Rafi was indeed a man of musical taste leaving behind a melodic treasury that will keep his name alive for generations to come.

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  1. Superb post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this
    subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.


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