The Unforgettable Melody King
Mohammed Rafi's voice was Almighty's endowment and his creations will be preserved as priceless gifts for generations to come, writes Sharad Dutt.
The generations of the 1960s-70s were simply enchanted by two names – the voice of Mohammed Rafi, and the musical duo of Shankar-Jaikishan. What was their magic that mesmerised millions of music lovers for over three decades? But, here we will only talk about the melody King Mohammed Rafi.
Flashback-1: The year was 1970. I saw and met this great singer at Chelmsford Club in New Delhi. Rafi Saab was invited here for a concert. I vividly remember he was singing song after song at the persistent request of the invitees. He sang, Teri pyari pyari surat ko, Baharon phool barsao, Chaudhvi ka chaand and Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam, etc.
Like me, there were many others who were less interested in Rafi Saab's popular numbers; we wished to listen to his vintage classics. I requested the announcer, whom I knew personally, and gave him a list of such songs. He promptly wrote the list of songs in Urdu and passed it on to Rafi Saab. He saw the list and announced in chaste Punjabi, "Hun aayega gaan da asli maza (Now, I will really relish the singing)." He sang, Suhani raat dhal chuki, Hum bekhudi mein tum ko pukare chale gaye, Madhuban mein radhika naache re and Din dhal jaye hai raat na jaaye, to mention a few.
The evening was followed by a banquet dinner. To my utter surprise, I saw Rafi Saab heading towards our table and humbly said in Punjabi again, "Tussi in gaanya di farmaish karke meri sham bana ditti (You made my evening by requesting for these songs)." Rafi Saab's humility touched me immensely. In fact, it was his USP.
Flashback-2: Soon after Rafi Saab's demise on July 31, 1980, I was in Bombay to do a Doordarshan feature on the generation of the 1980s. I visited a couple of colleges to record the sound bites of young boys and girls. In one such college, I saw a group of young boys with shaven heads. I was naturally curious as it was not a fad in those days. I was told that they were the greatest fans of Rafi Saab and mourning his death. This was the charisma of Mohammed Rafi.
Born to Hazi Ali Mohammed and Allah Rakhi on December 24,1924 in Kotla Sultan Singh village near Amritsar, Rafi Saab was the seventh among eight siblings. Hazi Ali had a meagre income as the family had no agricultural land. But, he was known for his culinary skills and was often asked to cater at the village marriages and other festive seasons. To support his large family, he moved to Lahore with his eldest son Mohammed Deen.
A young Rafi was left behind with the rest of the family at his native village. His father and elder brother would visit them during Eid. Later, Rafi also left for Lahore, and joined his brothers in the barber shop. But his passion for music was unabated and despite his father's opposition Rafi continued to sing. Only his elder brother, Mohammad Deen, continued to support his singing.
One day, Rafi was resting at home when he heard a fakir singing a song. Enthralled by his voice, he followed the fakir and requested him to sing again. The fakir obliged and sang a naat. Rafi heard it ardently. And, when it was Rafi's turn to sing on the fakir's request, he sang the same naat he had just heard. Fakir was impressed by this youngster's soulful rendition and blessed him saying, "Ek din teri awaz kayenaat par hukumat karegi (One day your voice will rule the world)." Those prophetic words of the fakir were to be proven true in the years to come.
One day Pt. Jiwanlal Mattoo, who was in the music department of All India Radio Lahore, was passing through Noor Mohalla when he heard Rafi singing in the barber shop. He, too, was impressed by his singing and asked Rafi to come over to the radio station the next day. Rafi auditioned and passed with flying colours. Pt. Mattoo took him to his Guru Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan Saab of Kirana Gharana to teach him. Rafi was also trained by Panditji himself and Barkat Ali Khan; he aired his first programme on Radio Lahore at the age of fourteen, becoming a household name in the city.
Thereafter, Shyam Sunder, the renowned music composer heard Rafi and promised him a break in playback singing. Rafi sang his first song for the Punjabi film, Gul Baloch: Soniye, nee heerye nee teri yaad nee sataye, under the baton of Shyam Sunder. As this number became an instant hit, Shyam Sunder used his voice in films Gaon ki Gori and Bazaar. Soon, Rafi Saab was noticed by other composers like Ghulam Hyder, Firoz Nizami and Hussan Lal Bhagat Ram, who also gave him chance as a playback singer.
Rafi always remained indebted to two persons in particular – Hameed Bhai and composer Naushad Ali. Hameed was his elder brother Mohammad Deen's friend and had become Rafi's mentor from his Lahore days, spurring him on to pursue his career as a singer. It was Hameed who eventually brought Rafi Saab to Bombay, the city of the singer's dreams.
Rafi had started singing in the mehfils of Lahore and, soon, Rafi landed an opportunity to attend one such evening soiree to showcase his talent. Kundan Lal Saigal was the super singing star in those days. He had also moved to Bombay from Calcutta. Like many singers, Saigal Saab was Rafi's role model. When he saw Saigal Saab captivating the audience in that mehfil he couldn't believe his eyes. And, Hameed's request to the organiser to allow Rafi to sing was conceded. He sang classical numbers in Raga Durbari. As the audience applauded his singing, The die was cast, and this mehfil proved to be a boon. In the meantime, Hamid managed a recommendation letter for Naushad Ali and he accompanied Rafi to meet Naushad Saab in Kardar Studio. He immediately hired Rafi and he sang in the chorus for the song Hindustan ke hum hain, Hindustan hamara hai in the film Pehle Aap (1944).
The Naushad–Rafi team became stupendous in 1946 with Anmol Ghadi. Rafi sang a solo, Tera khilona toota. In the same year, Rafi Saab's lifelong ambition was fulfilled when he sang with Saigal Saab in Shahjehan, Mere sapno ki rani, Roohi Roohi Roohi. Rafi also sang in Mela (1948), Ye zindagi ke mele. Naushad Saab also used his voice for Raj Kapoor in Andaz (1949).
In the same year, Raj Kapoor's Barsat was released. He introduced a young duo Shankar-Jaikishan as music directors. They used Mukesh's voice for Raj Kapoor. But, Rafi also sang a solo in the film, Main zindagi mein hardam rota hi raha hoon, and they made him sing in Awara (1951), Naiyya teri majdhaar. Shankar-Jaikishan used Talat Mehmood's voice for Dilip Kumar in Daag (1952). In fact, it was Naushad Saab who preferred Rafi Saab 's voice in Deedar, Aan, Amar and several other films to follow in the future. In Deedar, Rafi sang many hits. On hearing the news of Rafi Saab's death, Shammi Kapoor had said, "I have lost my voice." He sang a maximum number of 190 hits for Shammi Kapoor.
SD Burman was with Dev Anand's Navketan since its inception. He groomed Kishore Kumar and made him Dev Anand's voice and took Rafi for the first time for Nau Do Gayarah in a duet, Kali ke roop mein chali ho dhoop mein with Asha Bhosle. And, he also invited Rafi for Guru Dutt's Pyasa, where he sang two unforgettable numbers: Ye kooche yeh neelam ghar dilkashi ke and Ye duniya agar mil hi jaaye to kya hai. Rafi Saab sang 155 songs for Johnny Walker with different music directors.
Rafi was back in Navketan's Kala Pani and sang his most popular ghazal. In the 1950s and 60s, Rafi Saab became the first choice of most producers, heroes and music directors. In fact, on a producer's demand, singers were replaced even after the song had been recorded. Rafi Saab sang Chal udja re panchhi in the film Bhabhi even though composer Chitra Gupt had recorded the song in Talat Mehmood's voice. SD Burman too replaced Manna Dey in a duet with Lata, Tere bin soone nain hamare in film Meri Surat Teri Aankhein. Rafi Saab sang for all the heroes of that era including actor-singer Kishore Kumar in a couple of songs.
On July 31, Rafi Saab had no recording. He started his day with his perfunctory riyaz and breakfast. He soon felt slightly uneasy. His family members wanted to call a doctor but he didn't agree. By afternoon, his condition was deteriorating and he was taken to Hinduja Hospital. He suffered a heart attack, and was moved to Bombay Hospital, where he had three strokes in a span of five hours and was declared dead at 10:20 pm. The news of his death stunned the nation. An era had come to an end.
Rafi Saab has over million fans with countless fan clubs all over. For more than three decades, his admirers have been demanding that the Bharat Ratna be conferred on him posthumously. But, for music aficionados, Rafi Saab was a true Bharat Ratna. His timeless number, Tum mujhe yoon bhula na paoge, continues to reverberate in our hearts.