31st July happens to be the 40th death anniversary of Mohammed Rafi. Here is a look at some of the things not many people may know about the legendary singer.
Rafi was the second of six sons born to Haji Ali Mohammad. The family belonged to Amritsar. His nickname was Pheeko. He made his debut in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (1944). Shyam Sunder was the music director.
Rafi made his Hindi film debut in Gaon Ki Gori in 1945. When he moved to Mumbai, he initially lived in the Bhendi Bazaar area. He was a chorus singer in the movie Shahjahan (1946) that featured the then tragedy king (Devdas) KL Saigal. Rafi then got an opportunity to sing in Anmol Ghadi (1946), a Mehboob Khan film that starred Surendra, Noor Jehan and Suraiyya.
It was only in 1949 that Rafi began getting solos (Dillagi, Dulari, Chandni Raat, Meena Bazaar).
Rafi was greatly inspired by KL Saigal and GM Durrani. After Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, Rafi teamed up with Husanlal Bhagatram and Rajendra Krishan to create the song “Suno Suno Ae Duniyawalon Bapuji Ki Amar Kahani”. India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited Rafi to his house to sing.
Rafi worked with many music directors (including the lesser known ones) such as Naushad, SD Burman, RD Burman, Roshan, Sardar Malik, Sapan Jagmohan, Sonik Omi, OP Nayyar, Chitragupt, Shankar Jaikishan, Kalyanji Anandji, Jaidev and Lakshmikant Pyarelal.
Rafi shared a special rapport with Usha Khanna – one of the first female music directors in Bollywood. He sang for her the songs of Dil Deke Dekho (1959). Fifteen years later, when Rafi sang for her in Hawas (“Teri galiyon Mein Na Aayenge Sanam”), Ms Khanna wasn’t too happy about a few nuances in his singing but felt inhibited to say so to the singer. When Rafi came to know this, he was upset and gently chided Usha Khanna, reminding her that as a music director she had every right to correct him. Such was the humility of the legend!
No other playback singer has mentored so many other singers as Rafi has had. Mahendra Kapoor was always proud of the fact that he was Rafi’s protégé. Usha Timothy, Suman Kalyanpur, Kamal Barot and Sudha Malhotra were singers with whom Rafi shared a great rapport. Ironically, Lata Mangeshkar is the only playback singer with whom he had a huge tiff – the scar that it left in his soul was immense. Rafi was at ease singing with Sulakshana Pandit (“Sona Re Tujhe Kaise Miloon” from the 1978 film Aankhon Dekhi) and with music director Shankar’s protégé Sharda.
When the Lata-Rafi team broke up, it was Suman Kalyanpur who benefited the most. In the 1966 release Mamta, there were two versions of the immortal song – “Rahen Na Rahen Hum Mehka Karenge” – one sung by Lata and the other a duet by Rafi and Suman. Among the many gems that Rafi and Suman co-created is (Jab Se Hum Tum Baharon Mein – from the 1962 release Main Shaadi Karne Chala that starred IS Johar and Saeeda Khan in the lead with Feroze Khan, Tabassum, Mumtaz and Parveen Choudhury forming part of the supporting cast). Produced by Wadia brothers and directed by Roop K Shorey, the film—a rib-tickling comedy—was a moderate success at the box office. Chitragupta was the music director.
The 1952 release Baiju Bawra established the careers of music director Naushad, actress Meena Kumari, actor Bharat Bhushan and singer Rafi. The heart-rending tale of Baiju who challenges the court singer Tansen to avenge his father’s death was a golden jubilee hit.
Rafi was the voice of Dev Anand until the actor took a special liking to Kishore Kumar. Unfortunately, music director Jaidev’s wavelength did not match with that of the Anand brothers and so Bollywood lost a great talent. Jaidev never composed music for the Anands after the 1961 release Hum Dono. (Rafi’s songs “Abhi Na Jao Chhodkar” and “Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya”) need no introduction.
Rafi and Hemant Kumar were the voices of Guru Dutt. Rafi shared a great rapport with SD Burman due to which even in an era when Kishore Kumar reigned as the king in playback singing, Burman never forgot to give Rafi what he deserved (Aradhana, Abhimaan). RD Burman had a distinct bias towards Kishore but he did use Rafi for Yaadon Ki Baraat the 1973 box-office hit directed by Nasir Hussain that gave a new lease of life to Zeenat Aman’s fledgling career in Bollywood.
Shammi Kapoor and Rafi created magic on screen. Rafi would put himself in the shoes of Kapoor when he sang for him. Kapoor would diligently visit the recordings of his songs by Rafi.
In the film Shararat Rafi gave his voice to Kishore Kumar on screen! But the film tanked at the box-office.
Rafi also sang for Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Biswajeet, Navin Nischol, Shashi Kapoor and Manoj Kumar. Contrary to what the media keeps writing, Rafi produced some of his best songs even after 1969 when Kishore Kumar was riding high on the success of Aradhana. That Rajesh Khanna favoured Kishore Kumar over Rafi was a kind of a blow to Rafi but he accepted it with grace.
His song – “Apni Aankhon Mein Basakar” for the 1974 release Thokar is a case in point. The film was a B-grade venture starring Baldev Kosa (actor turned politician and Sunil Dutt’s cousin), Shiv Kumar and Alka and the music was composed by Shyamji-Ghanshyamji. This is an example of how humility won and Rafi never allowed the ignominy of being ignored by a superstar come in the way of his singing.
(This is first part of a three-part series)
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)