A voice never forgotten
Mohammed Rafi died 25 years ago but his voice continues to charm listeners of another generation.
ENDURING APPEAL: Mohammed Rafi
Tum mujhe yun bhoola na paoge/jab kabhi bhi sunoge geet mere/sung sung tum bhi gun gunaoge.
(You will not be able to forget me/whenever you hear my song/you will sing along with me)
NOT one of Mohammed Rafi's best songs, but it perhaps best expresses his enduring appeal. An appeal that continues 25 years after the man died on July 31, 1980.
Growing up in the 1970s with only a radio for entertainment, it was hard not to miss Rafi's voice. As you begin to search the Rafi repertoire, it is hard not to be amazed by the singer's range.
Just two films give one an idea of his versatility. Naushad's score for "Baiju Bawra" (1952) was strictly classical. The peppy Tu Ganga ki mauj was offset by the brooding Man tarpat. The breezily romantic Jhoole me pawan gave way to anguished O Duniya ke rakhwale.
Similarly in "Pyasa" (music by S.D. Burman), Rafi songs were all huge hits from the comic Sar jo tera chakraye to that ode to a dysfunctional society Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye; from love (Hum aap ki ankhon mein) to despair (Jinhe naaz hai hind par). As the mood changes from despair to anger in Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye, the listener can't help but be moved by the pain and tears in the singer's voice.
It was S.D. Burman again who chose Rafi for the three crucial songs in "Guide" at a time when the Kishore Kumar wave was sweeping everyone off its path. Rafi got Tere mere sapne; Kya se kya ho gaya and Din dhal jaaye to Kishore's one Gata rahe mera dil.
Shammi Kapoor's image as the "Junglee"-"Jaanwar"-"Budtameez" of Hindi cinema owed its very existence to Rafi's voice. Even while "yahooing" across the silver screen, melody was never very far away Hum aur tum aur ye sama ("Dil Dekhe deko"); Is rang badalti duniya mein ("Rajkumar").
Rafi was born in Kotla Sultansingh (now in Pakistan) and landed in Bombay via the Lahore film industry. After Partition, he stayed on in India convinced that his future was here. How right he was! In a few years his career had soared and he had sung for all the major heroes and some not so major ones.
Whether it was Rajendra Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Biswajeet to the latter day Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, and even Rishi Kapoor, all lip synced to Rafi's voice.
Rafi's love songs traversed the highs and lows of that fickle emotion Suhani raat dhal chuki ("Dulari"); Akele hain chale ao ("Raaz"); Baharon phool barsao ("Suraj"); Ae husn zara jaag ("Mere Mehboob"); Jaag dil e deewana (Unche Log); Main yeh sochkar ("Haqeeqat").
Some were absolute godsends to roadside Romeos all over the country Chupnewale samne aa ("Tumsa Nahin Dekha"); Deewane ka naam to poocho ("An Evening in Paris"); Badan pe sitare ("Prince"), Lal chadi maidan khadi ("Janwar").
It was Rafi who sang what is perhaps the least inoffensive of double entendres in Hindi film songs Apni to har aah ek toofan hai ("Kala Bazaar"). Listen to the mischievous emphasis on "uparwala jaan kar anjaan hai" as a debonair Dev Anand serenaded Waheeda Rahman.
When he entered the field, singers like Talat Mehmood and Mukesh, though great in their own way, had been typecast. Along came Rafi who could sing at any pitch or mood that the composer wanted.
At the height of the Kishore wave, O.P. Nayyar is reputed to have said, "Just give me one song and I'll put an end to this nonsense they're saying about Rafi." Listen to Tumse kahoon ek baat ("Dastak") or the Tumhari zulf ke saye ("Naunihal"), Tum jo mil gaye ho ("Hanste Zakhm") to understand the composer's unshaken belief in the singer, though Madan Mohan tuned these songs. Rafi's various songs for Nayar include the flirtatious Sun sun sun zalima ("Aar Paar"); Taarif karoon kya uski ("Kashmir ki Kali"); Aeji dil par hua aisa jadoo ("Mr. And Mrs. 55"); Aap ke haseen rukh par ("Baharen phir bhi ayengi").
Rafi's voice evokes myriad emotions in the listener Dekhi zamaane ki yaari ("Kagaz ke Phool"); Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon ("Lal Qila"); Duniya na bhaye ("Basant Bahar") may leave you down in the dumps but Khoya khoya chand ("Kala Bazaar"); Jawaniyan ye ("Tumsa Nahin Dekha") can lift the depression.
Feeling patriotic? Then listen to Ab tumhare hawale watan ("Haqeeqat"); Aye watan ("Shaheed") or Jahan daal daal par ("Sikander-e-azam"). A philosophical mood pervades Man re tu kahe na ("Chitralekha").
While Rafi is well known for his film songs, his non-film songs too are equally melodious. The best known are probably Paanv padu tore shyaam and Gazab kiya tere waade, but others like Shaam ke deepak jale; Do ghadi baitho and Kya yaad tumhe hum aayenge are as captivating.
Rafi would have been a great singer at any point of time but he was fortunate to enter Hindi films when music reigned supreme, when films ran on the strength of their music, when great composers and lyricists were falling over each other to make music.
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