As a schoolboy cricketer, Imran Khan had a Kenya born Indian friend named Rabi Mehta who went on to become a NASA Engineer and also a researcher on cricket ball aerodynamics. Mehta would often find tape recorder missing from his room and invariably found in Imran’s room- with the to be iconic captain and allrounder listening to mellifluous Mohd Rafi on repeat.
This is just an illustrative example of the charisma of Rafi, who even today is a nationwide craze. Just imagine, in his birth and death anniversary on 24th December and 31st July as many as 650 to 700 Rafi Nites are held throughout the country. Simply amazing
The Beginnings . Nicknamed Pheeko, Rafi started singing in his village as an imitation of a Fakirs chants. Later the family shifted to Lahore where his Dad had a men’s salon. A well wisher was convinced of his singing ability and he shifted to Bombay just out of teens. What a wonderful decision it was. The world became richer.
Lucky Break. Rafi and his brother Hamid had once gone to attend a KL Saigal musical evening when the power went off. Saigal refused to sing without the power. Hamid persuaded the organisers to give Rafi a chance to sing to keep the audience occupied. He did so and they enjoyed a lot. In the audience was music director and composer Shyam Sundar who liked his song so much that he gave him a break to sing in films at 20. This was 1944.
The Costly Cigarette. Naushad Saab took a giant step 8 years later. His favorite singer was still Talat Mehmood. However he saw Talat smoking and he got infuriated as that was something he hated. The result was that he gave songs of Baiju Bawra to Rafi. Two of Rafi’s most iconic songs “O Duniya ke Rakhwaale” based on Raag Darbari and “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan ko Aaj” based on Raag Malkauns were from this movie. Baiju Bawra established Rafi as Number 1 singer from 1952 to 1969 when Kishore Dada floored the country after Aradhana to occupy numero uno spot permanently
More on Rafi and Naushad. Rafi sang as many as 149 songs for Naushaad including 81 solo songs. Theirs was a magical pair. Naushad was also responsible for Rafi regaining his confidence when he was very low with the nation was swaying to Mere Sapnon ki rani and Roop tera mastana of Kishore.
On hearing unknown nondescript people dictating terms to Rafi Naushad gave him back his confidence by telling him;
“Never ever forget that you are Mohammed Rafi, a performer whose seasoning, by now, far exceeds that of any male singer in the industry. Always remember, Rafi, that the singer you identify as your rival, now, has no classical background at all. So how possibly could he be competition to you, Rafi? Go back, confident like before, to the recording room. Just sing like my Rafi always did.”
Not only did Naushad say this but he also gave him a song based on a Bhairavi classic which helped Rafi regain his confidence. Simultaneously Saawan Kumar and Usha Khanna song “Teri Galiyon mein naa rakhenge sanam aaj ke baad” was released which brought Rafi back with a bang.
Rafi’s greatness as a singer is apparent from the fact that he was huge despite probably not getting his due from greats like RD, Anil Biswas, C Ramchandra and Salil Chowdhury. Yet, he still shone. Ironically, the same RD gave him his iconic song “Kya Hua tera vaada” which won him the National Award.
Rafi’s versatility. There is often a misconception that Rafi was limited to particular type of songs unlike the versatile Kishore. On the contrary, Rafi was as versatile as Kishore himself and in fact maybe had a slight edge due to his classical and technical finesse. In Muqaddar ka Sikandar the sad version of “Zindagi toh bewafa hai” was given to Rafi as it was felt he would convey the pathos better and make a striking contrast with the Exuberance of Kishore in the same song.
Not just sad songs, be it Bhajans, or quawallis or patriotic songs or romantic numbers, Rafi’s versatility was second to none.
This great singer breathed his last on 31st July 1980 at exactly 10.25 PM. Till today in the several hundreds of shows that take place to honour him throughout the country, at 1025 PM the audience rises in silence in memory of this wonderful singer and wonderful human being.
This blog is inspired by the following song from the Sunny-Sunjay starrer Kroadh where Amitabh Bachchan (or rather Mohd Aziz in playback) sings —
Na fankar tujhsa Tere bad aaya,Na fankar tujhsa, Tere bad aaya
Mohammed rafi tu Bahot yaad aaya,Mohammed rafi tu Bahot yaad aaya
We will always remember you Rafi Saab. You are immortal.
Rafi Part 2 coming up soon; Thanks