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Mohammed Rafi (24 December 1924 – 31 July 1980) was an Indian playback singer. One of the most popular singers of the Hindi film industry, Rafi was notable for his versatility; his songs ranged from classical numbers to patriotic songs, sad lamentations to highly romantic numbers, qawwalis to ghazals and bhajans. He was known for his ability to mould his voice to the persona of the actor, lip-synching the song. Between 1950 and 1970, Rafi was the most sought after singer in the Hindi film industry. He received six Filmfare Awards and one National Film Award. In 1967, he was honoured with the Padma Shri award by the Government of India. Rafi is primarily noted for his songs in Hindi, over which he had a strong command. He sang in other Indian languages including Assamese, Konkani, Bhojpuri, Odia, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Sindhi, Kannada, Gujarati, Telugu, Magahi, Maithili and Urdu. Apart from Indian languages, he also sang songs in English, Persian, Spanish, and Dutch.
Mohammed Rafi was the second oldest of six brothers born to Hajji Ali Mohammad. The family originally belonged to Kotla Sultan Singh, a village near present-day Amritsar in Punjab, India. Rafi, whose nickname was Pheeko, began singing by imitating the chants of a fakir in the streets of his native village Kotla Sultan Singh where his family lived. Rafi’s father moved to Lahore in 1935, where he ran a men’s salon in Noor Mohalla in Bhatti Gate. His elder brother, Mohammad Deen, had a friend, Abdul Hameed, (future brother-in-law), who recognised the talent in Rafi in Lahore and encouraged him to sing. Abdul Hameed later convinced the family elders to let Rafi move to Mumbai; he accompanied him in 1944. Rafi learnt classical music from Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwan Lal Mattoo and Firoze Nizami. His first public performance came at the age of 13, when he sang in Lahore featuring K. L. Saigal. In 1941, Rafi, under Shyam Sundar, made his debut in Lahore as a playback singer in the duet “Soniye Nee, Heeriye Nee” with Zeenat Begum in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (released in 1944). In that same year, Rafi was invited by All India Radio Lahore station to sing for them. He made his Hindi film debut in Gaon Ki Gori in 1945.
Bombay (1944 to 1947)
In 1944, Rafi moved to Bombay. He and Hameed Sahab rented a ten-by-ten-foot room in the crowded downtown Bhendi Bazar area. Poet Tanvir Naqvi introduced him to film producers including Abdur Rashid Kardar, Mehboob Khan and actor-director Nazeer. Shyam Sunder was in Mumbai and provided the opportunity to Rafi to sing a duet with G. M. Durrani, “Aji dil ho qaabu mein to dildar ki aisi taisi…,” for Gaon Ki Gori, which became Rafi’s first recorded song in a Hindi film. Other songs followed. Rafi’s first song with Naushad was “Hindustan Ke Hum Hain” with Shyam Kumar, Alauddin and others, from A. R. Kardar’s Pehle Aap (1944). Around the same time, Rafi recorded another song for the 1945 film Gaon Ki Gori, “Aji Dil Ho Kaaboo Mein”. He considered this song his first Hindi language song. Rafi appeared in two movies. In 1945, he appeared on the screen for the song “Tera Jalwa Jis Ne Dekha” in the film Laila Majnu. He sang a number of songs for Naushad as part of the chorus, including “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani, Roohi Roohi” with K. L. Saigal from the film Shahjahan (1946). Rafi sang “Tera Khilona Toota Balak” from Mehboob Khan’s Anmol Ghadi (1946) and a duet with Noor Jehan in the 1947 film Jugnu, “Yahan Badla Wafa Ka”. After partition, Rafi decided to stay back in India and had the rest of his family flown to Mumbai. Noor Jehan migrated to Pakistan and made a pair with playback singer Ahmed Rushdi. In 1949, Rafi was given solo songs by music directors such as Naushad (Chandni Raat, Dillagi and Dulari) Shyam Sunder (Bazaar) and Husnalal Bhagatram (Meena Bazaar). Besides K. L. Saigal, whom he considered his idol, Rafi was also influenced by G. M. Durrani. In the early phase of his career, he often followed Durrani’s style of singing, but later evolved with his own, unique style. He sang with Durrani in some of the songs such as “Humko Hanste Dekh Zamana Jalta Hai” and “Khabar Kisi Ko Nahiin, Woh Kidhar Dekhte” (Beqasoor, 1950). In 1948, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the team of Husanlal Bhagatram-Rajendra Krishan-Rafi had overnight created the song “Suno Suno Ae Duniyawalon, Bapuji Ki Amar Kahani”. He was invited by the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to sing at his house. In 1948, Rafi received a silver medal from Jawaharlal Nehru on Indian Independence Day.
Recording career in the 1950s and 1960s
In his early career, Rafi associated with many contemporary music directors, most notably Naushad Ali. In the late 1950s and 1960s, he worked with other composers of the era such as O. P. Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan, S.D. Burman and Roshan.
Association with Naushad
As per Naushad, Rafi came to him with a letter of recommendation from Naushad’s father. Rafi’s first song for Naushad was “Hindustan Ke Hum Hain” (“We belong to Hindustan”) for the film Pehle Aap in 1944. The first song for the duo was the soundtrack of the movie Anmol Ghadi (1946). Before Rafi, Naushad’s favorite singer was Talat Mahmood. Once Naushad found Talat smoking during a recording. He was annoyed and hired Rafi to sing all the songs of the movie Baiju Bawra. Rafi’s association with Naushad helped the former establish himself as one of the most prominent playback singers in Hindi cinema. Songs from Baiju Bawra (1952) like “O duniya ke rakhwale” and “Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj” furthered Rafi’s credentials. Rafi ended up singing a total of 149 songs (81 of them solo) for Naushad. In the 1960 film Mughal-E-Azam, Mohammed Rafi sang “Ae Mohabbat Zindabad”, composed by Naushad, with a chorus of 100 singers.
Association with S D Burman
S.D.Burman used Rafi as a singing voice of Dev Anand and Guru Dutt. Rafi worked with Burman in 37 movies, including Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Kala Bazar, Nau Do Gyaran, Kala Pani Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), Guide (1965), Aradhana (1969), and Abhimaan (1973).
Association with Shankar-Jaikishan
Rafi’s partnership with Shankar Jaikishan was among the most famous and successful in the Hindi film industry. Under Shankar-Jaikishan, Rafi produced some of his songs for actors like Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar. Out of six Filmfare awards, Rafi won three for S-J songs — “Teri Pyari Pyari Surat Ko”, “Baharon Phool Barsao”, and “Dil Ke Jharokhe Mein”. The song “Yahoo! Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe” was sung by Rafi, only to be matched a fast-paced orchestra and a composition by Shankar Jaikishan. S-J made Rafi give playback for Kishore Kumar in the film Shararat (“Ajab hai daastan teri yeh zindagi”). Rafi sang a total of 341 numbers (216 solo) for Shankar-Jaikishan. Among the films of this combination are Basant Bahar, Professor, Junglee, Suraj, Brahmachari, An Evening in Paris, Dil Tera Deewana, Yakeen, Prince, Love in Tokyo, Beti Bete, Dil Ek Mandir, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Gaban and Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai.
Association with Ravi
Rafi got his first Filmfare Award for the title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), composed by Ravi. He received National Award for the song “Babul Ki Duaen Leti Ja” from the film Neel Kamal (1968), also composed by Ravi. Rafi wept during the recording of this song. He admitted this in his interview to the BBC in 1977. Ravi and Rafi produced several other songs in the films China Town (1962), Kaajal (1965), and Do Badan (1966).
Association with Madan Mohan
Madan Mohan was another composer whose favorite singer was Rafi. Rafi’s first solo with Madan Mohan in Ankhen (1950) was “Hum Ishq Mein Barbad Hain Barbad Rahenge”. They teamed up to produce many songs including “Teri Aankhon Ke Siva”, “Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil”, “Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho” and “Kar Chale Hum Fida”.
Association with O. P. Nayyar
Rafi and O. P. Nayyar (OP) created music in the 1950s and 1960s. O. P. Nayyar was once quoted as saying “If there had been no Mohd. Rafi, there would have been no O. P. Nayyar”. He and Rafi created many songs together including “Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan”. He got Rafi to sing for singer-actor Kishore Kumar – “Man Mora Baawara” for the movie Raagini. Later, Rafi sang for Kishore Kumar in movies such as Baaghi, Shehzaada and Shararat. O. P. Nayyar used Rafi and Asha Bhosle for most of his songs. The team created many songs in early 1950s and 1960s for movies such as Naya Daur (1957), Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957), and Kashmir Ki Kali (1964). Rafi sang a total of 197 numbers (56 solo) for Nayyar. The songs “Jawaaniyan yeh mast mast” and the title song “Yun to humne lakh hansee dekhe hain, tumsa nahin dekha” of the film Tumsa Nahin Dekha were hits. They were followed by songs like “Taareef karoon kya uski jisne tumhe banaya” from Kashmir ki Kali. Rafi and OP had a fallout during the recording for movie “Sawan ki Ghata”. As disclosed by OP during one of his interviews; Rafi reported late to the recording stating that he was stuck in Shankar Jaikishan’s recording. OP then stated that from now on he too did not have the time for Rafi and cancelled the recording. They did not work together for the next 3 years.
Association with Laxmikant-Pyarelal
The composer duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal (L-P) patronized Rafi as one of their singers, right from their very first song by him from the film, Chaila Babu-1967. Rafi honoured the affection and commitment of the duo by accepting no payment for the song “Tere pyaar ne mujhe gham diya” . Rafi and L-P won the Filmfare Awards for the song “Chahoonga Main Tujhe Saanjh Savere” from Dosti (1964). Rafi rendered the maximum number of songs for the music director duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal: 369 numbers (186 solo) for L-P. Once, when composer Nisar Bazmi (who had migrated to Pakistan) didn’t have enough money to pay him, Rafi charged a fee of one rupee and sang for him. He also helped producers financially. As Laxmikant (of the Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo) once observed – “He always gave without thinking of the returns”.
Association with his Contemporary Singers
Rafi associated with several of his contemporaries, singing duets with them and sometimes for them (as in case of Kishore Kumar who was also an actor). Rafi sang the maximum number of duets with Asha Bhonsle (female), Manna Dey (male) and Lata Mangeshkar (female). In the song “Humko Tumse Ho Gaya Hai Pyaar Kya Karein” (Amar, Akbar, Anthony), Rafi sang with Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh,the most legendary singers in Bollywood – all in one song. This was probably the only time that all of them rendered their voices for one song.
Singing career in other languages
Rafi sang several hit songs in Chris Perry’s Konkani album Golden Hits with Lorna Cordeiro. Rafi recorded two Hindi songs in English on 7″ release in 1968. He also sang a song in Creole while on his visit to Mauritius in the late 1960s. Rafi recorded two English albums as well. One of them is Pop Hits.
In 1962-1963, the popular female playback singer Lata Mangeshkar raised the issue of playback singers’ share in the royalties. Recognizing Rafi’s position as the leading male playback singer, she wanted him to back her in demanding a half-share from the 5 percent song royalty that the film’s producer conceded to select composers. Lata’s contention was that, there was no way producers and music directors could deny this singing duo, the royalty. Rafi stated that his claim on the filmmaker ended with his being paid his agreed fee for the song. After that, if the film proved a hit, the filmmaker was welcome to keep the Gramco (HMV) royalty he earned from it. If it did not prove to be a hit, argued Rafi, that he had already been paid the same fees for his song; so later the situation is resolved. Rafi stated that it is the producer who bets the money and the composer who creates the song, so his claim to the contribution of the song is compensated when the fees are paid. Lata viewed his stand as a stumbling block on the royalty issue and stated that it is because of the singer’s name also that the records get sold. This difference of opinion subsequently led to differences between the two. During the recording of “Tasveer Teri Dil Mein” (Maya, 1961), Lata argued with Rafi over a certain passage of the song. Rafi felt belittled, as music director Salil Chowdhury sided with Lata. The situation worsened when Lata declared that she would no longer sing with Rafi. Rafi stated that he was only so keen to sing with Lata as she was with him. The music director Jaikishan later negotiated a reconciliation between the two.
In early 1970s, Rafi recorded fewer songs. At the same period Kishore Kumar’s popularity increased due to the songs he sang for the film Aradhana. The music for Aradhana was composed by S. D. Burman, and he had used Rafi as the male playback voice for the first two recorded duets, “Baaghon Mein Bahaar Hai” and “Gunguna Rahen Hain Bhanwre”. After these two recordings, S. D. Burman fell ill and his son and assistant, R.D. Burman, took over the recordings. R. D. Burman got Kishore Kumar to sing the solos “Roop Tera Mastana” and “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani”. During 1971-1973, Rafi’s musical output decreased; however, he did sing several songs. Some of Rafi’s songs of the early 1970s were with music directors like Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Madan Mohan, R.D. Burman and S. D. Burman. These include “Tum Mujhe Yun Bhula Na Paoge” (a signature song of Rafi in 1971) from Pagla Kahin Ka; “Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil” from Heer Ranjha (1970); “Kaan Mein Jhumka” from Sawan Bhadon; “Jhilmil Sitaron ka” from Jeevan Mrityu (a duet with Lata Mangeshkar, 1970); “Gulabi Aankhen” from The Train (1970); “Yunhi Tum Mujhse Baat” from Sachaa Jhutha; “Yeh Jo Chilman Hain” and “Itna to Yaad Hain Mujhe” from Mehboob Ki Mehndi (1971); “Mera Mann Tera Pyasa” Gambler; “Chalo Dildar Chalo” from 1972 released Pakeezah; “Chura Liya Hai Tumne” from Yaadon Ki Baarat (a duet with Asha Bhosle, 1973); “Na Tu Zameen Ke Liye” from 1973 released Dilip Kumar movie Dastan; “Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho” from Hanste Zakhm (1973); “Teri Bindiya Re”, from Abhimaan (1973) and “Aaj Mausam Bada Beimaan Hai” from Loafer (1973).
Rafi made a comeback as a leading singer in 1974. That year, he won the Film World magazine Best Singer Award for the song “Teree Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Qadam Aaj Ke Baad” (Hawas, 1974) composed by Usha Khanna. In 1977, he won both Filmfare Award and the National Award for the song “Kya Hua Tera Wada” from the movie Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, composed by R.D. Burman. Rafi sang for Rishi Kapoor in films like Laila Majnu (for which music was given by two composers Madan Mohan, and after his death by Jaidev), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Sargam (1979) and Karz (1980). The qawwali “Pardah Hai Pardah” from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) was a superhit. Rafi’s notable renderings in the late 1970s and early 1980s include Bairaag (1976), Laila Majnu (1976), Apnapan (1978), Suhaag (1979), Qurbani, Dostana (1980), The Burning Train (1980), Naseeb (1981), Abdullah (1980), Shaan (1980), Aasha (1980), Aap To Aise Na The (1980), and Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1982). In December 1979, Rafi recorded six songs for the Hindi remake of Dilip Sen’s Bengali superhit Sorry Madam; the film was never completed due to a personal tragedy in Dilip Sen’s life. These songs, written by Kafeel Aazar and composed by Chitragupta, were released digitally in December 2009 by the label Silk Road under the title “The Last Songs”. The physical album was released only in India by Universal.
Guinness World Records controversy
During his last years, Rafi was involved in a controversy over Lata Mangeshkar’s entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. In a letter dated 11 June 1977 to the Guinness Book of World Records, Rafi had challenged the claim that Lata Mangeshkar has recorded the maximum number of songs (“not less than 25,000” according to Guinness). After receiving a reply from Guinness, in a letter dated 20 November 1979, he wrote, “I am disappointed that my request for a reassessment vis-a-vis Ms Mangeshkar’s reported world record has gone unheeded.” In an interview to BBC recorded in November 1977, Rafi claimed to have sung 25,000 to 26,000 songs till then. After Rafi’s death, in its 1984 edition, the Guinness Book of World Records gave Lata Mangeshkar’s name for the “Most Recordings” and stated, “Mohammad Rafi (d 1 August 1980) [sic] claimed to have recorded 28,000 songs in 11 Indian languages between 1944 and April 1980.” According to the available figures, Rafi has sung 4,516 Hindi film songs, 112 non-Hindi film songs, and 328 private (non-film) songs from 1945 to 1980. The Guinness Book entries for Rafi and Lata were removed in 1991. In 2011, Lata’s sister Asha Bhosle was given the title.
Mohammed Rafi died at 10:25 PM on 31 July 1980, following a massive heart attack. His last song was for the movie Aas Paas, which he had recorded with Laxmikant-Pyarelal. According to one source, the song was “Shaam Phir Kyun Udaas Hai Dost / Tu Kahin Aas Paas Hai Dost”. Another source says that the song was a duet with Lata Mangeshkar: “Shehr mein charcha hai, Yeh duniya kehti hai”. Rafi was buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery. His was one of the biggest funeral processions Mumbai had ever witnessed, with over 10,000 people attending. The government of India announced a two-day public holiday in honour of him. In 2010, Rafi’s tomb was demolished to make space for new burials. Fans of Mohammed Rafi, who visit his tomb twice a year to mark his birth and death anniversaries, use the coconut tree that is nearest his grave as a marker.
Singers like Shabbir Kumar, Mohammed Aziz and Sonu Nigam were influenced by Rafi’s style of singing. Anwar (singer) also imitated Rafi’s voice. On 22 September 2007, a shrine to Rafi designed by artist Tasawar Bashir was unveiled on Fazeley Street, Birmingham, UK. Bashir is hoping that Rafi will attain sainthood as a result. The Padma Shri Mohammed Rafi Chowk in the Bandra suburb of Mumbai and Pune (extending MG Road) is named after Rafi. In the summer of 2008, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra released a double CD titled Rafi Resurrected comprising 16 songs by Rafi. Bollywood playback singer Sonu Nigam provided the vocals for this project and toured with the CBSO in July 2008 at venues including the English National Opera in London, Manchester’s Apollo Theatre and Symphony Hall, Birmingham. In June 2010, Rafi along with Lata Mangeshkar was voted the most popular playback singer in the Outlook Music Poll, conducted by Outlook magazine. The same poll voted “Man re, tu kahe na Dheer Dhare” (Chitralekha, 1964), sung by Rafi as the #1 song. Three songs were tied for the #2 place: Two were sung by Rafi. The songs were “Tere Mere Sapne Ab Ek Rang Hain” (Guide, 1965) and “Din Dhal Jaye, hai raat na jaye” (Guide, 1965). This poll was published in Outlook. The jury included people in the Indian music industry: Abhijeet, Adesh Srivastava, Alisha Chinai, Anu Malik, Ehsaan, Gulzar, Hariharan, Himesh Reshammiya, Jatin, Javed Akhtar, Kailash Kher, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Khayyam, Kumar Sanu, Lalit, Loy, Mahalaxmi Iyer, Mahendra Kapoor, Manna Dey, Prasoon Joshi, Rajesh Roshan, Sadhna Sargam, Sameer, Sandesh Shandilya, Shaan, Shankar, Shantanu Moitra, Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam and Talat Aziz. In an article in Times of India, Rafi is described as “a versatile singer, who could render classical, rock and roll, indeed any kind of song with ease, he was Hindi film’s, favourite male voice through the 1950s and 1960s”. Music director Rajesh Roshan, who composed some of the songs with Rafi, remembers him as “a warm-hearted simple person with no ego”. There have been appeals to the Government of India to honour the singer, posthumously, with the Bharat Ratna (India’s Highest Civilian Award) Classical and playback singer Manna Dey, who was also a contemporary of Rafi said, “Rafi and I could sing everything, and he was such a gentleman. He was a better singer than me, and I will say this – that no one came even close to him! He deserved everything he got! We had a great understanding and it was never about one-upmanship”. Veteran actor Shammi Kapoor said, “I am incomplete without Mohammad Rafi. I used to often go for the recording of my song, which was sung by Mohammad Rafi, only because I used to like telling him how I would perform on this song on screen so that he can sing it that way. Even he liked my involvement”. Over 9,000 musical tributes were organized in July 2011 commemorating the 31st anniversary of the singer’s death. A documentary about Rafi’s life is under production by the Films Division of India. Rafi’s Baharon Phool Barsao was voted the most popular Hindi song in a BBC Asia Network poll commemorating 100 years of Hindi Cinema. In a CNN-IBN survey in 2013, he was voted the greatest voice of Hindi Cinema.
Mohammed Rafi Academy was launched in Mumbai on 31 July 2010 on the 30th anniversary of the singer’s death, started by his son Sahid Rafi to impart training in Indian classical and contemporary music. After his death, seven Hindi movies were dedicated to Rafi: Allah Rakha, Mard, Coolie, Desh-Premee, Naseeb, Aas-Paas and Heeralal-Pannalal. Rafi is one of the recording artists mentioned in the 1997 hit British alternative rock song “Brimful of Asha” by Cornershop. Rafi’s song from the film Gumnaam (1965), “Jaan Pehechan Ho”, was used on the soundtrack of Ghost World (2001). The film opens with the lead character dancing around in her bedroom to a video of Gumnaam. The song has also been used for Heineken’s 2011 “The Date” commercial. His “Aaj Mausam Bada Beiman Hai” is featured in the 2001 film Monsoon Wedding. His “Kya Mil Gaya” (Sasural, 1961) has been used in The Guru (2002), where Ramu and Sharonna sing a version of the song. His song “Mera Man Tera Pyasa” (Gambler, 1970) has been used as one of the soundtracks in the Jim Carrey-Kate Winslet starrer Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). This song is played in the background in Kate Winslet’s character’s home while the lead pair are having a drink (at approximately 00.11.14 runtime).
Rafi married twice; his first marriage was to his cousin; Bashira and took place in his ancestral village. The marriage ended when his first wife refused to live in India following the killing of her parents during the riots of Partition of India and moved to Lahore, Pakistan. Rafi had four sons and three daughters; his first son Saeed was from his first marriage. He was very much a family man, following a recording-room, to home and to recording-room itinerary. He rarely attended film parties, did not smoke or drink, was religious, and was considered a humble man. He used to perform his riyaz (musical practice) regularly. His only indulgences were playing carom, badminton, and flying kites.