Magic in every note rendered

MELLIFLUOUS

Magic in every note rendered

 Man with a golden voice: Mohammed RafiRafi was gifted with a voice that spelt magic in every song rendered — sad or happy, slow paced or fast, modern or classical. He recorded 4,856 film and non-film songs during his 36-year career as a playback singer. He died in 1980. He was 56. The last song he sung was Shaam phir kyun udaas hai dost for the film, Aas Paas, under the baton of Laxmikant-Pyarelal.

Versatile

Although he was known to reserve his best for Naushad, one of his best performances was Dekhee zamane ki yari bichade sabhi, bichde sabhi, bari bari, Matlab ki duniya hai saree bichde sabhi, bichade sabhi, bari bari, the Kaifi Azmi poem composed by S D Burman (who used him sparingly) for Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa. Someone once said, “If there are 101 ways of saying ‘I love you’ in a song, Mohammed Rafi knew them all. The awkwardness of puppy love, the friskiness of teen romance, the philosophy of unrequited love, and the anguish of heartbreak — he could explore every crevice of ardour. It wasn’t just love; his voice could capture the navrasas of life — a failed poet’s melancholy, a fiery unionist’s vim and a debt-ridden farmer’s despair. Rafi, whose career spanned nearly four decades, was a singer for every season and every reason.”

Rafi was generally a mild-mannered person who never crossed swords with anyone in Bollywood, though there is the infamous face off with Lata Mangeshkar. His first playback was in a Punjabi film, Gul Baloch (1941), a duet with Zeenat Begum under music director Shyam Sunder. He then blossomed as a singer with each successive film including Bazaar, Meena Bazaar, Dulari, Dillagi and Chandni Raat.

His first grand success came in the form of an invite from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to recreate the magic of Suno suno ae duniya wallon Bapuji ki amar kahani, a Rajinder Krishan song set to music by Husanlal Bhagatram, in his presence. And although Rafi lent his incomparable voice to countless film solos and duets under the baton of almost all the big music directors of his time, his memorable songs are with Naushad (68 duets, 81 solos) and Shankar Jaikishan.

While the 1949 song, Suhani raat dhal chuki, brought him at par with other stalwarts of that time, his major breakthrough came with Baiju Bawra (1952), in which Naushad opted for him in place of Talat Mahmood. Man tadpat hari darshan to aaj and O duniya ke rakhwale sun dard bhare mere naale still remind us of his golden voice. And although he sang for almost all the major heroes of his time, his voice seemed to suit Dilip Kumar’s melancholy numbers as perfectly as the boisterous ones picturised on Shammi Kapoor, especially when the music was composed by Shankar Jaikishan. Rafi was also know as Shammi’s voice.

A look at Rafi’s range is proof enough that he was an extremely versatile singer — Insaaf ka mandir hai yeh picturised on Dilip Kumar (Amar — Naushad); Yeh mahalon yet takhaton yeh taajon ki duniya featured Guru Dutt (Kagaz ke Phool — S D Burman), Teri pyari pyari surat ko, and Baharon phool barsaao picturised on Rajendra Kumar (Sasural, Suraj —Shankar Jaikishan), Khoya khoya chand and Kya se kya ho gaya filmed on Dev Anand (Kala Bazaar, Guide — S D Burman), Dil ke jharokhe mein tujh ko bitha kar and Chahay koi mujhe junglee kahe featuring Shammi Kapoor (Brahmachari, Junglee — Shankar Jaikishan), Mein zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya showcasing Dev Anand (Hum Dono — Jaidev) and Zindagi bhar na bhulegi yeh barsaat ki raat featuring Bharat Bhushan (Barsaat ki Raat, Roshan Lal).

In his distinguished career, Mohammed Rafi won five national and six Filmfare awards for best singer. He was bestowed with Padma Shri in 1967. Once, he had a showdown with Lata Mangeshkar on the issue of royalty, and the other when a tornado called Kishore Kumar swept aside all other male singers.

Manna Dey elaborates on this phase in his autobiography, Memories Come Alive — “When I made my first foray into Mumbai’s film industry, Mohammed Rafi was its blue-eyed boy. His songs touched people’s hearts. With Kishore Kumar’s arrival on the scene, however, Rafi gradually started losing ground. With their pulse on what the audience wanted, most producers clamoured for Kishore.”  It was reportedly Naushad, his chief patron, who ultimately succeeded in restoring the singer’s confidence in himself, and his golden voice.

Like many other aspirants, for instance, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Madan Mohan and Raj Khosla, who finally found their true vocation elsewhere, Mohammed Rafi also aspired to be an actor and did small roles in movies like Laila Majnu and Jugnu. In Laila Majnu, he was seen singing Tera jalwa as a part of the chorus. He sang a number of songs for Naushad as part of the chorus, including Mere sapnon ki rani, Roohi Roohi with K L Saigal in Shahjahan (1946).

While every Rafi number has been a gem, the following from Naunihal is a reminder of his vocal flexibility — Meri awaaz suno, pyar ka raaz suno, Maine ek phool jo dil pe saja rakha tha.

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