I had decided to steer clear of lists for some time now, and focus more on the movies that I have been watching (being on a sick bed is bearable only when you have masala movies to keep you company). However, I remembered that the death anniversary of one of our greatest singers had just passed - on 31 July, 1980, to be precise.
Mohammed Rafi (born 24 December 1924) had had a flourishing career that spanned four decades. Indeed, it was a shock when he died, and it is said that never had the city of Bombay seen such a crowd of mourners as gathered for his last journey. The mega-city had come to a standstill, as fans poured out in droves a spontaneous expression of grief. And while one may say that since he died in July, Bombay would have been in the grip of the monsoons, it seemed right in the fitness of things that the rains slashed the city with their fury the day his funeral procession made its way to the cemetery - it was as if the very skies wept at his death.
Upon his death, music maestro Naushad, for whom Rafisaab had sung some of his most famous songs, wrote: "गूंजते है तेरी आवाज़ अमीरों के महल में | झोपड़ों की ग़रीबों में भी है तेरे साज़ , यु तो अपने मौसिकी पर सब का फक्र होता है मगर आय मेरे साथी मौसिकी को भी आज तुझ पार नाज़ है|" (Your voice echoes in the palaces of the rich. Your music lives in the huts of the poor. Everyone is proud of your music, but my friend, music is proud of you today.)
Shammi Kapoor referred to Mohammed Rafi as 'his voice' - and such was the chemistry between actor and his voice that Rafisaab always added something extra to his songs for the former. Such was Rafisaab's ability to change his voice to suit the actor for whom he was singing that you could differentiate the songs that he sung for Johnny Walker, for instance, from the songs that he sang for Dev Anand, from the songs he sang for Shammi Kapoor. Indeed, many a hero from the sixties had to thank Rafisaab for giving their careers a fillip - if it weren't for his voice, where would Rajendra Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Biswajeet, Joy Mukherjee and their ilk be?
It is impossible to choose just a few songs from the repertoire of a singer of whom the Times of India wrote: 'If there were 101 ways of saying "I love you" in a song, Mohammed Rafi knew them all.' And it was not only love songs that were his forte - Rafisaab sang deeply devout bhajans and energetic qawwalis, soulful ghazals and patriotic numbers with equal elan. His voice, combined with his range made him a force to reckon with.
This is my very personal list of songs - chosen for no other particular reason than that I liked them. I have tried to keep it to one song per music director, per hero, (and no duets) or I would easily have been able to populate my list with 'Rafi sings for Naushad' or 'Rafi sings for Shammi Kapoor' (that one is coming up later, though I am sure to have the same problem there!) or 'Rafi sings for Dev Anand' and still have had room left for more.
So here then, is a very humble tribute to a great artiste and a very good human being.
1. Saiyan (1951)
Us paar deewar ke jo rehte hain
Music: Sajjad Hussein / DN Madhok
Picturised on: Sajjan
A beautiful Madhubala, a rather good-looking Sajjan, an eccentric but brilliant music director and Mohammed Rafi - enough to make Us paar... worth viewing. Sajjad Hussein's arrogance was unmatched and he gave no quarter where his work was concerned - he composed for less than 20 films in his entire career, having had differences of opinion with practically everyone including his lyricist DN Madhok, Dilip Kumar (during the making of Sangdil), Lata Mangeshkar, Naushad, K Asif, Talat Mahmood and Kishore Kumar. Most of his songs (and background music) were appreciated by his peers. Anil Biswas went on record to say that Sajjad was the only original composer. It was unfortunate that his attitude cost him many films, and we lost the chance to have many more melodies by this talented composer.
2. Baiju Bawra (1952)O duniya ke rakhwale
Music: Naushad / Shakeel Badayuni
Picturised on: Bharat Bhushan
A Naushad / Shakeel Badayuni gem that has withstood the vagaries of time to make it a genuine classic. Based on the legend of Baiju, who was once regarded as a rival to the famed Tansen, the songs, with the exception of one, were all based on Hindustani Ragas (this one in particular being based on Raag Darbari Kanada). It was a music fest, the score of the film, and it relied heavily on the singing abilities of Rafi, Lata and Shamshad Begum, not to mention Ustad Amir Khan and DV Paluskar. In fact, Ustad Amir Khan was the music consultant for the film.
This film also had the sublime bhajan Man tarpat hari darshan ki aaj, and there is a very interesting story behind its recording. Take after take had been discarded because music director Naushad was not satisfied with the song. A patient Rafi had been singing all morning; finally, he told Naushad to get a picture of Lord Krishna. A portrait was quickly bought from the market, and Rafisaab, the portrait in front of him, sang the bhajan so devotedly that he had tears in his eyes throughout. I do not know whether this story is apocryphal, but it is a story that I can believe.
In one sense, I think it was a misfortune that Rafisaab could climb such heights of sur. Once music directors figured out that they finally had a male singer who could reach the high octaves so effortlessly, and without going falsetto, it seemed like that is all they would give him to sing! This was also Lata's curse - that she could span the octaves like a bird, that they forgot that she could sing equally well on the low pitches.
And if I weren't sticking to 'one song per music composer' then I would definitely have added this one. Even if it were a duet; especially since Rafisaab has sung only a handful of songs for Raj Kapoor, whose soul was truly Mukesh. Or even this one from the 1951 film Jadoo, which Rafisaab mentioned not only as one of the most difficult songs that he had sung, but also as one of his personal favourites. Both songs came from the pen of lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, and from the baton of Naushad.
And my self-imposed rule also precluded me from using two of my absolute favourites from the same trio - Madhuban mein Radhika naache re from Kohinoor and Mere Mehboob from the film of the same name. It almost seems like I could have done a 'Ten favourite...' post on songs by the Naushad-Shakeel Badayuni-Mohammed Rafi trio...
3. Shama Parwana (1954)Tu ne mera yaar na milaya
Music: Husnlal Bhagatram / Majrooh Sultanpuri
Picturised on: Shammi Kapoor
While Rafisaab sang this song for Shammi Kapoor in one of his earliest movies - Shama Parwana - where he starred alongside Suraiya, it wasn't until Tumsa Nahin Dekha in 1957 that the relationship that was unsurpassed made its nascent beginnings - the actor mustered up this courage to go up to the singer, and tell him how he wanted him to sing a particular number. It goes to show Rafisaab's complete lack of ego that he not only listened to Shammi Kapoor, but also rehearsed that number and then recorded it in the way that the actor wanted him to.
This was the beginning of a musical collaboration that was to last as long as Rafisaab lived - Shammi Kapoor sitting in on the music recordings of his songs, and giving his inputs; and Rafisaab watching Shammi 'live' the song on screen. The admiration between the two was mutual, Mohammed Rafi maintaining that Shammi Kapoor was the perfect foil for his voice on screen. And what a wonderful set of songs the duo gave us...
Why this particular song when there are so many that Shammi has given life to, on screen? Perhaps because this was the beginning, and secondly, I would love to do a post of my favourite Shammi-Rafi songs... so I can include some songs that are not the usual suspects.
4. Pyaasa (1957)Yeh mehlon, ye takhton, ye taajon ki duniya
Music: SD Burman / Sahir Ludhianvi
Picturised on: Guru Dutt
What can I say about this song that hasn't already been written about before? Burmanda composed a tune that echoed the protagonist's anger, the music building up its tempo until the tempestuous finale - where the poet almost screams out his disillusionment with a materialistic society. And yet, the music does not overpower the voice or the feeling.
ये दुनिया जहां आदमी कुछ नहीं है
वफ़ा कुछ नहीं , दोस्ती कुछ नहीं है
जहां प्यार की कद्र ही कुछ नहीं है
ये दुनिया अगर मिल भी जाए तो क्या है
Fresh from Sahir's pen, it is a scathing denunciation of a hypocritical, materialistic world, one that, in the end, he demands burnt (जला दो, इसे फूँक डालो ये दुनिया), for after all, what use is a world such as this?
Yeh hasrat thi ki is duniya mein
Music: C Ramachandra / Parvez Shamsi
Picturised on: Raj Kumar
C Ramachandra was another music director under whose baton Rafi sang some incredible songs, but who under-utilised him woefully. That could have been because a) C Ramachandra himself sang many of his own compositions under the name Chitalkar (Azad and Albela coming to mind) and b) Most of his songs were female solos for which he relied on Lata Mangeshkar. It was also said that he preferred singers who sang in his own style, and thus took on Talat Mahmood and Mahendra Kapoor more than he used Rafi.
Nausherwan-e-Adil also had this lovely Rafi-Lata duet... though personally, I think it is wasted on the Raaj Kumar-Mala Sinha pair.
6. Miss Mary (1957)
Music: Hemant Kumar / Rajinder Krishen
Picturised on: Gemini Ganesan
A fun frothy film with an equally fun soundtrack - this is part 1 of a double-sided song; the other part rendered by Lata / Meena Kumari as a response to the age-old man-woman duel. And once more, I rue the fact that Meena Kumari was so tightly slotted in the tradedienne roles. Hemant Kumar had begun his career in Hindi films with Anand Math, and achieved moderate success as a music director; around the same time, he also began to sing, most notably for Dev Anand (Jaal, Solva Saal, Baat Ek Raat Ki) under the baton of SD Burman.
Toote hue khwabon ne
Music: Salil Choudhary / Shailendra
Picturised on: Dilip Kumar
This is one of those songs which make you wish that the Salil Choudhary - Mohammed Rafi combination had been more prolific. Unfortunately, Salilda did not share that opinion, I assume, since he is one of the few music composers who did not utilise Mohammed Rafi as much as he could have... despite that, he did bring in Rafi to sing Toote hue khwabon ne, since, with all due respect to Mukesh, that is a song he would have found difficult to sing. This film also had Jungal mein, mor naacha kisi ne na dekha hai (picturised on the inimitable Johnny Walker) - and witness the voice modulation... it is difficult to believe that it was the same man singing both songs.
8. Raagini (1958)
Man moraa baawra
Music: OP Nayyar / Jaan Nissar Akhtar
Picturised on: Kishore Kumar
One legendary singer singing for another - this was one of the first songs that Rafi sang for Kishore Kumar; he sang about six songs altogether for Kishore. It is said that Kishore, despite numerous rehearsals, could not do justice to the second part of the song, and finally, OP Nayyar asked Rafi to step in to the breach. Despite the feuds between the fans of Rafi and the fans of Kishore, the singers themselves had a great respect for the other.
Na Hindu banega na Mussalman banega
Music: N Dutta / Sahir Ludhianvi
Picturised on: Manmohan Krishna
Another film with a social message from the BR Chopra stable, this one was directed by his brother Yash Chopra. Manmohan Krishna lip syncs to Sahir's powerful lyrics which tear at the heart of a society that divides men based on their caste; a human child has no business being anything other than human - caste and creed are man-made divisions that tear at the very fabric of society. Rafi's voice carried the conviction that the lyrics demanded, and holds a bitter truth that our still country needs to hear.
10. Saranga (1960)
Music: Sardar Malik / Bharat Vyas
Picturised on: Sudesh Kumar
While the well-known version of this song was sung by Mukesh, the rendition of this verse by Rafi is impeccable. With very little instrumentation, the rendition depends solely on Rafi's ability to hold the notes true. Another Sardar Malik composition that relied on Rafi was Mujhe tumse mohabath hai from Bachpan.
11. Dil ek Mandir (1963)
Yaad na aaye beete dinon ki
Music: Shankar-Jaikishen / Shailendra
Picturised on: Rajendra Kumar
12. Chitralekha (1964)
Man re to kahe na dheer dhare
Music: Roshan / Sahir Ludhianvi
Picturised on: Pradeep Kumar
A bhajan which almost seemed like blank verse, Roshan used very little instrumentation, preferring to let Rafi's vocals do all that was needed. In a film which resounded with such Lata melodies as the cynical Sansar se bhagi phirte ho, Ae ri jaane na doongi, and Sakhi ri mera man uljhe tan dole, Rafi's mellifluous rendition of Man re... stood out for its stark simplicity. Pradeep Kumar fit the role of army commander to the hilt, while Meena Kumari as Rajnartaki Chitralekha, and Ashok Kumar as Yogi Kumargiri played their roles out in this unending debate about life and love.
13. Ghazal (1964)
Rang aur noor ki baraat
Music: Madan Mohan / Sahir Ludhianvi
Picturised on: Sunil Dutt
A mellifluous nazm, sung in Rafisaab's honey-smooth voice, so full of passion and pain. Sahir's lyrics added an edge of helplessness to the pain of losing a loved one to another - yet, there is resignation as one bids adieu to a love that is already lost - कौन कहता है चाहत पे सभी का हक है, तू जिसे चाहे, तेरा प्यार उसी का हक है| मुझसे कहदे में तुम्हारा हाथ किसे पेश करूँ...
Co-starring Meena Kumari as Naaz Ara Begum, whose voice Ejaz (Sunil Dutt) hears and falls in love with - Rehman formed the third angle to the triangle in a Muslim social which boasted of a wonderful score by Madan Mohan, who never quite achieved the success he deserved. He once said that "...foremost requirement of a song is only one thing; it should be capable of capturing the interest of the listeners in a short period and sustaining it in the years to follow." And his compositions have withstood his own requirements.
14. Cha Cha Cha (1964)
Woh hum na the woh tum na thi
Music Director: Iqbal Quereshi / Neeraj
Picturised on: Chandrasekhar
This is the film that has the distinction of being the only film in which Helen is the heroine. And it always prompts me to wonder why on earth Chandrashekhar had to be the hero! (He was the producer, duh!) With a soundtrack that included the beautiful Chameli ke mandve tale, and Subah na aayi shaam na aayi this wonderful song was a masterpiece of restraint; Rafi's silken voice caresses the notes and emphasises the sadness that the characters feel. This is one of the films that one must see primarily for its music. And for the beautiful Helen.
15. Dosti (1964)
Chahoonga main tujhe saanjh savere
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal / Majrooh Sultanpuri
Picturised on: Sudhir Kumar, Sushil Kumar
1964 brought success to a fledgling music composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal, as Parasmani and Dosti, both films that did not have any well-known names, became box-office hits. Known to be Lata Mangeshkar's proteges, they had a long, close and rewarding association with her. Suffice it to say that she shaped their careers. Dosti also had the lovely Raahi manva dukh ki chinta, and the pathos ridden Jaanewalon zara mudke dekho mujhe and was considered a fluke hit because it did not have a heroine. The film focused on the friendship between two handicapped youth, and had enough pathos to wring tears out of stone. Five of its six songs were sung by Rafi.
16. Shola aur Shabnam (1968)
Jaane kya dhoondhti rehti hai
Music: Khayyam / Kaifi Azmi
Picturised on: Dharmendra
This is a song that uses the same chord progression as Tum apna ranjh-o-gham from Shagoon, and was widely regarded as the best of Khayyam's compositions. It is an extremely complicated composition and one that is very tough to sing. It is also considered one of Rafi's best numbers.
Sixteen music directors, sixteen different songs sung for sixteen different actors - and I have barely touched the treasure trove of songs that Mohammed Rafi made his own. After a lean period where he wasn't recording as many songs as was his wont, he made a comeback with a song from Hawas in the mid-seventies. Usha Khanna wielded the baton for this Neetu Singh-Anil Dhawan starrer. This was followed by a National Award, and a slew of other movies where his songs became superhits. Alas, he did not live to relish his renewed success. Six years after his 'comeback', one of the greatest singers of all time died in his prime - he was only 55. Indeed, suhaani raat dhal chuki.
© Anuradha Warrier
© Anuradha Warrier