Abhi na jao chhod kar,
Ke dil abhi bhara nahin...
(Film: Hum Dono; music: Jaidev; lyric: Sahir Ludhianvi)
Since 1966, the world of Indian film music has been losing its stalwarts one by one though music has its own way of evading the sound of silence. With the death of the Gentleman Giant, Mohammed Rafi (55), the field of playback singing has lost another voice. A series of shock deaths have dominated in 1980 and Rafi’s departure came close on the heels of Uttam Kumar’s, a week earlier.
Undoubtedly, the most versatile male voice in Hindi film music, Rafi was first heard behind the screen in 1941 when he was hardly 15, in the Punjabi film, Gul Buloch, and in the same year he sang for his first Hindi film, Gaon Ki Gori, in Bombay. His first break had been given by the late Shyam Sunder, but the song that made him famous was the Jugnu duet (1947), Yahaan badla wafa ka, which he sang with Noorjehan. Soon, he drew notice to himself with Ek dil ke tukde hazaar hue (Pyar Ki Jeet) and Main zindagi mein hardum rota hi raha hoon (Barsaat).
But Rafi took the music world by storm for the first time with Naushad’s musical, Baiju Bawra (1953), whose songs were picturised on the then favourite gayak-kavi-kalakar Bharat Bhooshan. Naushad showed great confidence indeed in Rafi to risk him for a classical-based big-budget musical although he was still cutting his musical teeth and Talat Mehmood was reigning supreme at that time.
This was also the year which saw the advent of the prestigious Filmfare Awards and Binaca Geet Mala, both being the most representative studies of trends (the latter in music only). Naushad bagged the very first Filmfare Award for best music (Baiju Bawra) and Rafi was firmly established as No. 1 with his unforgettable Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj, Tu Ganga ki mauj and duniya ke rakhwaale, and the film headed the first Binaca Geet Mala, too.
Since then, Rafi has sung for nearly 30 years; only once, for a brief period after 1969 (Aradhana; Rajesh Khanna; Kishore Kumar), being overshadowed by any other male singer though there were stiff competitors throughout. He is believed to have recorded a little less than 30,000 songs, his repertoire covering almost every musical range, every Indian language, and every film actor’s lips. He won six Filmfare Awards, four of them being when there was no separate award for male and female playback singers (which separation started in 1961). He was awarded the Padmashri in 1967, and has been abroad for singing tours more than 25 times. He also had the singular honour of singing ' and how! ' what is unanimously considered the finest lyric ever written in Hindi films, Neeraj’s Caravaan guzar gaya, gubaar dekhte rahe (Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal; Roshan; 1964).
If Rafi believed that Insaaf ka mandir hai yeh,/Bhagwan ka ghar hai (Amar; 1954) he still had to be a mite careful as he warned Ai dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan,/Zara hat ke zara bach ke,/Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan (CID; 1956). But his Laal laal gaal (Mr X; 1957) and his Champi, tel maalish (Pyasa; 1957) made the growing legion of his fans tell him, Yoon to humne laakh haseen dekhe hain,/Tumsa nahin dekha (Tumsa Nahin Dekha; 1958) and there was no possibility of this songbird fearing, Chal ud ja re panchhi,/Ab yeh desh hua begaana (Bhabhi; 1958). In fact, by now, his fans began muttering Hum bekhudi mein tum ko pukaare chale gaye (Kala Pani; 1959), and Rafi entered the 60s yelling, Ai mohabbat zindabad (Mughal-e-Azam; 1960). The Khoya khoya chaand (Kala Bazar; 1960) was overwhelmed by the Chaudhvin ka chand (title song; 1960).
Till 1969, it was Rafi all the way in that decade, and in particular, 1962 saw the complete reign of Rafi and/or Lata in the Binaca Geet Mala, except for a couple of songs by the perennial No. 2, Mukesh. Sau saal pahele,/Mujhe tum se pyaar tha,/Aaj bhi hai aur kal bhi rahega (Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai) said his avid listeners, and even his critics were swept off their feet by the typhoon of Yahoo! (Junglee) and they reluctantly admitted, Ahsaan tera hoga mujh par (Junglee), for they, too, could now see that Ab kya misaal doon (Aarti).
1963 saw a feud between Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd Rafi ' but this was one time that Lata could not obliterate a person once she boycotted him. Dil todnewaale,/Tujhe dil dhoondh raha hai (Son Of India; 1963) said Rafi and although they both said, Awaaz de ke,/Humme tum bulaao (Professor; 1963), they stopped singing duets for about three years. It was Suman Kalyanpur who then rose to the top with Rafi’s Dil ek mandir hai (title song; 1963) despite the promise between the two, Lata and Rafi, Jo vaada kiya woh nibhaana padega (Taj Mahal; 1963).
Maybe Rafi felt inwardly depressed, Kabhi na kabhi,/Kahin na kahin,/Koi na koi to aayega (Sharabi; 1964) and might have secretly courted Lata with Tere husn ki kya taarif karoon (Leader; 1964) and Phir wohi dil laya hoon (title song; 1964). He even revealed, Yeh mera prem patra padh kar/Ke tum naaraaz na ho na (Sangam; 1964) but the two hit songs of that year remained separate solos by the two: Mere mehboob tujhe,/Meri mohabbat ki kasam (title song) and Tum kamsin ho (Ayee Milan Ki Bela).
Nevertheless, Rafi did not lose any hold on the mike and listeners continued telling him, Taarif karoon kya uski,/Jis ne tumhe banaya (Kashmir Ki Kali). But soon the patchup came. If Rafi lamented, Chaahunga main tujhe saanjh savere (Dosti; 1965) it was now time to open up : Dil jo na keh saka,/Wohi raaz-e-dil,/Kehne ki raat aayi (Bheegi Raat; 1966). Rafi had had enough; Kya se kya hogaya,/Bewafa, tere pyar mein (Guide; 1966). And finally Lata did return to him for those dulcet duets once again and Rafi said: Bahaaron phool barsaao,/Mera mehboob aaya hai (Suraj; 1966)!
Meri awaaz suno,/Pyaar ka raaz suno (Naunihal; 1967) said Rafi to his fans as if he was an Aasmaan se aaya farishta (An Evening in Paris; 1968) and though he told them in return, Tum bin jaoon kahaan (Pyar Ka Mausam; 1969) little did he realise that for the first time he would lose ground to that very singer who sang that very number in a separate solo: Kishore Kumar. But then Jab dil se dil takraata hai,/Mat poochhiye kya ho jata hai (Sunghursh; 1969).
Rafi desperately tried to convince people, Main ek raaja hoon (Uphaar; 1972) but except for a Teri bindiya re (Abhimaan; 1973) here, and a Woh kya hai (Anuraag; 1973) there, Rafi was forced into the background. Even his return with Yaadon Ki Baraat; 1974) was in the company of his self-avowed fan, Kishore ' Yaadon ki baraat nikli hai aaj,/Dil ke dwaare ' the other being with Asha Bhosle, Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko.
Yet, Bairaag (1974) reminded people that Rafi was alive and with a lot of fight still left in him. After all, Peetey peetey kabhi kabhi,/Yoon jaam badal jaate hain! And with Lata again, Rafi made sure there would be no close encounters of the 1963-kind: Vaada kar le saajna, (Haath ki Safai; 1975). And finally, in 1977, Rafi proved once again that Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahin. In the film, all four songs sung by Rafi became superhits: the title qawaali, Kya hua tera vaada (which fetched him the Filmfare Award after a break of nine long years), Chaand mera dil and Yeh ladka haaye Allah.
The year also saw the rage of Laila Majnu (in which he sang all the songs of rising star Rishi Kapoor, too) under the baton of Madan Mohan and Jaidev; and the third and second ranking in Binaca’s finals that year were: meri mehbooba (Dharamveer; Laxmikant-Pyarelal) and Pardah hai pardah (Amar Akbar Anthony; Laxmikant-Pyarelal.) In 1978, LP’s Apnapan got Rafi a Filmfare nomination though eventually the song landed up with a lyric award (Anand Bakshi) instead ' Aadmi musaafir hai.
And now look at 1979-80! Just when Rafi had made a complete comeback, he’s gone! Laxmikant-Pyarelal gave him all seven songs in Sargam (four solos, three duets with Lata) and walked away with the best music award, all seven being top of the pops. They gave him four out of six in Suhaag (the other two being Asha’s) and they have been raging through the Binaca Geet Mala. They gave him five out of six (the other being Lata) in Aasha and did well enough.
Another indication of his sure return is the fact that Dev Anand who did not go in for Rafi ever since Gambler (1969) ' in which, too, he had just one ghazal ' returned to him after 10 years in the latest Man Pasand though in just one song, under the baton of Rajesh Roshan, with Tina Munim. The weekly Binaca Geet Malas in 1980 have clearly shown so far that Rafi is dominating, sometimes with as many as 10 songs as compared to Kishore’s two (on May 28) out of a total of 16 toppers!
As Lata Mangeshkar said after his death: “The void that was created by Saigal’s death had been filled by Rafi Saab. He sang with me for 33 years. He was an exceptional singer.”
Kar chale hum fida jaan--tan saathiyon/Ab tumhaare hawaale watan saathiyon...
(Film: Haqeeqat; music: Madan Mohan; lyric: Kaifi Azmi).
(Edited reproduction from Sunday magazine; August 17, 1980)