Mohammed Rafi was one of the most popular playback singers of the Hindi film industry. He was praised for his versatility as he sang classical numbers, sad lamentations, romantic songs, qawwalis, ghazals and bhajans.
He was good at molding his voice to the persona of the actor who would lip-synch the song on screen. During the 1950s and 1970s, Rafi was the most sought after male singer in the Hindi film industry. He received six Filmfare Awards and one National Film Award. He was honoured with the Padma Shri award by the Government of India, in 1967. Mohammed Rafi sang more than 7,400 songs in many languages and dialects of India, as well as in many foreign languages.
Mohammed Rafi was born on 24 December 1924 in Kotla Sultan Singh, a village near Majitha, Amritsar in Punjab, India. He was one of the six sons born to Hajji Ali Mohammad. Rafi began singing by imitating the chants of a fakir visiting the village, and was nicknamed Pheeko. In 1935, the family moved to Lahore, where his father began running a saloon; and Rafi began learning classical music, and had his first public performance at the age of 13.
In 1941, Rafi made his debut in Lahore as a playback singer in a duet with Zeenat Begum in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (1944). The song was, “Soniye Nee, Heeriye Nee” and music director was Shyam Sunder. Rafi was also invited by All India Radio Lahore station to sing for them. In 1944, Rafi moved to Mumbai.
Film Playback Singing Career in Mumbai
In 1945, he made his Hindi film debut in Gaon Ki Gori. It was a duet with G. M. Durrani, “Aji dil ho kaabu mein to dildar ki aisi taisi…,”. Rafi also sang under music director Naushad in “Hindustan Ke Hum Hain” in A. R. Kardar’s Pehle Aap. In 1945, he appeared on-screen for the song “Tera Jalwa Jis Ne Dekha” in the film Laila Majnu.
Rafi sang for Naushad for “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani, Roohi Roohi” with K. L. Saigal, from the film Shahjahan (1946). Rafi also 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 the partition of India, Rafi decided to stay back in India and had his family flown to Mumbai.
In 1949, Rafi sang solo songs by Naushad (Chandni Raat, Dillagi and Dulari), Shyam Sunder (Bazaar), Husnalal Bhagatram (Meena Bazaar) and many other music directors.
Rafi considered K. L. Saigal as his idol, and was also influenced by G. M. Durrani with whom he sang “Humko Hanste Dekh Zamana Jalta Hai” and “Khabar Kisi Ko Nahiin, Woh Kidhar Dekhte” (Beqasoor, 1950).
In 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and the team of Husanlal Bhagatram-Rajendra Krishan-Rafi overnight created the song “Suno Suno Ae Duniyawalon, Bapuji Ki Amar Kahani”. For this, Rafi received a silver medal from Jawaharlal Nehru on the Independence Day.
The Favorite Singer of Music Directors
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Rafi sang for all the popular music directors of Hindi films. Rafi sang 149 songs for Naushad; some of which were evergreen hits like “O Duniya Ke Rakhwale” and “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj” from Baiju Bawra (1952) and “Ae Mohabbat Zindabad” from Mughal-E-Azam (1960).
Rafi worked with S.D. Burman in 37 movies, including those starring Dev Anand and Guru Dutt; such as 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).
Rafi’s partnership with Shankar-Jaikishan was very long and successful, and Rafi sang a total of 341 songs. Rafi sang for actors like Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar. Rafi even sang for Kishore Kumar, who was a great playback singer himself.
Music director Ravi’s title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), enabled Rafi to get his first Filmfare Award. Rafi also received the National Award for the song “Babul Ki Duaen Leti Ja” from the film Neel Kamal (1968).
Rafi’s first song with Madan Mohan was in Ankhen (1950).
Rafi also sang in many songs composed by O.P. Nayyar in the early 1950s and 1960s for movies such as Naya Daur (1957), Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957), and Kashmir Ki Kali (1964).
Laxmikant-Pyarelal had Rafi in their very first song from the film Parasmani (1963). The team won the Filmfare Awards for the song “Chahoonga Main Tujhe Saanjh Savere” from Dosti (1964). Rafi sang the highest number of songs, 369, for the music director duo.
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.
From 1970 he toured the world extensively giving concert performances to packed halls; including at the Royal Albert Hall (1978) and Wembley Conference Centre (1980).
Rafi married twice; his first marriage was to his cousin, Bashira in his ancestral village. The marriage ended after the Partition of India. Rafi had four sons and three daughters; his first son Saeed was from his first marriage.
Mohammed Rafi passed away on 31 July 1980 after suffering a heart attack. He was just 55. Hours before he had recorded a song, “Shaam Phir Kyun Udaas Hai Dost” with Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Rafi was buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery. The government of India announced a two-day public holiday in his honour. Later, the government also released a postage stamp to commemorate his memory.
Memorable Quotes by Mohammed Rafi
“I can’t even utter a word if Almighty God wants it that way. My voice is by his mercy.”
“Film-making wasn’t merely a business proposition during those days when institutions reigned supreme and freelancing hadn’t become popular in the film industry. Believe it or not, I used to be paid a meager amount of Rs. 75/- in those days for one song!”
“Though I insist on being paid my price by commercial film-makers who can afford it, I sing for small budget films, including regional films, for a much lower price. Money isn’t the only criterion for me to accept a film. Out of my earnings, I keep aside a sizable amount for charitable purposes but I prefer not to tom tom it because I do not want to seek publicity for those acts.”
Mohammed Rafi, fondly called Rafi Saab, not only had a divinely melodious voice; he also had an equally compassionate golden heart. He has been known to sing for a token amount of rupees one. He was a truly devoted and dedicated singer, whose voice will continue to charm generations.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah
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