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10 timeless sad songs by Mohammed Rafi – Death anniversary special

With a voice that suited Guru Dutt as much as it did Shammi Kapoor, Mohammed Rafi ruled Hindi film music for three decades. On his 37th death anniversary (31 July 1980), we look at 10 songs that stand testimony to Rafi's power of melancholy.

Shriram Iyengar

'Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,' said Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Romantic poet would have been pleased to hear the sad songs sung by Mohammed Rafi.

Thirty-seven years ago to the day, the great voice was stilled by a massive heart attack. His death had repercussions across the Hindi film industry. As singer Shailendra Singh once said in an interview, "his effortless singing is impossible to match".

Despite attaining fame with romantic numbers, including the irrepressible Whitmanish yawp in 'Yahoo' from Junglee (1961), Rafi's greatest strength lay in his ability to dig deep into his reservoir of emotions and pour soul into melancholic songs. From Naushad to SD Burman and, later, RD Burman, composers would often turn to the singer to bring tears to the listener's eye. They knew only few could do that as well as Rafi.

On Rafi's 37th death anniversary, we look at 10 immortal, soulful classics that continue to remain the sweetest and saddest memories of his vocal talent.

1. 'O Duniya Ke Rakhwale' – Baiju Bawra (1952)

Having made his singing debut in 1944, Mohammed Rafi continued to be a bit player until Naushad used him in the superhit Baiju Bawra. As the voice of the crazed, passionate singer Baiju played by Bharat Bhushan, Mohammed Rafi was in full form. While songs like 'Tu Ganga Ki Mauj' and 'Mann Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko' catered to his classical strength and vocal range, it was 'O Duniya Ke Rakhwale' that truly underlines his ability to portray sorrow through the voice. Like the film, the song has the ability to make stone statues weep.

2. 'Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye' – Pyaasa (1957)

For a film that is a near perfect synthesis of cinema and poetry, Pyaasa would have been incomplete without the voice of Mohammed Rafi. While SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi received plaudits for the film's music, it was Rafi's voice that conveyed the pathos of 'Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par' and the burning despair in 'Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye'. The manner in which the singer builds up the anger of the poet Vijay through the song is proof of his innate understanding of the poetry of the film.

3. 'Hum Bekhudi Mein Tum Ko Pukare Chale Gaye' – Kala Pani (1958)

While his rock-n-roll numbers remain popular across generations, Mohd Rafi's passion was best delivered through ghazals. Such was the magic of his voice that the music of the song is often forgotten in the background. In Kala Pani, his style, or, as the Urdu poets would call it, andaaz of delivering Majrooh Sultanpuri's ghazal has made it the song for heartbroken lovers for all time.

4. 'Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari' – Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

This beautiful, haunting poem by Kaifi Azmi was delivered impeccably by Rafi in Kaagaz Ke Phool. The song was a tender cry that encapsulated the philosophy of pursuing and despairing over temporal things. It was the perfect addition to a philosophical film that was made far ahead of its time.

5. 'Kabhi Khud Pe Kabhi Haalaat Pe Rona Aaya' – Hum Dono (1961)

Mohd Rafi was reunited with Sahir Ludhianvi in the classic soundtrack for Dev Anand's Hum Dono. The film saw Rafi capture the free, romantic spirit of the poet in 'Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chalaa Gaya' and 'Abhi Na Jaao Chhodkar'. Yet, it is this despondent song that strikes a chord among listeners till date.

6. 'Chahunga Main Tujhe Sanjh Saware' – Dosti (1964)

Long before the term 'bromance' became a cliché, Satyen Bose immortalized friendship in this beautiful film. Laxmikant Pyarelal's music created a sensation with its simple, refreshing sounds. In this track, Mohammed Rafi delivers a beautiful and evocative ode to friendship that had failed the test of time. The performance won him the Filmfare award for Best Playback Singer in 1964.

7. 'Din Dhal Jaaye Haye Raat Na Jaaye' – Guide (1965)

For someone who was pious and conservative in personal life, Rafi could embody the voice of the drunken soul perfectly. His rendition of this magical number from the Dev Anand-Waheeda Rehman starrer Guide stands out for the swaying nature of his voice and, of course, Shailendra's poetry.

8. 'Dil Ke Jharokhe Mein' – Brahmachari (1968)

Remembering the moment of the great singer's death in an interview years later, Shammi Kapoor remarked, "I lost my voice." The combination of actor and singer had created a legacy of unforgettable hits. But despite Rafi's understanding of the wild Kapoor's 'Junglee' nature, it was this song about heartbreak from Brahmachari that was proof of the natural bond between the two. It is hard to separate the sight of Kapoor on screen from Rafi's voice. The singer won another Filmfare award for Best Playback Singer for this composition by Shankar Jaikishan.

9. 'Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil' – Heer Raanjha (1970)

This track from Chetan Anand's Heer Raanjha witnessed the singer evoke the heights of despair in love. Embodying Raanjha's agony, the singer creates a mesmerizing rant against the world and its illusions. It has since become an anthem for doomed lovers and desperate souls.

10. 'Kya Huwa Tera Vada' – Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977)

In temperament, Mohammed Rafi and RD Burman were poles apart. While Burman was an impulsive genius who could create music out of empty glasses, Rafi would practise for two hours every morning without fail. Yet, the two came together with resounding success on films like Teesri Manzil (1966), Caravan (1971) and Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973). 'Kya Huwa Tera Vada' was part of a stellar soundtrack filled with chartbusters. Yet, it was this heartrending song that won Rafi his last Filmfare award for Best Playback Singer.