Article Hindi

Remembering Mohammed Rafi, the voice for all seasons: Anniversary special

On Rafi's 40th death anniversary, his youngest son, Shahid Rafi, shares memories of his father and notes that his fans only seem to be multiplying with each passing year.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Whether it was the velvety romance in ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho’ from Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), the idyllic ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ from Kala Bazar (1960), the jubilant ‘Yahoo’ from Junglee (1961), the foot-tapping ‘O Haseena Zulfonwali’ from Teesri Manzil (1966), the mischievous ‘Parda Hai Parda’ from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Mohammed Rafi effortlessly evoked a range of emotions as he immortalized the songs that he sang.

Born in Kotla Sultan Singh, a village near Amritsar, Mohammed Rafi received musical training under the maestros Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

He sang for the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (1941), making his debut as a playback singer with the duet 'Soniye Nee, Heeriye Nee' with Zeenat Begum.

In 1943, he moved to Bombay and sang in the chorus till he got the opportunity to sing 'Aji Dil Ho Qabu Mein To' for Gaon Ki Gori (1945), which is recognized as his first recorded song in Hindi.

The young man's big break came with Shaukat Hussain Rizvi’s Jugnu (1947) starring the singing star Noorjehan and Dilip Kumar. The duet, 'Yahan Badla Wafa Ka' became a huge hit even before the film was released!

Forty years after his death on 31 July 1980, Mohammed Rafi's legend and popularity have only grown. Recollecting some aspects of his life, his youngest son, Shahid Rafi, said, “As a human being he was very humble, soft-spoken, down to earth and a god-fearing, charitable person. Till today, no one in the industry has anything negative to say about him. He was dedicated to his family and his work and wouldn’t socialize also."

Though he grew up as the child of a legend, Shahid Rafi says he realized the enormity of his father's popularity only after his death. “When Dad was alive, we never used to look at him as a great personality," he said. "He was our father, so we used to see him like that. He was ours and we were his. We never realized that his fan following was so massive. After his death, there were so many letters coming in and so many people would come and we realized how famous he was. We knew how Dad had struggled and sacrificed so many things to reach where he had, but what he did for people around him is something we got to know later when we started interacting with the public.”

Reminiscing about his father’s songs, Shahid Rafi said, “There were two songs that seemed very apt for him, like they were written for him. One goes ‘Tum mujhe yun bhula na paoge / jab kabhi bhi sunoge geet mere / sang sang tum bhi gungunaaoge’ [from Pagla Kahin Ka (1970)]. It was really apt. The other is ‘Dil ka soona saaz tarana dhoondhega / Teer-e-nigah-e-naaz nishana dhoondhega / mujhko mere baad zamaana dhoondhega’ [from Ek Nari Do Roop (1973)].”

In the course of his career, Rafi worked with all the top music directors like Naushad, OP Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, Roshan and SD Burman. It was his partnership with Shankar Jaikishan that was the most successful, however, bringing for Rafi three of his six Filmfare Best Male Playback Singer awards.

But Rafi also worked with a host of lesser known music directors and those just starting out as well. “He never used to feel that someone was a small-time music director who was yet to establish himself," Shahid Rafi recounted. "In fact, he used to encourage them and there are so many songs that he sang free for new as well as established people. I heard from Kishore-da [actor-singer-producer Kishore Kumar] that once when Dad finished recording a song for him, Kishore-da handed over an envelope but Dad refused to take money from him. But Kishore-da was insistent, so Dad opened the envelope, took one rupee, put it in his pocket and went away.”

In a career spanning nearly four decades, Rafi recorded songs in several languages, including Punjabi, Bengali, English, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Arabic.

Speaking about his father’s death anniversary, Rafi said, “It has been 40 years and still his fan following is growing day by day! Nobody has forgotten Rafi saheb over the years and even now, you turn on the radio and you hear his songs. So in a way he is immortal.”

Mohammed Rafi died of a massive heart attack on 31 July 1980 in Bombay. He was only 55. His funeral procession is believed to have been the biggest for any film personality, with close to 10,000 people thronging the streets leading to the cemetery.

At Rafi's passing, the great music composer Naushad remarked, "Of the seven notes in the music scale, one has gone. Only six remain." None could have said it better.