It is the 85th birth anniversary of the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi. Born in 1924, Rafi is one of the most popular male playback singers, whose illustrious singing career spanned nearly four decades.Rafi along with Mukesh and Kishore Kumar was one of the three leading male Bollywood playback singers from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The debate about who is the better singer, Rafi or Kishore can go on and on for ages but just to provide a glimpse of the man’s singing talent one can just say that Rafi also did playback for Kishore! OP Nayyar used Rafi to sing for Kishore Kumar Man Mora Bawra in Ragini in 1957 and Shanker Jaikishan also had Rafi to sing Ajab Hai Dastan in Shararat in 1958. Rafi could sing for anyone in any style. At one stage in the 1960s Rafi was the voice of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Johnny Walker, Sunil Dutt, Biswajeet, Joy Mukherjee, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor and Raaj Kumar!
From the classical Madhuban Mein Radhika Nache re to the swinging Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera; from the soulful Hum Bekhudi Mein Aapko Pukaren to the comic Sar jo Tera Chakraye; from the philosophical Dekhi Zamane ki Yaari to the frivolous Aiaiya Karoon Main Kya Sookoo Sookoo, the versatile singer could croon in any style. In fact Rafi was blessed with such a range that he could easily sing in three octaves without veering out of control. At age 13, Rafi, shagird of Ghulam Ali Khan, became a radio star and at age 17 he sang his first song Soniye ni, heeriye ni, teri yaad saataaye in Punjabi. He made his mark with Tera Khilona Toota Balak in Anmol Ghadi. He became a household name first with the number Yahan badla wafa ka, bewafaee ke siva kya hai, along with Noor Jehan and then with the overnight composed number after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, Suno, suno ai duniyawaalo, Bapuji ki amar kahani composed by Husanlal Bhagatram and penned by Rajendra Krishan. His partnership with Naushad led both of them to choose India as their home during partition and by the late 50’s and 60’s he had the midas touch – whichever song he sang became a hit, irrespective of the actor he sang for.
For Dev Anand, he sang in Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Guide, Kala Bazaar, for Amitabh in Abhimaan and later for Rishi Kapoor in Karz and Hum Kissi Se Kam Nahi. Aradhana (1969) and the Rajesh Khanna wave saw Rafi displaced by Kishore Kumar as the top male playback singer of Hindi cinema and the early seventies was a creative nadir for him. But Rafi was not one to quit and made a grand comeback with the Nasir Hussain musical Hum Kisi se Kum Nahin (1977) and Amar Akbar Anthony the same year even winning the National Award for Kya Hua Tera Vada for the former. OP Nayyar was once quoted, as saying “If there had been no Rafi, there would have been no OP Nayyar”. He almost gave Shammi Kapoor his image of Junglee with the wild Yahoo in Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe.
Rafi also sang in many Indian languages including Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu. He won a record number of Filmfare nominations, 23 in all and took home the award 6 times. He also won the coveted National award twice and in 1965, Rafi was honoured with the Padma Sri award. On July 31, 1980, Rafi passed away after a massive heart attack. Mohammed Rafi was a legend of legends and shall remain so till eternity. To sum up the man one can just quote what his contemporary and competitor Talat Mahmood had to say about him “The voice was a gift from God to Rafi, but what Rafi made of it was a gift to God”.