Abhi na jao chod kar ke dil abhi bhara nahin. Mohammed Rafi (Mohd. Rafi), the singing legend of Bollywood, once sang these words and today they illustrate what people feel about him. What has changed? Nothing, he was a legend and he still is.
Spanning 35 years, Rafi is noted for his unique ability to sing songs of different moods and varieties. From classical numbers to patriotic songs, sad lamentations to highly romantic numbers, and qawwalis to ghazals, you name it and Rafi has done it all. He is famously known as a playback singer, who sang so thrillingly, that his melodious voice could easily meld into the voice of the persona of the actor lip-syncing the song.
Born on December 24, 1924, Rafi was the second youngest of 6 brothers. His family lived in Kotla Sultan Singh, a village near the present-day Amritsar. It was his elder brother, Mohammad Deen's, friend, Abdul Hameed, who spotted the hidden talent in Rafi and encouraged him to go on and sing. Hameed also later convinced the family's elders to let Rafi move to Mumbai and pursue a career within music and even accompanied him in 1944. Rafi learnt classical music from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwan Lal Mattoo, and Firoze Nizami.
His first ever public performance came at the early age of 13, when he sang in Lahore alongside K.L. Saigal. In 1941, Rafi, under Shyam Sunder, made his debut in Lahore as a playback singer in a duet with Zeenat Begum in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch, which released in 1944. Also in 1944, Rafi was invited by All India Radio Lahore station to sing for them.
In 1944, Rafi moved to Mumbai (then known as Bombay) and made his debut in Gaon Ki Gori in 1945 with a duet song. Numerous other songs soon followed. In 1944, Rafi sang his first song with Naushad in Pehle Aap. Though Pehle Aap released first, Gaon Ki Gori was the first song that he ever sang.
Rafi's talents were recognized soon and he got much recognition and fame. He got many songs and decided to stay back in India and had the rest of his family flown to Bombay to live with him. In 1949, Rafi was given solo songs by music directors such as Naushad (Chandni Raat, Dillagi, and Dulari), Shyam Sunder (Bazaar), and Husanlal Bhagatram (Meena Bazaar). Rafi is said to be most influenced by G.M. Durrani, on whose style he based his singing.
In 1948, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the team of Husanlal Bhagatram, Rajendra Krishan, and Mohammad Rafi created the heart touching song Suno Suno Ae Duniyawalon, Bapuji Ki Amar Kahani overnight. Rafi was invited by the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to his house and got the honor to sing there live. The same year, Rafi received a silver medal from Nehru on the Indian Independence Day.
By the late 1950s and 1960s, he worked with other composers of the era such as O.P. Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishen, S.D. Burman, and Roshan. Rafi's association with Naushad helped Rafi establish himself. Rafi ended up singing a total of 149 songs (out of which 81 were solos) for Naushad. Through S.D. Burman, Rafi became known as the singing voice of Dev Anand and Guru Dutt. S.D. Burman was also another music director, beside Naushad, who used Rafi prolifically to sing for most of his songs.
Rafi and Shankar-Jaikishan had a very famous and successful partnership in the Hindi film industry. Under the duo, Rafi produced songs for actors like Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar. Out of 6 Filmfare Awards, Ravi won 3 awards for Shankar-Jaikishan songs Teri Pyaar Pyaari Soorat Ko, Baharon Phool Barsao, and Dil Ke Jharokhe Mein. But perhaps, his most famous song ever was Yahoo! Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe. Recognized for its craziness, the song gave both Shammi Kapoor and Rafi popularity incomparable even today. Rafi sang a total of 341 numbers (216 solo) for Shankar-Jaikishan.
Rafi's first Filmfare Award came from the title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand, composed by Ravi. He also got a National Award for the heart wrenching yet loving song Babul Ki Duaen Leti Jaa from Neel Kamal, also composed by Ravi. Even Rafi admits that he wept during the recording of that song. Madan Mohan was another composer whose favorite singer was Rafi. They teamed up to produce many songs including Teri Aankhon Ke Siva and Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil.
O.P. Nayyar once said, "if there had been no Mohd. Rafi, there would have been no O.P. Nayyar". O.P. Nayyar and Rafi created many songs together in the early 1950s and 1960s for many hit movies. Rafi sang a total of 197 numbers (56 solo) for him. However, this duo did not last as they had a fallout during the recording for movie Sawan Ki Ghata, which O.P. Nayyar confirmed in an interview.
Another dazzling music director duo, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, chose Rafi as one of their singers, right from their very first song by him from the film Chaila Babu. Rafi honored the affection and commitment of the duo by accepting no payment for the song Tera Pyar Ne Mujhe Gham Diya. Rafi sang the maximum number of songs for this duo: 369 numbers (186 solo).
In early 1970s, Rafi recorded fewer songs and during this time Kishore Kumar's popularity increased. During the early years, Rafi's musical output decreased. However, he still sang several songs, especially with Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Madan Mohan, R.D. Burman, and S.D. Burman. Rafi made a comeback as a lead singer in 1974. He won both a Filmfare Award and a National Award for the song Kya Huya Tera Wada from the movie Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. He sang for Rishi Kapoor in several movies as well.
On July 31, 1980, the legend of Bollywood passed away following a heart attack. He was buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery. It was one of the biggest funeral processions Mumbai had ever witnessed, with over 10,000 people attending. In 2010, his tomb was demolished to make space for new burials. Fans still visit his tomb site on his birth and death anniversary and use a coconut tree nearest to his grave as a marker.
Rafi was a family man. He first married a cousin, but the marriage ended when she refused to live in India following the murders of her parents during the partition riots. Rafi had 3 sons and 3 daughters and often practiced at home. He rarely attended film parties, did not smoke or drink, was religious, and was considered to be a humble man. His only hobbies were playing carom, badminton, and flying kites apart from performing riyaz daily.
Today we salute this legend as we remember him and his heart-touching and heart-wrenching voice that manages to touch the deepest chambers of our hearts even today.
- Rafi's nickname was Pheeko
- He began singing by imitating the chants of a fakir in his village
- Ae Mohabbat Zindabad from Mughal-e-Azam, composed by Naushad, had a chorus of 100 singers along with Rafi
- Shankar-Jaikishan made Rafi sing playback for Kishore Kumar in the film Shararat (Ajab hai daastaan teri yeh zindagi)
- O.P. Nayyar also had Rafi sing for Kishore Kumar in the film Raagini (Man mora baawara) and then Rafi continued to sing for Kishore in several other movies under O.P. Nayyar
- In his lifetime, he was awarded the National Film Award, Best National Singer Award, 6 Filmfare Awards, the Padma Shri in 1967, and was named the Best Singer of the Millennium by Stardust magazine in 2000
Editors: Fatima W. & Gunia M.
Graphics: Virina R.