Wednesday, September 30, 2009


A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

The year 1948 was a shocker. India and Pakistan were at war, their first one, over Kashmir. In 1948, the State of Israel was carved out of the Palestine State, thus driving out the Palestinians Arabs and rendering lakhs of them homeless. On 30th January 1948 Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in a well pre-planned murder by Nathuram Godse. No one was ready for such a rot that had set in right at the dawn of India’s freedom. While the fascists organisations in India celebrated this tragic event, the entire world was weeping. The Indian film industry’s reaction was no exception to the Gandhian tragedy.

The newcomer, Rajinder Krishan penned a song on the Mahatma, which went SUNO SUNO AY DUNYAA WAALON BAAPU JI KI AMAR KAHAANI. Husnlal-Bhagatram, the first musical duo, composed the four-part song. It was given to Mohammed Rafi. Before that no one had attempted to sing such a long song. What an emotional singer Rafi Sahaab was! The tide of his emotions swept away whoever heard the song. The song was a rage in India for many years and still holds us in thrall.  More than a million copies of  the set of two 78 RPM records were sold within a month!  The first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru, evidently having heard of the awesome singer, invited Rafi to his residence to sing to him that lyrical obituary relating to the Father of the Nation - that Bapu who was as venerable as the waters of the holy Ganga: “POOJYA HAI ITNA JITNAA GANGA MAA KA PAANI”. There was, perhaps, no one to record how many precious tears the Indian Prime Minister must have shed on listening to the deep, rich voice, that heart-rending pathos... On the Independence Day celebrations in 1948, the Prime Minister awarded the young Rafi with a Silver Medal. For many years this song used to be faithfully aired on the radio stations in the country on every 30th of January.

Dilip Kumar’s touching performance in Jugnu, a year before, had made him the heartthrob of the nation. Rafi-Noor Jehan duet, YAHAAn BADLA WAFA KA... had skyrocketed the young Rafi.  Following on its heel in 1948 were his other super-hits movies such as Ghar Ki Izzat with Mumtaz Shanti, Mela and Anokha Pyaar with Nargis, and Nadiya Ke Paar and Shaheed with Kamini Kaushal.  Mohammed Rafi in the Nineteen Forties was not actually the voice of Dilip Kumar. Mukesh and Talat Mehmood were preferably used to playback for the tragedy king. Anil Biswas used Mukesh in Anokha Pyaar. Naushad used Mukesh in Mela and later in Andaz (1949) to playback for Dilip Kumar.  However, in Andaaz, Rafi's song was filmed on another upcoming legend, Raj Kapoor.  This song was actually a duet with Lata: YOOn TOH AAPAS MEn BIGArTE HAI KHAFAA HOTE HAIn... Another of their duet was, sadly not included in the movie: LO DIL KAA AFSAANA HO DUNIYA DIL KII BASAAKE NAA BHOOL JAANA... What a melody!  As for Mela, it had the lone Rafi’s number: YEH ZINDAGI KE MELA but it was filmed on an unknown character.  But this song has remained etched in music lover's memory.  Ghar ki Izzat too had a background song filmed on Dilip Kumar, WAH RE ZAMAANE composed by Pandit Govindram, just as the Dastaan (1972) song, NA TUU ZAMEEN KE LIYE was in the background but was picturized on him.   By the way, I couldn't help noticing the style of Dilip Kumar in WAH RE ZAMAANE, where he puts his hand in his pocket while walking and staring at the ground below because I noticed the same style in Amitabh Bachchan and in fact this is very much popular with him.    

Now coming back, only C. Ramchandra had a Rafi-Lalita Dewulkar duet, MORRE RAAJA HO LE CHAL NADIYA KE PAAR, which was filmed on the leading pair Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal in Nadiya ke Paar which was produced and directed by Kishore Sahu.  Ghulam Haider’s WATAN KI RAAH MEIN WATAN KE NAUJAWAA.N SHAHEED HO had the Rafi and Khan Mastana duet number along with the chorus in the fast-paced song filmed on Dilip Kumar and another artiste in the ennobling patriotic Filmistan movie, Shaheed. This movie was a rage in India, especially in Bombay where it ran to packed houses at the Roxy Cinema.  Now, WATAN KI RAAH MEIN has another version that has only Rafi' voice,  but again it is played in the background when the dead body of the martyr Ram (Dilip Kumar) is borne to the cremation ground by a crowd of thousands. When Rafi says: HAI KAUN KHUSHNASEEB MAA...in that song, we can feel the lump in our throat.

No singer had such an emotional impact before. Happily, there was a promise in this song that Rafi Sahaab would be excelling in the genre of patriotic songs too – the promise that would be more than fulfilled the same year as we have seen and in the years to come, as we all know.
In passing, it is a cruel irony of fate that Khan Mastana who has also provided music for some films under a different name and was also a singer of repute, would die decades later on the streets of Mumbai, begging near the Mahim Dargah. I learn that the same fate awaits his son too near the said Dargah.  Some of his beautiful songs are PANGAT PE EK CHHABEELEE in Main Hari (1940), ZINDAGI HAI PYAAR SE with chorus and two others in Sikandar (1941), a duet with Parul Ghosh, KANTE LAAGE RE SAJANWA MOSE RAAH CHALI NA JAAYE in Basant (1942),  HAMM APNE DARD KA QISSAA SUNAAYE JAATE HAIN in Muqabla (1942) and even as late as 1959 in Nek Parveen: MAULA KI REHMAT SE HOGI HAR MUSHKIL AASAAN.  

My deceased father, may Allah grant him the Jannatul Firdaus, often used to say: BANEE KE CHEHRE PE LAAKHON NISAAR HOTE HAIN, BANEE JO BIGADTEE HAI TOH DUSHMAN HAZAAR HOTE HAIN. In English, this can be tersely stated as: Prosperity brings friends, Adversity tries them!  The world will go but we won't be there.  Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics sung by Rafi sang in Mela (1948): YEH ZINDAGI KE MELE DUNYAA MEIN KAMM NA HONGE AFSOS HAMM NAA HONGE, are true for all times to come.

[Seen in the above pix is young Rafi singing Yeh Zindagi ke Mele...from Mela under the baton of Music Director Naushad.  On the tabla is young Abdul Karim and behind him is Mohammed Shafi on the sitar.  There were no Sound Studios then. ] 

Some of the other 1948 songs of Rafi are:


Shyam Sunder provided the music, while J.Naqshab wrote the lyrics. Raja Mehdi Ali Khan was another lyricst for this movie which had Rehana and Prem Adib in the lead roles while the story was written by K.A. Abbas.  Najam Naqvi was the director.  In Bombay, the movie  was premiered at the Novelty Cinema. 


Music Director was Datta Devjekar. Mahipal was the lyricist.


The unforgettable solo,  MOHABBAT MEIN KHUDAAYA AYSE GUZRE ZINDAGI APNI,  and AY DIL TUJHEE KO NEEND NAA AAYE. Then there were four duets with Amirbai Karnataki who was also the music director for Shehnaz: TERE NAZDEEK AATE HAIN; and NAZAARON SE KHELOON. These two songs and the 2nd solo were written by Pilbheeti. Then, we have ZINDAGI KEE RAAH MEIN TEZ CHAL and the first solo penned by Devbandi. Fiza Kausari wrote the duet MUJHE TUMSE MUHABBAT HAI.

Lal Dupatta:
This was a Madhubala starrer and a movie of "Dances, Songs  and Love".  Sapru and Ulhas also figured in this movie which was released at the Opera House in Bombay.  The two duets of Rafi with Shamshad Begum are: CHALO JAMNA KE TEER and ARREE O ALBELI NAAR. The first one was penned by D.N Madhok and the second one by Manhar Khanna. Gyan Dutta was the music director.

Rehnuma (The Guide):

It had two solos: QISMAT SE KOEE KYAA BOLE and SULTAAN-E-MADINA. The two duets were: EK AISA MAHAL BANAAYEN with Rekha Rani, and EK ABRE SIYAAH CHHAAYAA with Shamshad Begum. The last song was written by Dhumi Khan and the others were written by Habib Sarhadi. It was Dhumi Khan who provided the music.

Amar Prem:

Rafi had two duets here. One was with Raj Kumari: AAO CHALE MANVAA MORE DUUR and the other was with Rekha Rani: YAMUNAA KE TAT. Music was by Datta Thakar and the lyrics were written by Mohan Mishra.


The music for this film was composed by C.Ramchandra who was also a singer. Rafi sang with him and Shamshad Begum in AJI MERAA BHEE KOI HAAL SUNO (which cites FIFTY-FIFTY as the solution to all problems of the world), a comedy song. The tune of just the two words, FIFTY-FIFTY reminds me of a Shabnam (Dilip-Kamini-S.D. Burman) song of Shamshad Begum: PHIR DEKH MAZAA! Another song, KHUSHIYAAN MANAAYEN KYOON had Rafi sing along with him again and with G.M. Sajan and chorus. The songs were written by P.L. Santoshi.


A duet with Geeta Dutt was: PHOOL KO BHOOL KE LE BAITHA KHAAR. The solo of Rafi, SAB KUCHH LUTAAYAA HAMNE AAKAR TERI GALI MEIN, placed the music director Hansraj Behl among the top class music directors of the day. This movie saw Asha Bhonsle singing her first Hindi line in Chunariya under Hansraj Behl. Mulkraj Bhakri was the lyricist.


Rafi had three duets with Beena Pani: KYAA YAAD HAI TUMKO; MERA DIL GHAAYAL KARKE; and DIL WAALE SAAHAB GHAZAB KAR DAALA. The lyricists were Surjit Sethi and Sevak.


A duet with Suraiya: TAARON BHARI RAAT HAI which was written by D.N. Madhok. Music was by Ghulam Mohammed.

Rang Mahal:

Again, a duet with Suraiya, ROOTHO NAA TUM BAHAAR MEIN, composed by K. Dutta.

Bhakt Gopal Bhaiya:
This was the movie that exclaimed that it was for the mothers of today and the generations of tomorrow.   Rafi had two solo Bhajans: RADHE SHYAM, RADHE SHYAM RADHE SHYAM TUU GAAYE JAA and BHAGWAAN HAMM CHEEKH RAHEN HAIN, and there was ASSI BARAS KA BUDDHA BAABA, all written by Ramesh Gupta. Music was by S.R. Vyas.

Then we have the solos: BUJH GAYE DEEPAK was penned by Mahipal (yes, who later became a famous hero of the Arabian fantasy films especially in the Middle East)  and composed by Purshuttam in Mere Lal; DOOBEE NAIYA AAKE KINAARE in Jeene Do, written by Shevan Rizvi and composed by Shaukat Hussain;  Bhajans  composed by S.N. Tripathi in Shri Ram Bhakt Hanuman: MADHUR RAM KA NAAM, and O JAG KE BASAANE WAALE,  which were  written by B.D. Mishra; MUJHE JAANE TUMSE KYOO.N PYAAR which was written by B.R. Sharma and composed  by Hansraj Behl in Mitti ke Khilone.  Then there was NIGAAHEN MILAANE KO JEE CHAAHATAA HAI in Paraayi Aag, which had music by Ghulam Mohamed and the lyrics by Tanvir Naqvi.  In Narsinha Avatar, we have Rafi's NARAAYAN JAAGO JAAGO KARUNA that was written by Pandit Narendra Sharma and composed by Vasant Desai.  (Vasant Desai was to reach his zenith in Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje and Goonj Uthi Shehnai in the Nineteen Fifties). 

Raj Kapoor’s directorial venture, Aag, had Ram Ganguli as the music director besides three heroines: Nargis, Kamini Kaushal, and Nigar Sultan. There was only one song here for Rafi and that was a duet with Shamshad: SOLAH BARAS KI BHAYEE UMARIYAA penned by Bahzaad Laknawi.  This movie, however, bombed at the box-office despite the three heroines. 

Not just Feroze Nizami and Shyam Sunder were smitten by the singing voice of Mohammed Rafi. The musical duo of Husnlal-Bhagatram was another addition to the growing influence of the young singer. Bhagatram who had an earlier association with Master Madhavlal teamed up later with his brother Husnlal. Rafi was their favourite singer along with Lata and Suraiya. They were also responsible for giving break to Surinder Kaur with four songs in a row. Pyar ki Jeet (1948) put them in forefront of the music directors. Rafi’s IK DIL KE TUKDE HAZAAR HUWE was a chartbuster, giving a new dimension to sad songs. This song which was penned by Qamar Jalalabadi, as indeed he wrote so many other songs for the duo. It was initially written for the 1941 flick Sindoor. S.Mukherjee the director of Sindoor rejected this song, terming it as “useless.” Husnlal-Bhagatram did their best to make this composition a hit, and the pathos in the voice of Rafi perfectly suited the song as well as the musical temperament of the duo. Picturisation was altered to suit the demand of the song.  After this, there was a flood of offers coming the way of young Rafi.  Music Director Khayyam proudly calls the duo as his Gurus. It would be his fortune to be associated with Mohammed Rafi in the ‘Fifties-Sixties, beginning with Biwi where he provided music under a different name. The song, AKELE MEIN VOH GHABRAATE TOH HONGE in Biwi (1950) proved very popular. In the meantime, Husnlal-Bhagatram would utilize Rafi more and more and churn out hit songs in 1949.


Continued in 10...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

Let’s check out some 1947 songs of Rafi Sahaab:


The success of Anmol Ghadi had boosted the confidence of Noor Jahan and Shaukat Hussain, both of whom had married in 1944, to come out with their own production banner. The result was Jugnu, produced under the Shaukat Art Productions. Dilip Kumar and Noor Jahan came together for the first and last time. 

So also Rafi and Noor Jahan sang together for the first and the last time. Rafi Sahaab sang for Dilip Kumar for the first time: YAHAAN BADLAA WAFAA KA BEWAFAAI KE SIWAA KYAA HAI (with the reigning queen of melodies, Noor Jahan). It was Noor Jahan who favoured the budding Rafi over the currently popular G.M. Durrani for that classic duet. This shows that she knew him or had at least heard about him, having arrived in Bombay earlier in 1943. Feroze Nizami, of course, had no objection. He had known Rafi from his Lahore days when he and Rafi used to train under Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan. We can also be sure that Noor Jahan must have been truly amazed by the mellifluous voice of the young singer from Lahore. The difficult part of the song such as BADE ARMAAN SE WAADON NE...DIL MEIN GHAR BASAAYAA THAA... which is in the form of an Alaap in the first stanza, and then the crying anguish of the character (Dilip Kumar) BHULAA DOH HAAN BHULAA DOH in the second stanza, had all the elements of making Rafi the tragedy king of Bollywood singing in the same manner as Dilip Kumar became the Tragedy King of Acting. The interesting coincidence is that Jugnu zoomed not only Dilip Kumar but also Mohammed Rafi to the top. Both were destined to become legends in their respective field of acting and singing during their lifetime.
“Iss ke Baad Rafi Sahaab ko kabhee peechhe naheen dekhnaa pa.daa,” observes Shammi Kapoor for whom Rafi Sahaab sang so many songs of romantic love and flirtations, in the Sixties, enhancing his flamboyant image as the Rebel Hero. The price-tag of Rafi’s song came at par with that of Noor Jahan. He also had an acting stint in Jugnu and is seen singing his own song, WOH APNEE YAAD DILAANE KO with a chorus, a jovial collegian song which was something new in the movie at that time. After all, the tragic story was based on the college romance. Despite the ongoing communal riots, this movie did a fantastic business.

It would be of interest for the readers to know that on February 11,1982
a show called Mortal Men, Immortal Melodies (as mentioned before) was held at the Shanmukhanand Hall at Matunga, Mumbai to celebrate the visit of Malika-e-Tarannum Noor Jahan to India after the Partition. We could easily discern the nostalgic sentiments on the faces of both Dilip Kumar and Noor Jahan as if the Jugnu days were here again.  In a very impressive Urdu speech, Dilip Kumar confessed to the audience that intelligence and the words were unable to translate the feelings of a person who all of a sudden were to see a “dilkash” and “dil-fareb hasti” after 35 years. He had finally this to say to her: “Noor Jahanji jitne baras ke baad aap hamse milne aayee.n hai.n, Theek Utne hee baras aap kaa hamne intezaar kiyaa hai.” Sadly, there was no Mohammed Rafi Sahaab. O that the Madam had come some 2-3 years earlier!  Then the trilogy would have been complete. There would have been a historic repeat of YAHAAN BADLAA WAFAA KAA.... Alas!

Aage Badho:

Sudhir Phadke had given the music for this Dev Anand-Khursheed starrer. The only song that Rafi Sahaab sang with Khursheed before her departure to Pakistan was SAAWAN KI GHATAAO DHEERE DHEERE AANA where Khursheed has late entry in this song.

Do Bhai:

Rafi Sahaab had the outstanding song: DUNIYA ME.N MEREE AAJ ANDHERAA HI ANDHERAA. This song of lament was also a pointer in the direction that despite his youth, the young Rafi had ample maturity to empathise very well with the afflicted character of the film. It was S.D. Burman who provided music for Do Bhai. Two songs written by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan: MERA SUNDER SAPNA BEET GAYAA, and IK DIN HAMKO YAAD KAROGE among her other songs, made Geeta Roy very famous.

Aap Ki Sewa Mein:

Rafi had one solo number, MEREE ANKHON KE TAARE, plus a duet with Mohantara, MAIN TEREE TUU MERAA. Rafi had another duet also, DESH ME.N SANKAT AAYA HAI. This was with G.M. Sajan.

Datta Devjekar was the music director who had begun his career with Marathi films. In this movie, he introduced Lata Mangeshkar to Hindi films who sang her first three songs in Hindi. Her debut song was SHAM MOSE NAA KHELO HOREE which was written by Mahipal –yes Mahipal who was later to become the hero of many swashbuckling and mythological movies.

Shadi Se Pehle:

Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar sang their first duet together: CHALO HO GAYEE TAYYAAR, ZARAA TEHRO JEE... This number is really one of its kind and a hilarious one. There was also a Rafi’s solo, probably his first ‘Bidaai’ song: CHALI SAJAN GHAR JAAYE AAJ DULHANIYA KES SA.NWAARE KESAR BINDIYAA KAAJAR DAARE... An interesting song this is, with ‘taan’ ‘alaaps’ and even a different type of high pitch lines. Music is said to be by C. Ramchandra. The composition type, however, seems to me to be a mixture of Pankaj Mullick and S.D. Burman styles. Lyrics were by Pandit Mukhram Sharma.


C. Ramchandra provided excellent music. Mohammed Rafi gave us a song which even after more than sixty years does not fail to pull us to him by virtue of its oozing romance, sweetness and lovable sadness. This was HAMM KO TUMHAARA HI AASRA penned by Moti. We have also the same song of his in a duet with Lalita Dewulkar.  Another Rafi solo was O BAABU GALI MEIN TERE CHAAND CHAMKAA which was written by Qamar Jalalabadi.

Other duets with Lalita are KISKO SUNAAOO.N HAAL-E-DIL, and MAIN HOON JAIPUR KI BANJAARAN – the first one was written by Moti and the second one by Qamar Jalabadi. Then we have the trio of Rafi, Lalita, and Geeta singing ISS BANJAARE SANGG HAMAARE as well as SAMBHAL SAMBHAL KE JAIYO, written by Moti and Ram Murti respectively. Both the songs had the chorus for company.

Some of the other 1947 movies in which Rafi Sahaab sang were:

Shanti: JEEVAN HAI ANMOL, and QISMAT KO DEKHO HAMSAFAR for which V.S. Thakur provided the music and Shakeel Badayuni penned the lyrics;

Malika: DAS NA JAAYEN ZULFEN TUJHKO which was composed by A.R. Qureshi while the lyrics were written by Tanvir Naqvi;

Utho Jaago: PREM KI NAIYA DOL RAHEE HAI, composed by Aziz Khan;

Rishta: MAYA MANN KA ROG HAI penned by Wahshi Jaunpuri and composed by Mohammed Shafi;

Ek Kadam: TUU BHEE RAAHEE a duet with Shamshad Begum, composed by Prakash Sharma and written by Avatar Visharad;

In Dak Bungalow: JAB BAITHE BAITHE DIL BHAR AAYE penned by D.N. Madhok and composed by Naresh Bhattacharya.

Besides Jugnu, Samaj Ko Badal Dalo was another film in 1947 where Rafi had done some acting stint. Some of the other movies that did brisk business were Mirza Sahiban, Shehnai, Elan, Saajan, Neel Kamal and Dard. Shehnai is especially remembered for that western number composed by C. Ramchandra: AANA MEREE JAAN SUNDAY KE SUNDAY sung by Meena Kapoor and C.Ramchandra as Chitalkar, and the same song again with Shamshad Begum. Amirbai’s MAARI KATAARI MAR JAANA is simply unforgettable. The year also saw Rajinder Krishan writing his first song, GOREE GHUNGHAT KE PATT KHOL for the movie, Janta, which had music by Harishchandra Bali. Raj Kapoor sang his own song in Jail Yatra, PIYA MILNE NAVELEE JAAYE RE. Even in Dil Ki Raani he sings a song, O DUNYAA KE REHNE WAALON. Then, In Piya Ghar Aajaa, Meena Kumari sang 2 duets with Karan Dewan and six 6 solos under the musical direction of Bulo C. Rani. Actor Manhar Desai made his Hindi film debut in Toofaani Sawaar. Next, Mirabai had all the 13 songs sung by Sitara of Kanpur (not the Kathak dancer Sitara Devi) where the music was provided by S.K. Pal. In Mira, M.S. Subbulakshmi played the role and sang 15 of the 18 songs in the movie. Manna Dey sang the devotional numbers in Geet Govind.

The year also saw the emergence of a music director and excellent trumpeteer who would have been easily forgotten if it were not for his four sons who became music directors in the Bombay film industry in the next generation. Pyarelal of the Laxmikant-Pyarelal was one such son. His father, Pandit Ram Prasad Sharma, gave music for 7 movies, beginning with Nayee Baat and including Shakti (1948) and Magic Carpet (1964) – the same year that Dosti made the nation crazy with Rafi Sahaab’s immortal songs CHAAHUNGAA MAIN TUJHE SAANJH SAVERE and other songs under the musical direction of his son Pyarelal along with Laxmikant.

In 1947 A.R. Kardar released his Dard which is notable for the singing debut of Uma Devi under Naushad’s baton. The song was AFSAANA LIKH RAHEE HOON DIL-E-BEQARAAR KAA, and this song alone made her very famous. Another of her songs was AAJ MACHEE HAI DHOOM. An interesting duet of hers is with Suraiya: BETAAB HAI YEH DIL DARD-E-MOHABBAT KE ASAR SE. It’s a pity that such a fine singer was reduced to playing comic roles, such as the one in Babul (1950) where she was christened as Tun Tun by Naushad. But even in this new avatar she excelled herself. I remember her children attending the same school as me in Cadell Road, Mahim, Bombay. Old timers inform me that Shamshad Begum’s song HAMM DARD KA AFSAANA almost got Dard banned, as the British Government thought that it incited a section of the Indian citizens against the British governance which was still in place – though there were no such thing in that song, unless they considered the line ROTE HUWE NAGHMON SE TOOFAN UTHAA DENGE.... or the lines:


Haay! Those were the fiery lines of Shakeel Badayuni who had just made his debut with this film and who would go on to write lyrics for some 89 movies, mostly with Naushad and Ravi and to some extent, Hemant Kumar.

Mohammed Rafi with his first car: Morris BMY 4004 in 1947.


To continue...

Monday, September 28, 2009


A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

The year 1947 was a very eventful year. Politically, India got independence from the British Raj and a new country of East and West Pakistan also came into existence.

Millions of people were dislocated on either side. At least a million died in the beastly and brutal communal riots that followed. Saadat Manto has graphically chronicled the holocaust of the Partition but from a humanitarian view. Amrita Pritam in her Ode to Waris Ali Shah, the Sufi Saint and Poet known for his legendary Poem, Heer Ranjha, has lamented the division and burning of Punjab. The historical account has been rendered in Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. Deepa Mehta’s movie, 1947 Earth (based on Ice Candy Man) and Gaddar a Prem Katha are depicted against the background of the horrendous consequences of the Partition.

The why’s and wherefore’s of the Partition have never been openly discussed, or if discussed they, just as some other historical facts, have been glossed over or distorted in various books. The latest exposure comes from Jaswant Singh’s book, Jinnah: India- Partition, Independence which was initially banned in the Indian state of Gujarat, and for which Jaswant Singh has been thrown out by his own party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) like a fly in the ointment for glorification of Jinnah and holding Pandit Nehru and Sardar Vallabh Patel responsible for the Partition of India. According to journalist Khushwant Singh, the leaders were not to blame, but the circumstances that had evolved over the centuries. Let’s leave this matter to the political analysts, intellectuals and historians, and come back to our subject and see what the film industry lost and gained as the result of the partition.

A.R. Kardar’s Shah Jahan, V.Shantaram’s Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani, and Vijay Bhatt’s Ram Rajya were shown at Canadian National Exhibition at Toronto. Unfortunately, the hero of Shah Jahan was no more. It was Naushad Saab who had convinced Saigal Saab that he could sing very well even without his “Kaali Paanch”. “Kaali Paanch” was the code name for whiskey pegs that K.L. Saigal used to imbibe during recordings. “If I had met you earlier, I would have been a different Kundan altogether,” the singer told Naushad. Alas! It was too late then.

The legendary singer died of cirrhosis of the liver on 18th January 1947. The band played JAB DIL HEE TOOT GAYAA at his funeral as per his dying wish. Just 250 soulful songs and 28 films had made K.L. Saigal immortal in the Musical Hall of Fame. There was no one who commanded rapt attention as Saigal Saab used to command during that time. With his untimely death a void had been created in the world of Hindustani filmy music.

(This "void" can be explained better with an example: After Rafi Sahaab’s premature death in 1980, many aspiring singers jumped on the bandwagon of his style of singing and successfully carved a niche for themselves for a decade, managing with just an individual shade out of the many shades of Rafi Sahaab’s powerehouse of a talent. These singers were Anwar, Shabbir Kumar, Mohammed Aziz, and others. Sonu Nigam was a just a child then, but when he took to singing it was his idol, Mohammed Rafi, whose songs he began to sing before coming into his own. The same thing happened after the demise of K.L. Saigal.)

With most of the actors having given up singing too about the mid-Forties, playback singing was a new industry and those who came in at that stage. Most of them were heavily influenced by the Saigal style of singing. Mukesh and Kishore Kumar too were smitten by K.L. Saigal for that matter, and in fact earlier in 1945 Mukesh sang DIL JALTA TOH JALNE DE in a typical K.L. Saigal style in Pehli Nazar. Kishore Kumar, initially sang in the traditional style of Saigal Saab. C.H. Atma too carried this tradition all his life. Surendra in Bombay remained a poor man’s Saigal. Even Bulo C. Rani who later stuck to musical direction had initially commenced singing in the style of K.L. Saigal. Naushad, who had teamed up with Saigal in Kedar’s masterpiece Shahjehan gave the last of great musical hits that kept the memory K.L. Saigal alive.
The contemporaries and the gen-next were crazy after K.L. Saigal. A classic example is that of Lata Mangeshkar who in her early years had a crush on him and wanted to marry him but was advised to the contrary by her father, Dinanath Mangeshkar. Shamshad Begum watched Saigal’s Devdas over and over again. Suraiya, too, was thrilled by K.L. Saigal when he directed the director of movie, where Suraiya was singing, to cast her opposite him in Tadbir (1945) after which they did two more movies. Talat Mehmood was an ardent fan of Saigal, and used to croon his songs in family gatherings in early stages of his life.

Mohammed Rafi, too, in his early years wanted to sing along with K.L. Saigal even if it meant singing in a chorus and he did sing in the chorus of the famous Ruhee song as we have already noted. After more than a decade later, Rafi Sahaab would be singing: MARR KE AMAR HAI SAIGAL JISKA HAR KOEE DEEWAANA HAI in the TEEN-KANASTAR song from a 1958 film, Love Marriage. It is no wonder, therefore, that for many years after Saigal’s demise, Radio Ceylon used to play a 78 rpm record of his songs every day at 7:57 a.m. It is against this background that emergence of Mohammad Rafi has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

India suffered a loss of many film artistes who permanently shifted to Pakistan. Noor Jahan did not at once migrate to Pakistan in 1947. She did so after finishing her assignments here one of which was Mirza Sahiban that again had her unforgettable numbers such as KYA YEHI TERAA PYAAR THAAH and AAJAA TUJHE AFSAANA JUDAAI KA SUNAAYEN. By 1949 Noor Jahan and Shaukat Hussain were spotted in Karachi and thereafter in Lahore. Though Shaukat Hussain was a hit director with Khandan, Zeenath and Jugnu in India, he proved to be a flop director in Pakistan. His Jan-e-Bahar crashed at the box-office. A fan of Noor Jahan informs us that she had already sung about 127 songs in about 69 Indian films during the period 1932-47. Some 55 movies were made in Bombay, 5 in Lahore, 1 in Rangoon (Burma), and 8 in Calcutta. She also did 12 Silent Movies. Noor Jahan had been Lata Mangeshkar’s inspiration in the early years of the latter’s musical life.

The others who migrated were Actress Swaran Lata and her actor-director husband Nazir, producer-director W.Z. Ahmad, and Khwaja Khursheed Anwar who had last composed the music for K.L. Saigal-Suraiya starrer, Parwana.  Of course, he came back to India later in 1949 and composed music for more films before finally leaving for Pakistan for good.  Khursheed Bano of Tansen fame migrated later. Composer Master Ghulam Haider went to Pakistan in 1950 after doing some more films, including Kaneez (1949), in India. Film star Rehana who had the best phase of her career in India from 1948-51, migrated later in 1956 after completing her last films here.

Meena Shorey, the Lara Lappa girl, migrated to Pakistan in 1956 for good and died in penury. Tanvir Naqvi also went back to his original place, Lahore, after a few years of partition. Shaikh Mukhtar migrated to Pakistan in the Sixties saddened by the fact that his magnum opus, Noor Jahan, flopped miserably after its premier at the Naaz Cinema, Bombay. This movie, however, did roaring business in Pakistan. There is a very mellifluous number of Rafi Sahaab in Noor Jahan: VOH MUHABBAT VOH WAFAAYEN... Composer Nisar Bazmi (Khoj fame) too migrated in June 1962, since his talent was not duly recognised despite his struggle for 15 long years in Bombay. Khoj has been rendered immortal by Rafi Sahaab’s moving song: CHANDAA KA DIL TOOT GAYAA HAI. Some other names are Nashad and Faiyaz Hashimi (Bara Dari fame) Iqbal Bano, and Fateh Ali Khan. There were a host of classical singers and musicians who went to Pakistan. But as Akhtar Mirza says, those who came to Pakistan from the glittering Bombay film industry ended up in failures. Included in this list is Zia Sarhady who worked with every actor and scripted or directed movies from 1936 to 1956 and made Footpath, Aawaaz, and Hamlog; and M. Sadiq who directed Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), Taj Mahal (1963) Noor Jahan (1967) and other earlier movies such as Rattan and Nazneen. The promising child-star, Ratan Kumar,  who had acted in such films as Footpath (Dilip Kumar starrer), Bahot Din Huwe (Madhubala starrer) and Boot Polish with Baby Naaz, too remained generally unsung after he migrated in mid-Fifties. How can we forget the Rafi-Asha duet: NANNEH MUNNE BACHCHE TEREE MUTTHEE ME.N KYAA HAI...that was picturised on David singing to children that included Ratan Kumar and Baby Naaz!  Lastly, Saadat Hasan Manto who had actually shifted to Bombay in 1937 and found himself at home in the film industry here, shifted to Pakistan in early 1948.  But this D.H. Lawrence of  Asia  could never forget Bombay "that was the city I love.  That is the city that I still love."

If Bombay lost lots of filmy talents to Lahore, it gained many in return. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan also went to his native place Kasur in Pakistan, but he came back to India and acquired the Indian citizenship in 1957. He had said: “If in every home one child was taught the Hindustani Classical Music, this country would never have been parititioned.“  Others who returned to India  included Nasir Khan, the brother of legendary Indian Matinee Idol, Dilip Kumar, and Suresh on whom the ever-popular Rafi Sahaab's song  in Dulari (1949) SUHAANI RAAT DHAL CHUKI was picturised. The former was the hero of  the first-ever Pakistani movie, Teri Yaad; and of the second movie, Shahida.  Both were made in 1948.  Suresh too worked in two Pakistani movies, "Do Kinare" (1950)  and "Eid" (1951).  Others who had migrated earlier and settled down in Pakistan were Sadiq Ali and Masood who acted as the film heroes of the many Nineteen Forties movies.   Dev Anand and Balraj Sahni had graduated from Government College, Lahore, where Amitabh Bachchan’s mother, Tajasavi Bachchan, was the lecturer before their earlier migration. Also, Kamini Kaushal’s father was a Professor of Botany there, while she herself did her B.A. at the Lahore’s Kinnaird College. Others were Ramanand Sagar, Om Prakash, Pran, Chetan Anand, film tycoon Dalsukh Pancholi (remember the famous Pancholi Theatres?), and others including Jayant. B.R. Chopra, (who used to publish English film magazines then) Yash Chopra, Shekhar Kapoor, Anupam Kher, too were Lahorites. Others who migrated from Lahore were composers O.P. Nayyar, Roshan (Gujranwala), Pandit Gobind Ram, (Pandit Amarnath had already died in Feb.1947) Shyam Sunder, Lachhi Ram and Dhanni Ram. Khayyam had started his career in Lahore. So also Sahir Ludhianvi. Prithviraj Kapoor and his sons were from Peshwar. Dilip Kumar aka Yusuf Khan was also from Peshwar. Raj Kumar and Veena were born in Baluchistan. Rajendra Kumar had come from Sialkot, Gulzar and Sunil Dutt from Jhelum, and Anand Bakshi from Rawalpindi.

At the same time more and more film personalities permanently shifted from Lahore and elsewhere in Pakistan to Bombay. Many chose to make India their home. Rafi Sahaab and Shamshad Begum, who were originally from what came to be called as the East Punjab, had gone to Lahore in mid-Thirties. They finally left Lahore for good in 1944 to seek singing career in the Bombay film industry. As for Suraiya many sources trace her roots to Lahore and a few to Gujranwala, but she had already settled in India long before, completing her high school studies in Bombay.  During the pre-partition years, Veena was a huge successful actress. Even Nargis and Suraiya played a second fiddle to her. However, she married the much married and divorced actor, Al-Nasir, and went to Pakistan with him. Ultimately, owing to lack of work, both had to come back to India in 1949 but on a visa. But she had lost her position. She finally decided to remain in India until her death in 2004.




A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

While we are still in 1946, Noor Jahan was singing a beautiful song penned by Anjum Pilibhiti and composed by Hafiz Khan in Hamjoli starring herself, Jairaj and Agha among others. The song was: YEH DESH, YEH DESH HAMAARA PYAARA HINDUSTAN JAHAA.N SE NYAARAA/HINDUSTAAN KE HAMM HAIN PYAARE, HINDUSTAAN HAMAARA PYAARA. This song draws our attention to the anticipated independence from the British Raj.

It was in 1946 that Rafi’s Sahaab’s name appeared for the first time in the credits of Arab Ka Sitaara which was Cuckoo’s debut film. ROSHAN SA IK SITAARA was a duet he sang with Amirbai Karnataki.

Some of the other movies of 1946 for which Rafi Sahaab sang are:

Amar Raj:

Two solos: PRAAN TYAAG KAR TUUNE DEEWAANEE; and TO.DO TO.DO TO.DO DIL KE TAAR. Another solo was: MAIN JAB GAAOON GEET SUHAANA, GAAYE MERE SAATH ZAMAANA, written by Pandit Fani. This must be his earliest semi-classical song. There was also a duet with Mohantara: MAI.N JAB CHHE.DOO PREM TARAANAA. Music was by Feroze Nizami. Yes, this was for Wadia Movietone. A curious thing here is that Rafi Sahaab’s name is missing from the duet. The 78RPM record mentions: “Mohantara Talpade in duet” though she sings hardly for a minute, while the young Rafi sings for nearly six minutes for this song which is recorded on both the sides of the record. In an ordinary 78RPM 10-inch disc, just a little over 3 minutes could be recorded on one side. Such was the limit of the technology then. In this movie, a young Nirupa Roy, made her acting debut.

Mera Geet:

MERA SWAPN BA.DAA SUHAANAA; JAAKE PARDES PIYAA BHOOL NAA JAANAA; both under musical direction of Shankar Rao Vyas. Ramesh Gupta wrote the lyrics.


Rafi Sahaab sang two duets with Shamshad Begum: YEH NAYAN KYOO.N SHARMA GAYE, and DIL MUJHKO JALAATAA HAI. Hanuman Prasad was the music director.

Rang Bhoomi:

The music was rendered by Premnath. The songs of Rafi Sahaab are: SOOYE MANZIL BADHAAYE CHALAA CHAL KOEE along with chorus; then three duets with Shamshad Begum: AAG LAGEE TANN MANN DHANN; JO AAGE BA.DHE USSE; and KHUD SAMAJH LO KE ILTIJAA KYAA.

Sona Chandi:

Tufail Farooqi was the music director. Rafi Sahaab had two solos and two duets as follows: ABKE BHAGWAAN DAYAA KARENGE and DAATAA JI TERE BHED NAA PAAYAA; one duet with Shamshad Begum: BAITHE HAI.N TERE DAR PE; the other duet with Ameerbai: MANN KI SOONEE NAGARIYAA.


Music was by Gobind Ram. Rafi Sahaab sang two duets with Shamshad Begum: WATAN KEE AMAANAT MEREE ZINDAGEE HAI with chorus; and BALA JAWANVAA SAMBHAALAA NAA JAAYE.


Music was by C.Ramchandra. The notable solos of Rafi Sahaab are: KEHKE BHEE NAA AAYE TUM where the tonal quality and style of Rafi Sahaab reminds us of the mid-fifties. It proved to be a hit song. The other song was, AB VOH HAMAARE HO GAYE.

Some of the following 1946 movies have a song each of Rafi Sahaab:

Sassi Punnu:

AASHIQ KA KAAFLAA along with G.M. Durrani and chorus. Music was by Gobind Ram.

Room No.9:

RAHE TOH KAISE RAHE DIL PE IKHTIYAAR, which had music by Rashid Atre and lyrics by Naqshab.


Hari Prasanna Das was the music director. Rafi Sahaab sang a duet with Hameeda Bano: ROOKHEE SOOKHEE MAI.N KHAA LOONGEE.


S.N. Tripathi composed the music for this movie. Rafi sang Yeh Hind Ki Kahaaniyan with Geeta Roy and Binapani.

Here are some more solos of Rafi Sahaab:

Arab Ka Sitaara: The inspiring song, Milta Hai Kya Namaaz Me.n - Music by S.Qureshi, Lyrics:Shevan Rizvi. 

Bachchon Ka Khel: Kalpana karo Naveen Kalpana Karo - (Rafi and Chorus), Music by C.Ramchandra, Lyrics by Magan.

Hawaai Khatola: Meri bigdee huwee qismat - Music by Bashir Dehlavi, Lyrics: Qaiser Sabai

Mansarovar: Badhe Chalo Badhe Chalo - as stated before, music was by S.N.Tripathi while Ishwar Chandra wrote the lyrics:

Shah Jahan and Anmol Ghadi.
In 1946 Naushad was again at his best in Anmol Ghadi and Shah Jahan. Both these movies were
immensely popular along with other movies such as the Dilip Kumar starrer Milan, Saigal starrer Omar Khayyam, V.Shantaram’s Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani, and Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar.

Noor Jahan and Mehboob Khan had come together for the first time – and the last time in Anmol Ghadi which was Noor Jahan’s greatest hit. As for the songs of Anmol Ghadi, Noor Jahan’s JAWAA.N HAI MOHABBAT, AAJAA AAJAA MEREE, MERE BACHPAN KE SAATHI and KYA MIL GAYA BHAGWAAN, and the duet AAWAAZ DE were super-hits overshadowing the good songs of Shamshad Begum and Suraiya. Noor Jahan at just 20 was at her career-best. Suraiya played the second lead to her.

The songs of Anmol Ghadi are etched in everyone’s memory. So when she visited Mumbai in 1982, she was accorded a warm reception by Dilip Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Naushad. Even Suraiya was present. When Noor Jahan began to sing AAWAAZ DE KAHAA.N HAI, DUNYA MEREE JAWAA.N HAI, on the stage for the show "Mortal Men, Immortal Melodies" she and the composer Naushad had tears in their eyes. The latter exclaimed that she had indeed done him the honour and “made my song immortal.” Anmol Ghadi had also raised the stock of Tanvir Naqvi so that he had charged a whopping Rs.5,000/- for his work. What an irony of fate that the same talented lyricist had to go round the studios in Pakistan for merely Rs.200/- in the Seventies!

Two years had elapsed since Pehle Aap (1944) when Naushad had given the young Rafi an opportunity to sing a couple of duets. For the first time, Naushad Ali gave a solo number to Rafi in Anmol Ghadi (1946): TERA KHILONA TOOTA BAALAK, which was playbacked for an unknown character of a toy-seller, since the movie had Mehboob’s favourite singer-hero, Surendra. After this, the team of Mehboob Khan and Naushad worked in a number of blockbuster movies.

Shah Jahan had the best of K.L. Saigal numbers. Naushad was the first to record songs and the music on different tracks and then mixing them together and he also did this in Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan had excellent songs of K.L. Saigal such as GHAM DIYE MUSTAQIL KITNAA NAAZUK HAI DIL, CHAAH BARBAAD KAREGEE HAMEN MAALOOM NAA THAAH, and JAB DIL HEE TOOT GAYAA. The lyrics of all the ten songs were credited to the debutant Majrooh Sultanpuri, the young chela of Jigar Moradabadi. However, according to the article in “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil,” the songs BEDARD NA KAR; CHAAH BARBAAD KAREGEE HAMEN; AY DIL BEQARAAR JHOOM were written by Khumar Barabankavi.

Naushad would be fulfilling the wishes of the young singer by giving him an opportunity to sing in the chorus of a K.L. Saigal song in Shah Jahan. Naushad himself had been enamoured of K.L. Saigal. Rafi was happy with just the chorus rendering of RUHEE RUHEE RUHEE, MERE SAPNON KI RANI, where he can be easily spotted on the screen and actually sings the entire line towards the fag-end of the song when a faqir is shown entering the scene. The blessing of K.L. Saigal had come full circle. Who could have imagined that after nearly a decade the same lad who sang at the K.L. Saigal Concert in Lahore would also sing along with the legendary singer/actor in a movie that would create history of the present and the future legends coming together in the same song! The RUHEE song is specially remembered for that reason.

Thus Rafi Sahaab also has the distinction of not only being blessed by K.L. Saigal but also singing a song with him – the distinction denied to self-proclaimed fans such as Mukesh, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Talat Mehmood, and Shamshad Begum who were already a sensation by mid-Forties. All of them and also Geeta Dutt, would be dominating the Indian playback scene along with Rafi Sahaab in the decades to come.


To continue...

Sunday, September 27, 2009


A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of All Times - by Nasir.

Looking outside of India, the use of atomic bombs by the USA in August 1945 over Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan no doubt forced the surrender of the Imperial Japanese forces, but the devastating power of the bombs and the resulting annihilation and long-term suffering of the survivors also shocked the world, leading to the protests for abolition of nuclear weapons ever since. Many movies were produced on the subject and in recent memory one Indian movie Aman (1967) comes to my mind.

In India, by 1946, winds of change were blowing more and more with the coming years. The two-nation theory was gaining ground and there was a general unrest in the Indian populace at the prospect of the division of the country. Worst Communal riots broke out in Calcutta and this spilled over to other regions of Bengal and Bihar and to some extent in other provinces too.

Sometimes, when the law and order situations prevailed, the theatres had to be closed down. I remember my parents telling me that once they were in the midst of watching Mehboob Khan’s Anmol Ghadi at the Minerva Theatre in Mumbai when the Management stopped the screening and asked everyone in the hall to go home as communal riots had broken out in Mumbai. It was with great difficulty that my parents reached home alive at the nearby Nana Chowk and so must have others who stayed alive. It was not the kind of Calcutta communal riots fortunately. So such unfortunate things used to happen then.

The theatres or rather the “Talkies” which exhibited hundreds of movies were one place where all people irrespective of the castes, creeds, and communities could sit together as one family and enjoy the movie. The themes of the movie were such which portrayed the social problems that affected one and all, irrespective of the religion of the community. Just as the blood of all the communities is red, even of the so-called ‘blue-blood’ aristocracy and nobility. The filmy themes dealt with poverty, child marriage, widow re-marriage, women’s emancipation, patriotism, evils of usury, palace intrigues, chieftan’s revolts, some war movies, cruelty of step-mothers, family values and ideals - which were common to every one. It appears that Indian movies were the great catalyst in restoring normalcy and keeping the people together.

Before 1946 the cutting of records was in the hands of a single company, EMI Ltd. This Company was incorporated as the Gramophone Co. (India) Ltd., in 1946. There were subsequent name changes too, the last being in the year 2000 when the name was changed to Saregama India Ltd. But it is the brand name HMV (His Master’s Voice) that the old timers are nostalgic about. Anyway, during the early years when playback singing was beginning to make waves, the names of the playback singers were not mentioned but the names of the character of the movies were mentioned on the gramophone records. Still worse, while the names of the female singers were mentioned, Rafi’s name was not mentioned. Therefore, Rafi Sahaab never got the credit for many of his early songs. Since before then, all along, the actors had themselves been rendering their voice for the songs, the actors did not relish the idea of making the cine-goer believe that they were just lip-synching the song which had been playbacked by another person behind the screen. The old films did not list the playback singers even in their credit titles of the movie. Thus many songs of Rafi Sahaab were lost, especially during the conversion from the old 78RPM records to the newer versions, as and when they came into vogue. Generally, the original soundtrack of the movies and the masters of the 78RPM records were also destroyed to reuse for newer songs. Needless to say, the selection being subjective, many Gems of Rafi Sahaab’s songs were lost – some of which were found only in private collections. It is also known that disinterested members of family throw away the old records once the avid collector of the family ceases to exist. Akbar Shah, who came from the line of avid record collectors, during his collection spree came to the Kabaadi (Junk) Market of Hyderabad and found a record which he thought no longer existed. It was the song of Mohammed Rafi where he had soulfully rendered SABAK RAZA KA DE GAYE KARBALA WAALE which was from a 1954 flick, Shaan-e-Haatham. If such could be the state of the songs of the Fifties, what must have happened to those of the Forties?

On the positive note, the Hindi film production which had dropped to 74 in 1945, shot up to 156 in 1946.

It was in 1946 that Geeta Roy made her debut in Bhakta Prahlad under Hanuman Prasad and later became famous with Do Bhai (1947) under S.D. Burman who had made his Hindi musical debut with Shikari in 1946. Geeta Roy had the looks more of a film heroine than that of a playback singer. Her first song with Mohammed Rafi was recorded in 1946 and it was a patriotic song: JAI HIND, JAI HIND, JAI HIND, YEH HIND KI KAHAANIYAAN. Accompanying them was Beena Pani and chorus. Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar is exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. Meena Kumar bagged her first role as an adult person after a score of baby roles. Kishore Kumar made his first appearance as an actor in Shikari. Meena Kapoor made her debut in Eight Days which had music by S.D. Burman. Music Director Sudhir Phadke, too, made his appearance in his first Hindi movie, Gokul. Chitragupt came out as an independent music director in Lady Robinhood. Ram Ganguli, an assistant of R.C. Boral, made his musical debut with Maharana Pratap. Hansraj Behl too came into his own after assisting Khemchand Prakash, Rashid Atre, and Pandit Gobindram. He made his musical debut in Pujari in which Baby Madhubala had a song to sing. Lata Mangeshkar appeared in Jeevan Yatra and also sang a solo under the baton of Vasant Desai. As far as actors were concerned, Dev Anand, Rehman, and Rehana made their debut appearances in Hum Ek Hain which was directed by the debutant P.L. Santoshi. Abhi Bhattacharya acted in a Hindi film for the first time. This movie was Milan which starred Dilip Kumar. Neecha Nagar lauched the careers of Chetan Anand, Kamini Kaushal and others. Dharti Ke Lal, directed by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, won critical acclaim at home and abroad. K.L. Saigal’s Umar Khayam was released. This was his second film with Suraiya. His third film with Suraiya, Parwana(1947) would be his last.

The visually-challenged musician and singer, K.C. Dey was an unparalleled singer who after earning great fame as actor, singer and composer in the Thirties, had shifted to Mumbai in 1942 till his final return to Calcutta in 1946. Once, aided by his protégé, Manna Dey, K.C. Dey had composed a song for a movie called Justice. When the composition was ready, K.C. Dey instructed Manna Dey to let Rafi know that the tune was ready for him to sing. Manna Dey was flabbergasted. Rafi had worked as a chorus singer under him when he was the Assistant Music Director. How could this be? Manna Dey frankly recounts in his interview with Kavita Chibber that he felt very hurt at that time.

He asked his uncle: “’Why can’t I sing it?’

My uncle said ‘No you can’t! Only he can sing this.’

I swallowed my pride and fetched him and then after he finished recording, I realised that indeed, I couldn’t have sung it as well as he did.” (Italics mine).

This great singer has always been a frank admirer of Rafi Sahaab as many of his interviews show. As late as his interview in the Kolkata's Times of India of October 4, 2009 he stated that he trusted his uncle's judgment, and knew that Rafi deserved those songs. "Rafi was a better singer than me. He gave birth to a unique style," he said categorically.

First it was K.L. Saigal, and now here was another great singer, K.C. Dey of MANN KEE ANKHEN KHOL BABA (Dhoop Chhaon) fame who, on the strength of his inner eye, put a stamp of approval on the tremendous potentials of Rafi Sahaab! Many years later, the illustrious S.D. Burman, who was a chela of K.C. Dey, would use the same ploy with Manna Dey and pass on the song to Rafi Sahaab.  As Manna Da himself  revealed: "Often after rehearsing a song for days with me, Dada would tell me 'Now that you know the song well guide Rafi to sing the song!"

Similarly, there is an incident which does not belong to the Forties but mentioning it here is a must in order to complete the links of the Bengali chain. That link in the chain is R.C. Boral. He was a stalwart of the New Theatres, and the one who discovered and shaped the voice of K.L. Saigal and the one who had introduced the playback singing in 1935. To state it briefly, this Dada Saheb Phalke Award Winner, would come face to face with Mohammed Rafi many years later for recording of a Bengali Kirtan which the former had composed. He thought that if he were not satisfied with Rafi, he could always have any of the well-known Bengal singers sing the Kirtan for him. Rafi Sahaab had always been conscientious about his work. He asked R.C. Boral’s permission for a short prayer. After offering his ‘Namaaz’ in one corner of the recording-room, he came to the mike to render the Kirtan. The result of the rendition of the Kirtan was so perfect that R.C. Boral was wonder-struck at the genius of this non-Bengali singer.

It was after Rafi Sahaab had passed away in 1980 that R.C. Boral paid a glowing tribute to him in an AIR programme at Calcutta, narrating that wonderful experience. If he had not told us of this amazing contribution of Rafi Sahaab at that time, we would never have known, for the very next year (1981) R.C. Boral, the Father of Indian Music, too passed away. For the records, R.C. Boral had utilized Rafi Sahaab in the three movies of the early Fifties: Mahaprabhu Chaitanya and Dard-e-Dil (1953) and in Swami Vivekanand in 1955 which is not our subject-matter here.



Saturday, September 26, 2009


Rafi and Hameed in Poona (courtesy Mohammed Parvez)

A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.
The young Mohammed Rafi and Hameed boarded a train to a tearful send-off by relatives, friends and well-wishers.
After arriving in Mumbai, Mohammed Rafi took up a modest residence first at Dongri and then in Kitab Manzil in Bhendi Bazaar, a bustling commercial area with narrow lanes and crowded tenements and numerous Masjids.  The ‘Victoria’ i.e. the horse driven carriages, the taxis, and the electric-trams running even in narrow lanes and by-lanes, added to the congestion. Not to speak of the bullock-carts and the hand-carts that were used to transfer the goods intracity. According to one report, when Rafi and Hameed first arrived in Bombay they took up a room on a monthly rent of Five Rupees in Princess Building (259, Alka Mansion) on Mohammed Ali Road which is just an extension of Bhendi Bazaar.  As luck would have it, they became friendly with a family residing on the 2nd floor of this building.  One thing led to another, and soon Abdul Hameed married Mehrunisa, and the 20-year old Rafi married Bilquis Begum, the sister of Mehrunissa.  Both the girls were the daughters of Sirajuddin Ahmed Bari and Talimunisa who were more than happy at this marriage.  Thus, Rafi and Abdul Hameed were tied in a bond as co-brothers (hamm-zulf in Urdu).  Only when things would get better for the young Rafi, that he would shift with his family to an apartment in the posh Colaba area and finally to Bandra.

The era still belonged to actor-singers. For a person who wanted just the job of playback singing, the time was still not ripe. Rafi had to face a bitter struggle to make ends meet in the beginning of his career.  But he was known for his patience and belief in providence even when he was at Lahore.  So he took those gruelling of a struggler in his strides.  It is said that Rafi would walk from Bhendi Bazaar up to Dadar, the centre of filmy activities then. Since non-Mumbaikars would have no idea of this distance I would like to take the initiative of providing an idea of this pretty long stretch. Dadar was then the hub of the film personalities. Mahim was considered a suburb. In order to reach Dadar on foot from Bhendi Bazaar one has to first reach the junction of the J.J. Hospital, (15 minutes), from there walking straight ahead, passing the Richardson and Cruddas, the Jewish synagogue, Hume High School, and The Traffic Institute, one would reach Khada Parsi which falls in Byculla (20 minutes). Again, going straight from the Khada Parsi one would reach the Byculla Market, Anthony D’Souza High School, Palace Cinema, Byculla Railway Station, Rani Baagh or the zoo that was known as the Victoria Gardens (another 20 minutes or so). Then further, we need to reach Lal Baugh area by passing the Jaihind Talkies, (say 15 minutes); going from Lal Baugh to Parel would take another 20 minutes. Then from Parel we need to pass the Surya Talkies (wonder if it’s still there), then further towards the Hind Mata Talkies, then Chitra Cinema and the Kohinoor Mills and finally Dadar in maybe 25 minutes. So that’s about two hours walking distance at a fast pace. A bagful of ‘Chana’ (grams) kept him and his brother Hamid, company. Such were the days of struggle for Rafi Sahaab. The other probable alternative must have been the electric-tram which was the cheapest form of conveyance. From the Sassoon Dock which was to the extreme south even further down than Colaba, the tram fare up to Dadar was just One and a Half Anna (9 paise). From Bhendi Bazaar to Dadar, it must have been One Anna (6 paise) at the most. In fact, even as late as 1964 when last of the trams were removed from Mumbai, the fare between Museum (the Regal Cinema) and King Circle which is still further than Dadar, was just 6 paise.

In order to make the ends meet, Rafi also used to sing in the ‘Mehfils’ usually of the Punjabi fraternity. According to an account by Syed Abid Ali, after Rafi’s arrival in Mumbai, he performed in his sprawling bungalow on the occasion of the sister of Syed Abid Ali. Roshan Ara Begum had shifted from Calcutta to Mumbai in the late ‘Thirties. She came to be known as “Bombay-waali” Roshan Ara Begum (1917-1982). She used to live with her police-inspector husband in one part of the Bungalow. Hearing the young Rafi sing, she was duly captivated. She predicted:

“The man with the golden voice was destined to go far in life.”

This observation was significant as Roshan Ara Begum had herself been a student of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan (d.1937) who was the cousin and brother-in-law of Mohammed Rafi’s Ustad, Abdul Wahid Khan. After migration to Pakistan she was later conferred with such titles as “malika-e-mausiqee.” She was an exponent of the Kirana Gharana style of Khayal singing. Indeed, her early predictions about Rafi Sahaab proved to be true. Roshan Ara Begum sang for films too, such as Jugnu and Siskiyan.

Tanvir Naqvi, the poet and lyrics writer, (who after migration to Pakistan married the elder sister of NoorJahan) also introduced the young Rafi to Producer-Director Mehboob Khan, Actor-Director Nazeer, and Producer-Director Abdul Rasheed Kardar who had made the first silent movie in Lahore and was to produce and direct many more movies in India. For his film, Pehle Aap, A.R. Kardar had signed Naushad Ali as the music director. Naushad used the young Rafi for what has been sometimes termed as the first Hindi/Urdu song of Rafi Sahaab in this 1944 flick. The song was HINDUSTAA.N KE HAMM HAIN/HINDUSTAA.N HAMAARA/ HINDU-MUSLIM DONO.N KI AANKHO.N KA TAARA, accompanied by Alluaddin, Shaam Kumar and chorus. Since this was a marching song, Naushad had a pair of shoes bought from Mumbai’s infamous Chor Bazaar for Rafi who was to sing the song while marching with the boots on at the microphone itself. Two more songs followed: EK BAAR UNSE MILAA DE, and TUM DILLI MAI.N AAGRE MERE DIL SE NIKLE HAAY. All the three songs were penned by multi-facet personality, Dinanath Madhok. Shaam Kumar was the co-singer in these songs.

Music Director Shyam Sunder who had given Rafi his first break in Punjabi film, Gul Baloch, and promised to record more songs once Rafi came down to Mumbai, made good his promise. Shyam Sunder recorded Rafi’s songs for the Noor Jahan starrer, Gaon Ki Gori (Village Belle). These were the duets with G.M. Durrani: AJI DIL HO QAABOO ME.N, and MAI.N KHETO.N KA PANCHHEE. Noor Jahan had four songs, including BAITHEE HOON TERE YAAD KA, in this movie. According to Rafi Sahaab, his songs in Gaon Ki Gori were his first Hindi songs.   To reconcile the two positions,  it could be stated that Gaon Ki Gori songs were recorded first, but the songs of Pehle Aap were released first in point of time.  Since the serial number on the records of his Pehle Aap songs precedes the serial number on the records of his Gaon Ki Gori songs, Naushad technically steals a march over Shyam Sunder for the credit of introducing Mohammed Rafi to Hindi films.

World War II was over in 1945, leaving over 60-million dead. There was an emergence of a new world order as the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R rose as the world powers, with the U.K. relegated to the background, with heavy losses and wartime debts. United Nations Organisation was established and the League of Nations was history. These events accelerated the freedom struggle in India that eventually led to the Independence in 1947. The Indian film industry was still suffering from wartime restrictions and shortages.

Here in the film circle, in the meantime, word was out that there was a young Punjabi singer who had immense singing potential and whose enormous talent did not betray his youth. Under Pandit Govindram, Rafi Sahaab sang in Vijay Bhatt’s Hamara Sansar AY DIL-E-NAAKAAM TAMANNA, said to be his first solo, and along with Zohrabai and Shamshad Begum, CHHOTI SI EK BANAAYENGE NAIYAA. Again for the Pandit, Rafi Sahaab sang a Qawwali, TERA JALWA JISNE DEKHA WOH DEEWAANA HO GAYA along with S.D. Batish and chorus; and another one with S.D. Batish: SAKHEE KEE KHAIR, MAI-BAAP KI KHAIR in Laila Majnu (1945) where he also had an acting stint. Of course, his name was not mentioned in the credit. The same year, Rafi rendered a duet with Zohrabai in Kulkalank: TOPIWAALE BABU NE DIL CHHEENA RE for A.R. Qureshi; and a duet with Mohantara Talpade in Begum: DIL DIYE CHALE DIL LIYE CHALE under the musical direction of Hari Prasanna Das.

Homi Wadia of Wadia Movietone was tremendously impressed with the singing voice of the young Rafi so much so that he insisted that it would be only Rafi who would sing for his film Sharbati Ankhen (1945) and other movies for which Feroze Nizami was slated to give music. The solos thus recorded were PYAAR KARNA HI PADEGAA EK DIN; BAHOT MUKHTASAR HAI HAMAARI KAHAANI; and AB NA BEEN BAJAA SNEHEE.

Some of the other music directors who utilised Rafi Sahaab in 1945 were Hafiz Khan for whom he soulfully rendered HAAY RE DUNIYA in Zeenat. Speaking of Zeenat, this movie created a coup of sorts, with Noor Jahan, Zohrabai, Kalyani singing AAHEN NAA BHAREEN SHIKWE NAA KIYE with the chorus. This was said to be the first kind of zenana Qawwali in a movie. This Qawwali was always the hot favourite of Radio Ceylon which I distinctly remember hearing it often on the radio a decade later.

This was also the time when budding singers and artistes were making a foray in the growing film industry.  Mukesh who had earlier not made it as a hero nor as a singer in his maiden venture, Nirdosh '41, made himself known by the Anil Biswas' musical composition, Pehli Nazar  (1945) song, DIL JALTA HAI TOH JALNE DE which he sang in a K.L. Saigal style for the screen hero, Motilal who had actually brought him to Bombay.   Talat Mehmood, who was known as Tapan Kumar in Bengal and was already an established ghazal singer, recorded his first Hindi film song in Raj Lakshmi in which he also had the acting assignment. Madhubala, too, sang two songs in Dhanna Bhagat with Brijlal under Khemchand Prakash. Noor Jahan, besides acting in films, continued her spree of being a top playback singer. Her DIYA JALAAKAR AAP BUJHAAYE in Badi Maa was a hit; while the Khursheed-Mukesh duet, BADARIYA BARAS GAYEE USS PAAR composed by Bulo C. Rani, for Moorti was a super-hit number. Jagmohan’s Meghdoot number, O VARSHA KE PEHLE BAADAL proved to be popular. Ghulam Haider and Mehboob Khan came together for the first time in Humayun in '45 but the former charm of Ghulam Haider was missing here.



Friday, September 25, 2009


A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

By 1944, lots of things were happening on the filmy scene. Dadasaheb Phalke, the “Father of Indian Cinema” died. Mumbai began to attract the Punjabi musicians. With the exception of Pandit Govind Ram and Pandit Amar Nath, the other musicians of Lahore such as Master Ghulam Haider who left Pancholi Arts, Shyam Sunder, Feroze Nizami, Khurshid Anwar, Hansraj Behl, Rashid Atre , and Pandit Husnlal-Bhagatram who were the younger brothers of Pandit Amar Nath, came over to Mumbai.

Devika Rani selected a youthful peshwari Pathan named Yusuf Khan for a role in Jwar Bhata. Devika Rani who had earlier named Mumtaz as Madhubala, launched him as Dilip Kumar for that was one of the three names selected for Yusuf Khan. This name, Dilip Kumar, was to cast a magical spell of its own for three generations.

The Jwar-Bhata song by Arun Kumar, SANJH KEE BELAA PANCHEE AKELAA, was a hit. Anil Biswas who provided the music also sang a song, and others included Manna Dey, Parul Ghosh, Amirbai, Surendra, and C.Ramchandra.

Some other popular songs were by Raj Kumari in Panna, Amirbai in Bharthari, and Manju in Chaand. Manju’s song in Chaand, DO DILON KO YEH DUNYAA was the first hit of Husnlal-Bhagatram who had also made their debut. With their lilt and rhythm they popularised the Punjabi folk tunes. More on this later. Around this time, Hemant Kumar recorded his debut song in Hindi in Iraada for music director Amarnath.
 Bulo C. Rani made his musical debut in Pagli Duniya. Another great musical hit was Meri Bahen. K.L. Saigal’s DOH NAINA MATWAARE and KYAA MAINE KIYAA HAI among other songs are the more memorable ones. Pankaj Mullick was the music director.

Noor Jahan gave hit songs, including BADNAAM MOHABBAT KAUN KARE under Sajjad Hussain in Dost.  Speaking of which, it may be mentioned here that Sajjad Hussain was one of the most promising music directors of the Indian Screen but for the fact that his eccentricity and to live life on its own term in the environment,  where sycophancy is a norm, did him in so that in his career of 20 years he remained without work most of the time and could do only 14 movies, ending with Rustom Sohrab (1963).  He spared no one.  He called Talat Mehmood as Ghalat Mehmood, Kishore Kumar as Shor Kumar and had a tiff even with Lata Mangeshkar telling her to be careful since his was not just a Naushad's tune.  Some eight years later, he did not bother even about Dilip Kumar during the making of Sangdil (1952) so that they never worked together again - which was clearly to the advantage of Naushad.   D.N. Madhok who was a multi-talented person and who was specially noted as a lyricist who often composed music for his songs and did not mind if  any music director used his tunes,  found himself at the receiving ends at the hands of Sajjad Hussain who told him to stick to his job of a lyricist!  Though the story belongs to the next decade, I cannot but help mentiioning that Sajjad Hussain outrightly accused Madan Mohan of lifting the tune of his YEH HAWAA YEH RAAT YEH CHAANDNI for the latter's TUJHE KYAA SUNAAOON DILRUBA (Rafi's famous song in Aakhri Dao).  I happened to listen to Madan Mohan's composition in Woh Kaun Thi (1963) SHOKH NAZAR KI BIJLIYAAN when I was reminded of Sajjan Hussain's 1946  composition in the movie named, 1857 sung by Surendra and Suraiya:  TERI NAZAR MEIN MAIN RAHOON at least the beginning line.    It appears that Madan Mohan thus did admire the maestro.  That Sajjad Hussain was a genius has never been doubted.  Anil Biswas dubbed him as the most original composer.    Some of the movies in which Mohammed Rafi gave the playback to his compositions are Roop Lekha (1949), Maghroor (1950) in Hulchal,  Saiyyan (both 1951) and Rustom Sohrab (1963).

Coming back, the year 1944 clearly belonged to Naushad for his trend-setting musical compositions in Rattan, starring Swarnlata and Karan Dewan, which was directed by M. Sadiq. The songs penned by D.N. Madhok and sung by Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnatki, Manju, Karan Dewan, and Shyam Kumar, were highly popular. Just hear the beats in MILKE BICHHAD GAYEE ANKHIYAN (Amirbai)!
The superhit duet, O JAANEWAALE BAALAMWAA (Amirbai and Karan Dewan) is parodied in the 1965 flick Padosan where the hero who is a non-singer finally settles down to sing this number to win the heart of his beloved, Saira Banu. Old timers surely remember that ANKHIYAA.N MILAA KE, JIYAA BHARMAA KE of Zohrabai, where the beloved tries to prevent her lover from leaving. The movie as a whole, had such an impact on young girls of impressionable age that many of them were emboldened to elope with their young lovers. The signs of Life imitating Art had begun for the better or worse. No more the puritan standards of the Thirties, not withstanding the smouldering smooch of Devika Rani and Himansu Rai in Karma (1933)! Rattan was a box-office hit across the nation, with everyone humming or singing its song. S.D. Burman was to find his formula for success when he heard his servant singing a Rattan’s number, JAB TUM HI CHALE PARDES LAGAAKAR THESS... Though annoyed at first, he soon realised that it’s the simplicity of the song that makes it popular. Thereafter, he would hum his tunes to his servants and obtain their feedback. This struggler was thus able to obtain a firm foothold in Mumbai thereafter with a thundering success for decades to come.

In April that year, two heavy explosions occurred, one after the other, when a ship, SS Stikine,  carrying wartime munitions such as torpedoes, shells, mines and 1,395 tons of explosives along with inflammable material, such as cotton, barrels of oil, and timber along with  and gold bullions worth 890,000 Pounds Sterling, caught fire. The explosions rocked the Victoria Harbour of the Bombay Docks, killing 800 people and scattering the debris around.  Since World War II was ongoing, people thought it was the work of sabotage or that Japan had bombarded Mumbai. But the explosions were accidental around which many tales have been woven. Many firemen who rushed to the scene after the first explosion had pay with their lives when the second explosion took place after some time. Eye-witnesses tell us that the impact was such that those who were on the scene of the incident had their heads severed by the impact.  Eye-witnesses who came later even chanced to see the bodies of headless firemen running around in the line of duty. Owing to the explosions, many other ships were destroyed. Gold bullions from the ship flew all around, either sinking in the waters or falling in the homes of the nearby residents. A 28-lb gold bullion was found a mile away from the accident site.

The above incident fanned the fear that the Japanese would be coming to the Mumbai shore. The Japanese did not come but the fear resulted in a mass exodus of people from Mumbai. Ghulam Haider’s musicians too made their exits to Lahore and no amount of coaxing, salary advance or double-salary, and secured shelter could hold them back.   It was also reported the explosion wiped out the home and belongings of Baby Mumtaz (Madhubala, then aged 11 but was already into the films) and she and her family luckily escaped the death or injuries,  as all the members of the family were away at a cinema-hall at that time. 

This incident left an impact on Naushad Saab, so that two decades later he explored it as the theme for his 1967 movie, Palki, where the hero is given up for dead in the explosions. In passing, it may be mentioned here that the incident was predicted three days in advance by a naked faqir known as Nange Shah Baba. This faqir who had never spoken before suddenly began shouting, “Bhaago Bhaago” as a warning to the residents around. The faqir lies buried in the Chhota Sonapur Qabrastan of Mumbai.

Gul Baloch the Punjabi movie, which had featured the first filmy song of Rafi with Zeenat Begum was released in 1944. Now with the bulk of musical talent having shifted to Mumbai, it was time for Mohammed Rafi too to follow suit. When Mohammed Rafi migrated to Mumbai sometime in July 1944, little did he himself realize that his immigration from Lahore to Mumbai was to catapult him in future as not only the best playback singer but also the most revered one of the sub-continent.




A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

Let’s now have some glimpses of the Mohammed Rafi’s pilgrim progress that began in Nineteen Forties amidst a multitude of talents and competitions and went on to establish a lasting memory of his name and fame well up to the next century.

Haji Mohammed Ali was the native of Kotla Sultanpur (or Kotla Sultan Singh), a village near Amritsar, India.  Pheeko, the youngest of his six sons, was born on 24 December, 1924.  The names of his other sons were: Mohammed Shafi, Mohammed Deen, Mohammed Ismail, Mohammed Ibrahim, Mohammed Siddique, and daughters - Chiragh Bibi and Reshma Bibi.  As a seven-year child, Pheeko used to listen to the songs and hymns of a faqir who frequented his locality and neighbourhood. Destiny was at work here. So much enchanted was he by those hymns, that he began to sing them and thus showing his great musical inclination. 

Now, there used to be lot of vehicular traffic between Amritsar and Lahore those days, undivided as they were by any of the rivers of the Punjab. Fortunately for Pheeko, in 1935, his father shifted to Lahore, then a great centre for Punjabi culture, educational institution, music and film industry. Lahore had become a centre for the aspiring actors, singers, writers, poets, lyricists, producers and directors. Prithvi Theatre was established here by Prithviraj Kapoor while Dalsukh M. Pancholi had the largest studio in south-east Asia. He made many famous movies at Lahore before he ruefully left for Mumbai during the Partition of India in 1947.   As for Rafi, the boys and the girls of his age in the Mohalla used to follow him,  requesting him to sing. So at a very young age itself,  the sun of fame began to shine on him.   It was at Lahore that Pheeko, who was to earn his name and fame as Mohammed Rafi, got his Hindustani classical music training from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his younger brother, and from the towering figure of the Kirana Gharana, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan (d.1949). He also took music lessons from Feroze Nizami and Pandit Jeevanlal Matto Kashmiri in Lahore.

These music lessons and the classical music training stood him good stead when he was asked to give his first public performance in Lahore. The legendary K.L. Saigal had come to Lahore to sing in a concert that was held to felicitate King George VI’s coronation in Britain in May 1937.  

As is well known, there was a power outage and K.L.Saigal refused to sing on the failed microphone. At this time, since the audience was getting impatient, the organisers,  at the request of Rafi’s elder brother Hamid, put Rafi on the stage to entertain the crowd till electricity was restored. Rafi had by then stepped into his thirteenth year barely five months before. But he was in his elements and such was his confidence that with his sweet but powerful voice he was able to reach the far corners of the open auditorium, regaling his listeners who were clamouring for more. The legendary Saigal Saab was impressed by the potentials of this young lad.  According to Rafi Sahaab, it was here at the concert that the great Saigal Saab blessed him saying,

“A day would come when you would be a much sought-after singer.”

Thus Saigal Saab has been seen by some critics as “Ruhaani Ustaad”, or Spiritual Mentor of Mohammed Rafi. Indeed, he had passed on the keys of the kingdom to him. Saigal Saab had his style of singing; Rafi would evolve his own, and by November 1977 alone, he would sing some 25,000-26,000 songs.

Rafi’s musical training continued under Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan. This was the time that the singing spree of Rafi began. By the time he was 15, he would often be invited to sing at his friends’ places. According to one account, on one such occasion, he was spotted by Nasir Khan, a film Producer-Actor, who offered to take him to Mumbai to groom him as a singer in films. It was only with great reluctance and prodded by Abdul Hamid, that the head of the household agreed. Saigal Saab’s blessing was realized earlier than thought.

On 28th February  1941, Rafi was to record a Punjabi song for his first movie, Gul Baloch, under the musical direction of Shyam Sunder who had heard the young prodigy sing in that K.L. Saigal concert. The Gul Baloch song, GORIYE NEE, HEERIYE NEE, TERI YAAD NE AAN SATAYAA...was a duet which Rafi sang with Zeenat Begum who had herself made her singing debut in a Punjabi movie, MANGTI, which was released in 1942. So much impressed was Shyam Sunder that he gave an invitation to young Rafi to come down to see him at Mumbai. Most sources say that the release of Gul Baloch was delayed and it finally came to be released on in 1944.  Some unconfirmed reports even attribute Rafi’s debut under the musical direction of Pandit Govindram for the blockbuster Platinum-Jubilee hit, MANGTI.  This has not been corroborated by Rafi Sahaab when he was asked about his debut song. According to him, his Mumbai debut was in 1942, in the Nazir-Swarnlata starrer, Laila Majnu, where he did a bit role and also sang a qawaali as part of the chorus under Pandit Govindram. Whatever that may be, both Shyam Sunder and Pandit Govindram utilized Rafi Sahaab around the same time. Laila Majnu was released much later in 1945.

Otherwise, too, 1942 was an important year not only for the Indian political Quit India Movement, but for the world at large. The sneak attack on the Pearl Harbour in December 1941 had now drawn the U.S. into the arena of World War II. Japan was growing stronger so much so that it came right upto Burma which bordered India. During the years 1930-1941,  the number of Burmese films was 600 and this number dwindled considerably. After the Japanese invasion of 1942, half a million Indian fled on foot. Thousands died on their way to India via Assam.

Film production was hit owing to the shortage of raw materials and conservation. Gone were the hay-days of Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, and New Theatres as many artistes sought their own independence. There was a formation of independent studios such as the Filmistan, Kardar Studios, Rajkamal Kalamandir, and Basant Pictures. Mehboob Productions came out with the banner of a sickle and a hammer, and the ominous lines: MUDDAI LAAKH BURAA CHAAHE TOH KYAA HOTAA HAI, WOHEE HOTAA HAI JO MANZOOR-E-KHUDAA HOTAA HAI.

C. Ramchandra made his debut in Sukhi Jivan. Baby Mumtaz (Madhubala) made her debut in Basant, lip-synching a Parul Ghosh number. Manna Dey sang for the first time under his uncle, K.C. Dey’s baton in Tamanna, including a duet, JAAGO AAYEE USHA, with Baby Suraiya who had found an actress’s opening in Taj Mahal (1941). Her song in Sharda, as well as the songs of Kanan Devi (TOOFAAN MAIL..) in Jawab, Noor Jahan’s under Ghulam Haider in Pancholi’s famous movie, Khandan were the rage of their days. In Zamindar, Qamar Jalalabadi penned his first film lyrics which was sung by Shamshad Begum for Ghulam Haider. Akhtari Faizabadi (Begum Akhtar) sang six songs under Anil Biswas in Mehboob Khan’s Roti. All these songs were very popular. Suraiya was lucky to have the music directors who enhanced her singing career: Naushad, Husnlal-Bhagatram, Khursheed Anwar; plus the stalwarts such as Anil Biswas, Ghulam Mohammed, S.D. Burman and some others.

After the Japanese occupation of Burma in 1942, the year 1943 saw a horrendous, but largely man-made, famine in Bengal where more than 3.5 million people died. The dying destitutes, scouring for rotten remains in trash-cans, were removed to the rural Bengal so that the cities such as Calcutta and Dacca might look clean. Not to speak of the massive sexual abuse of starving women and young girls by the civilians and the military that could put even the Japanese exploitation of the “comfort women” to shame.

In the film annals, 1943 is remembered for the blockbuster movie, Kismet, starring Ashok Kumar and Mumtaz Shanti. Kismet ran for more than three years continually at the Roxy Theatre in Calcutta. This record would only be broken by Sholay (1975) and Sholay’s record would be broken by Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (1995). Anil Biswas’s music and all the songs of Amirbai, Arun Kumar, Parul Ghosh in Kismet were superhit and are still unforgotten. Amirbai had become a rage reaching her peak in 1947. The song: DUUR HATO AY DUNYAA WAALON HINDUSTAN HAMARAA HAI had almost got the film banned by the British Government.

Sohrab Modi of the Pukar (1939) and Sikandar (1941) fame was not as successful in Prithvi Vallabh.  A 14-year old Fatimah Rashid (Nargis) was groomed as the heroine of Mehboob Khan’s Taqdir, opposite hero Motilal by Sardar Akhtar. Shakuntala was another blockbuster film of the year and the heroine Jayshree sang her own song. Incidentally, this was the first movie of V. Shantaram’s own studio. There are also more firsts: Ghulam Mohammed made his debut in Mera Khwaab. Similarly, Najma was the first film of Mehboob Khan under Mehboob Productions. Mahasati Anusuya was the first musical venture of Avinash Vyas. Some other popular songs of the time were by Ram Apte and Madhusudhan (Ram Rajya), Khursheed and Saigal (Tansen), G.M. Durrani (Nai Kahani), Parul Ghosh (Namaste), Raj Kumari (Nurse), Kanan Devi (Hospital), Shamshad Begum (Poonji) and Suraiya (Qanoon). Manna Dey’s song in Ram Rajya made him famous.

There,  in Lahore, not knowing what the future will have in store for him, a lad had by this time transformed into a handsome but humble youth of charming manners, and was much more mellifluous and knowledgeable in the field of music and singing. He was Mohammed Rafi! While still in his teens, Rafi got married to the thirteen-year-old Bashira but this marriage was short-lived as she did not choose to settle down with Rafi in India but chose to remain in Lahore after the Partition.  By this time, a son was born to Bashira and named Saeed.   By March 1943, thanks to Feroze Nizami who was himself a competent vocalist of the Kirana Gharana, the young Rafi began singing on the Lahore’s All India Radio which was the fifth in the country and a home for Shamshad Begum, Zeenat Begum, “Fateh Din” (Actor Om Prakash) and other worthies since 1937.  Kaur sisters were to follow a little later. This radio station had become a local even as far as Amritsar.  As for Abdul Hamid, a good brother (not the real brother) that he was, he knocked on every door to ensure that work kept coming to his little brother Mohammed Rafi.  It can be said that he was his Man Friday most of his life until the time he migrated to Canada sometimes in late Nineteen Seventies.

Continued in 3. ....