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.




  1. mr naseer your blogs on rafi are always interesting, i have a question though. do you have any evidence that he boarded the third class of frontier mail or it is a pure guess
    thanks and regards

  2. Glad to answer your question anonymous.
    Frontier Mail of the BB&CI Railways was the pride of India during the British times. First Class was principally used by the Europeans and the Wealthy Indian merchants and high Government Officials. The Second Class, too, usually followed the same pattern but was less expensive than the First Class. The Third Class was and is still used by the general population of the country, since the fare is the least expensive out of the three classes. Now, it's to be understood that Rafi Sahaab was not travelling to Bombay for pleasure but for eeking a living. So this "guess" is as good as the "fact." Remember, those were the days when even Lata Mangeshkar, Dilip Kumar and later big names used to travel Third Class even intra-city.

  3. your answer is logical. i have been to the house in bhendi bazaar where rafi lived for sometime. do you have any idea of the dongri house that he lived in and also the colaba flat that he bought later