Friday, October 9, 2009


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

Rafi Sahaab used to work very hard on each and every song he was asked to sing. To surmarise, during the years 1944-1949, Rafi Sahaab worked with the following lyricists and music directors:

Some of the lyricists who worked with Rafi Sahaab in the Forties:

Majrooh Sultanpuri, Tanvir Naqvi, Pandit Mukhram Sharma, Mahipal, D.N. Madhok, Gopal Singh Nepali, Wali Sahaab, Rupbani, Pandit Indra, Pt.Fani,
Gaafil Harnalvi, Hanuman Prasad, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Moti, Qamar Jalalabadi, M. Ibrahim, Ram Murti, Shakeel Badayuni, Wahshi Jaunpuri, Amar Verma, Avtar Visharad, Asghar Sarhadi, Mohan Mishra, J.Naqshab, P.L. Santoshi, Manohar Khanna, Pilibheeti, Deobandi, Fiza Kausari, Surjit Sethi, Sevak, Rajinder Krishan, Ramesh Gupta, Shevan Rizvi, Habeeb Sarhadi, B.D. Mishra, B.R. Sharma, Mulk Raj Bhakri, Bahzad, I.C. Kapoor, Mohan Misra, Kaifi Irfani, Kedar Sharma, Sudarshan Faqir, Aziz Kashmiri, Bharat Vyas, M.G. Adeeb, Sarshar, Nazim Panipati, Alam Siyahposh, S.K. Deepak, S.H. Bihari, Arzoo Lucknowi, Swami Ramanand, Hazrat Lakh, M.K. Chibbar, P.L. Santoshi, Shameen, Shikarpuri, Hamid Khumar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Meeraji, Gulshan Bawra, and Khumar Barabankavi

Some of the Music Directors who worked with Mohammed Rafi in the ‘Forties:

Naushad, Shyam Sunder, Pandit Govindram, Chitragupt, A.R. Qureshi, Datta Devjekar,Premnath, S.D. Burman, Naresh Bhattacharya, B.S. Thakur, Mohammed Shafi, Azim Khan, Sudhir Phadke, Prakash Sharma, Firoze Nizami, Datta Thakar, Gyan Datta, Amirbai Karnataki, Hansraj Behl, Husnlal-Bhagatram, Shankar Rao Vyas, S. Purshottam, Shaukat Hussain, Dhumi Khan, S.N. Tripathi, Ghulam Mohammed, Shankar Rao Vyas, Ram Ganguli, Master Ghulam Haider, Datta Thakur, Vinod, Khemchand Prakash, Bulo C. Rani, Sharma ji, Basheer Khan, H.P. Das, Krishna Dayal, S. Mohinder, Shankar-Jaikishan, Sardar Mallik, Rashid Atre, Tufail Farooqi and Khan Mastana.

Music Director Roshan, who made his debut in 1949 with Neki Badi a Madhubala starrer, used Firoze Dastoor for the duets with female singers. But beginning 1950, Rafi Sahaab would be singing the largest number of his songs, both solos and duets, in maximum number of his movies.

As we noted before, by 1947 especially after Jugnu, Rafi Sahaab’s name became a household name and that his songs had become a run-away hit with the masses. Rafi Sahaab’s voice had laid the foundation in the forties to make the business of musical recording songs more exciting. He had proven his magic in the ‘Forties and the Nineteen-Fifties was beckoning him with open arms. Of course, in the next decade he was going to astonish his music directors and the lovers of music by his wonderful feat of powerful singing and versatility that had not been attempted before with such success. In the process he would ‘liberate’ the music directors from their beaten path of low octaves and limited range and scope within which they composed their songs.

The presence of senior male singers such as G.M. Durrani, Surendra, Khan Mastana, Shyam and others could not suppress the rising star. But then, they too were gentle souls. As Rafi Sahaab recounted: ”’Unki Khoobi yeh thi janaab ke’ instead of considering me as yet another competitor they encouraged me to give my best….” And this is what Rafi Sahaab himself did along the way. Later, not only he used to recommend to music directors those playback singers who were once a force to reckon with, but he also made it a point to encourage the new talents to give their best without considering them as his competition – which brings me to Mahendra Kapoor since his story unfolds in Nineteen Forties.

As we all know, Mahendra Kapoor was a huge fan of Mohammed Rafi whose voice and songs had enchanted him since his early age and he would sing in the style of his icon at Amritsar. He once purchased a record of Jugnu but to his dismay found that the record did not have the male singer’s name. After lots of enquiries he learnt that the name of the singer was Mohammed Rafi.

Even when the family shifted to Bombay, his craze increased all the more so that even at school he would scribble “Rafi, Rafi, Rafi” in his class note-book. Seeing the litany, we are told, that his class-teacher scolded him. One of his more knowledgeable class-mates then gave him the address of Mohammed Rafi who was still at Bhendi Bazaar – indicating that it was the earliest phase of the singer then. Mahendra then went there all alone to meet his icon with the sole wish “Bin Guru Gyan Kahaan Se Paaoon.” Seeing his love and devotion, Mohammed Rafi accepted him as his disciple, teaching him how to play the Harmonium and even taking him along with him to his shows and recordings. The teacher would then treat him to a glass of Lassi. Such details were known before but they were repeated by Mahendra Kapoor’s son, Rohan Kapoor while accepting the award on behalf of his father at the Tribute to a Legend show at the Indian Museum Auditorium, Kolkata, on 30th November 2008. Rohan Kapoor, the actor-singer son narrated the earliest phase of his father’s brush with the Legendary Mohammed Rafi. The audience was naturally spellbound and moved to tears. The student also took the advice of his teacher seriously and began learning the Hindustani classical music under Pandit Husnlal (of the musical duo Husnlal-Bhagatram) and Tulsiram Sharma.

Rest of the story of Mahendra Kapoor belongs to the late ‘Fifties, and I would have left it at that if it were not for certain comments of Raju Bharatan: “Kapoor may not have matched Rafi but he was so committed to his craft that he always kept Rafi on his toes.”  The craft lies in this statement. Note how a damaging idea is interwoven along with a seeming praise in a single sentence which does service neither to Mohammed Rafi nor to Mahendra Kapoor. At the outset I may state that there was never any question of matching Mahendra Kapoor with Mohammed Rafi, least of all keeping Mohammed Rafi on toes!   If the case of Mahendra Kapoor was like any other normal competition, then there would have been some semblance of sanity in Raju’s statement with all respects to him.  Besides, this was not the sibling rivalry of some noted playback singers. Nor was it the story of “Abhimaan” of a wife’s or husband’s one upmanship. For Mahendra Kapoor, Mohammed Rafi was a father figure. Nay, he was more: He was his Guru, his idol!  A father is always proud of his obedient and successful son. A guru is always proud of his chela even if he exceeds him in wealth and fame, which of course was not the case here any way. The pages of history is replete with such examples. The clinching evidence for rebuttal of Raju’s statement has its roots in the Nineteen Forties, which we have noted above. Therefore, Raju’s statement should have read: “Kapoor may not have matched Rafi but he was so committed to his craft that he made Rafi proud of him.” Nothing more needs to be said. More rebuttals would require an article by itself.

To state briefly, how much Mahendra Kapoor loved and respected Rafi Sahaab was exhibited by him unabashedly after doing a show at the Royal Albert Hall in Lodon. When Rafi Sahaab’s sons went to pay their respects to “uncle” Mahendra Kapoor backstage the latter astounded them by touching their feet in a humble obeisance instead. At that time Mahendra Kapoor made a very significant statement:
“I’m only paying respects to my Guru with whose blessings, grooming and guidance I’m here and a packed audience has come to hear me.”

We’ve to remember always: Mahendra Kapoor was not a competition for Rafi Sahaab who had taught him the rudiments of songs and music and after his lessons had recommended him to many film personalities, including B.R. Chopra. The best period of Mahendra Kapoor's creativity was during the lifetime of Rafi Sahaab. Mahendra Kapoor’s success must have surely delighted Rafi Sahaab, just as the miserable conditions of some of the yesteryear singers used to cause him pain so that he would quietly recommend them also to music directors of the day. Sometimes he helped them monetarily. Not only such singers but also the music directors who had fallen on bad times used to receive regular checks for a number of years without their knowing who was their benefactor. It was only decades later one day when the cheques stopped coming that they realised that Mohammed Rafi Sahaab had been their benefactor all along.

Mahendra Kapoor was the torch-bearer of the Mohammed Rafi School. This torch came to be later passed on to Anwar, Shabbir Kumar, Mohammed Aziz, Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam and others about whom the world will soon know. At the same time, the name and fame of Mohammed Rafi is growing by leaps and bound even after nearly 30 years of his demise.

Let’s hark back to the Forties! In his early career in the Forties, Rafi Sahaab never faced the kind of rejections, say, as Lata Mangeshkar did. The young Rafi was lapped up wherever he went. It’s true that in the Forties we have no Rafi songs for Anil Biswas according to whom Rafi was not quite fit for his compositions. He was no O.P. Nayyar who never used Lata Mangeshkar all his life. Anil Biswas did use Rafi only in the Fifities but that was not out of condescension. That was the time when Mohammed Rafi was rising and rising, and Anil Biswas was sliding and sliding, especially after 1958 whereafter he could do just about ten films – the last being Chhoti Chhoti Baaten (1965) – the time when Rafi Sahaab was at the zenith of his singing career.

But the gentleman that he was Rafi Sahaab did not mind singing for him. He sang for him in Beqasoor (1950): KHABAR KISEE KO NAHEEN VOH KIDHAR DEKHTE HAIN sung by Rafi, Durrani and Mukesh; in Paisa Hi Paise (1956): PYAAR KIYA JHAK MAARI which was a solo comedy song; a duet with Asha: UFF NAA KARNA KE MERI MOHABBAT BADNAAM HO; and ULFAT MEIN HAR EK which was sung by Rafi-Kishore and Asha (Kishore Kumar was the hero) and a duet with Kishore Kumar: LELO SONE KA LADDU; in Heer (1956): two solos: ALLAH TERI KHAIR KARE and LE JAA USKI DUWAAYEN; and a duet with Asha: O KHAAMOSH ZAMAANA HAI; in Abhimaan (1957): CHALI JAWAANI THOKAR KHAANE which is a didactic duet with Asha Bhonsle; and a solo in Sanskar: WAAH RE TIKDAMBAAZI.

With all respects for him, I’m constrained to quote one Anonymous in his review of “How the Golden Age of Bollywood should have sounded:”

“Bollywood productions during the career of Mohammed Rafi (1946-1980) unfortunately employed some of the worst recording techniques ever - thanks to a certain Anil Biswas, who although revered for his music abilities obviously knew very little about how to use a music recording studio. ... “

Even decades later, Anil Biswas targeted Mohammed Rafi, and then Kishore Kumar himself did not take it kindly and put a poser to him: “How could Rafi then remain on the top for two decades?” Anil Biswas, of course, had no answers.   After Rajesh Khanna attained super-stardom with Aradhna (1969),  he wanted only Kishore Kumar but was compelled to take Rafi Sahaab for the song NAFRAT KI DUNIYA in Haathi Mere Saathi (1971).  Kishore Kumar knew that this song was not his cup of tea and so Rafi Sahaab was called to sing it. And he did sing it in one take.  However, it is said that the producers had to shell out a huge sum for this song.  Of course, it did happen later too when Kishore Kumar himself felt that the song belonged to Rafi Sahaab but the Music Directors Laxmikant-Pyarelal could do nothing because of the insistence of Rajesh Khanna.  This song was from DUSHMAN (1973): SACHCHAI CHHUP NAHEEN SAKTI BANAVAT KE USOOLON SE...    It was not for nothing that Kishore Kumar had a huge portrait of Mohammed Rafi fixed on the wall of the drawing-room of his home at Juhu, Mumbai. He had frankly told one of his loyal fans that he himself was the fan of Rafi Sahaab. “If you insult him, you insult me!”

Similarly Anil Biswas praised Manna Dey no ends saying that he was the only singer who took down notations of every song and did the song in one take. He told him that he could sing whatever Rafi, or Kishore or Mukesh or Talat Mehmood could sing but that they couldn’t what he sang. Manna Dey had this to say:

“That’s very generous of him. He was very fond of me, but I don’t think there is anyone to touch Mohammed Rafi.”
But whatever his predilections might have been, Anil Biswas could not escape the touching impact of Rafi Sahaab’s good nature and humility, as he himself confessed, for the latter had no grudges despite being ignored by him. We can only say that it was not the loss of Rafi Sahaab who has by his songs immortalised even the lesser-known musicians whose names might have sunk into oblivion if it were not for the songs that he sang for them. But as Rafi Sahaab used to say: “Yeh sab Khuda ki dain hai.”


To be concluded....

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