Thursday, December 27, 2007


- Impressions during childhood
By Nasir.

As we all know, in the olden days most of the movie-halls (interchangeably called as “Theatres” or “Cinemas) were one-screen halls unlike the multiplexes today.

Cinemas often serve as landmarks and also define the neighbourhood. I have chosen to write on Maratha Mandir because my association with it as an audience dates back to the time when the said theatre did not even exist. The tract of land opposite the road abutting the Bombay Central Railway Station was full of weeds, grass and shrubs reaching to height of 8-9 feet. There was no S.T. Bus Depot, no theatre, nothing there that time. At the place where the theatre now exists, there used to be just an ancient wall and right at the top was a board. As a child, I used to pass through this “jungle” every night right up to the wall. In the dim light coming from nowhere I could read what that display-board said. It said that this was the site for Maratha Mandir Theatre – to be managed by Golcha Management and some such thing. As an avid cinema-goer since my childhood days, I used to wonder what kind of a theatre would come up here.

Maratha Mandir Cinema did come up. The year was 1958. It was one of the finest theatres in Bombay. The hall was very spacious, the seats very comfortable, and it had an A.C. system – a great luxury those days. The polished and glossy teak panels, huge mirrors and chandeliers added to its splendour. It also had a plush carpeting in the hall. The feet used to literally sink into the carpet. Very pleasant it was in the theatre. The best part was its ambience. There was a landscape garden right in front and around the theatre – which gave it a royal look. The first movie, as far as I remember, to be screened at Maratha Mandir was SADHNA, starring Sunil Dutt and Vyjantimala which dealt with the subject of emancipation of a nautch girl, The lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi were very ascerbic somewhat on the lines of his earlier movie PYAASA. Of course, as a child, I did not understand at all the seriousness of the subject of Sadhna then. Some hollywood movies were thereafter screened for a limited time. HERCULES UNCHAINED was one of them I saw in 1959.

The most memorable movie screened at the Maratha Mandir was MUGHAL-E-AZAM on 5th August, 1960. I remember that this was the most talked about movie of the decade. The many tales and gossips that went along with its making had people literally raring to go. The inordinate delay of Mughal-e-Azam had left the cinema-lovers very anxious for its release. Unfortunately, I've seen scores of people - the older people and fan of Dilip Kumar - eagerly waiting for the release but passing away before they could see this magnum opus of a movie. Alas for them!

I was to learn later that the premiere show was the most memorable at least for two reasons among the many, many: Dilip Kumar, who had played the romantic lead with Madhubala, did not attend it; and secondly, the film reels of the movie were brought to the theatre on an elephant in the Maharaja style. “Royal Invitations” were issued for the premiere show. The swords, lancets, spears and armours that were used in this film were on display inside the building to the immense curiorisity and delight of the movie buffs. A forty-foot cutout of “Akbar” on the outside heralded the might of the emperor. I remember seeing a huge plaster of paris work in the garden to the right of the theatre, depicting Prithviraj Kapoor (Akbar) weeping on the shoulders of Dilip Kumar (Shahzada Salim). I still remember the accompanying movie’s dialogue: “Shekhoo, Shahenshah Roya Nahin Karte.” (See the picture above).

For full seven weeks before the release there was a serpentine queue outside the theatre for the tickets. Black Marketeers became rich by selling tickets at Rs100/- each. Remember, those days even an engineer’s monthly wages were hardly that much. Sadly, during the rush for tickets, even a murder took place – the fact which is hardly stated in any write up on the theatre. For full three years Maratha Mandir exhibited the royal treat.

Additionally, I also remember some other movies that were released at the Maratha Mandir Theatre over the years: Kaaghaz Ke Phool (cinemascope) (1959); Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963), Dil Ek Mandir and Leader (1964); Guide (1965);Pakeeza (1972), Dharam Veer (1977), Baarood, which introduced Shoma Anand (1976), Razia Sultana (1983) (not the 1961 one which starred Jairaj and Nirupa Roy). The many other movies that were released earlier included Shagird and Saaz Aur Aawaaz. Saira Banu's Shagird ran for over a year. Pakeeza was also released there and it picked up brisk business after Meena Kumari passed way when this movie was still being shown there.

Unfortunately, the Theatre being in the low lying area, it was flooded in 1974. The plush carpets were soiled by the rain waters and therefore removed. The garden landscape gave way to broadening of roads.

Recently, many theatres have been forced to shut shop owing to the high entertainment tax and the onslought of the multiplexes. However, Maratha Mandir is still going strong, and currently is in the news for screening DIL WAALE DULHANIYA LE JAYENGE continually since October 1995.

The status of Maratha Mandir among the cinema halls is certainly legendary.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007



- by Nasir.

Further, in the meantime at Mumbai, the Cine and TV Artistes Association condemned the sustained slandering and maligning of Dilip Kumar by the Shiv Sena. Also, the activists of the National Youth Congress went on a one-day token strike at Azad Maidan. Their banners and placards read:


The activists appealed to Dilip Kumar that he should not succumb to the “communal forces” and he should not return his Nishan-e-Imtiaz Award.

The BJP constituent of the NDA Government were fully aware that Dilip Kumar was not the first recipient of the Nishan-e-Pakistan Award. Much before, Morarji Desai who was the Prime Minister of a coalition government had also been given that Award. The Sangh Parivar was an important part of that government and neither they nor the Shiv Sena then had objected to the Award at that time. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) therefore, opposed the calls by the Shiv Sena and other political parties who wanted the Thespian to return the Nishan-e-Imtiaz. VHP President, Mr. Vishnu Hari Dalmia stated that it was a matter of pride for us that a fellow Indian was given the highest civilian award by a foreign government. He minced no words when he said about Dilip Kumar:

“He is an Indian to his finger-tips. Does he need to prove his patriotism by returning the award which has nothing to do with the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. Since the award is about his personal accomplishments, why negate his contributions?”

Ultimately, the BJP left it to Dilip Kumar whether to retain or return the Award. The then party General-Secretary, Narendra Modi said: “It is best left to the wisdom of Dilip Kumar.”

Dilip Kumar finally met the Prime Minister who told him:

“Nobody should doubt your patriotism and your commitment to the nation.”

Mr. Vajpayee made it clear that no one should put any pressure on Dilip Kumar who has served the nation throughout his long film career. He also told Dilip Kumar:

It is your Award. Do whatever you wish to do with it. The government has no objection.”

Exhibiting amazing energy, strength and focus for a 77-year man who had just had a heart surgery, Dilip Kumar met with the then President of India, Mr. K.R. Narayanan and apprized him of his talks with the Prime Minister. He met the Vice-President, Mr. Krishna Kant as well. He also met many other politicians, including the Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi, and her husband, Mr. Laloo Prasad; the CPI General Secretary, Mr.A Bardhan, the entire CPI central secretariat, and others, including friends, Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi. During those six days, Dilip Kumar also met with the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani who instructed the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Narayan Rane, to beef up security for Dilip Kumar and members of his family at his Bandra residence in Mumbai. Dilip Kumar expressed the hope that he would be allowed to stay peacefully in Mumbai.

That was not the end of a task for our hero. Before leaving for Mumbai he made it a point to visit the injured Kargil soldiers at the Army Hospital at Delhi Cantonment. This visit was a morale-boosting and nostalgic one for one and all there. Dilip Kumar finally returned to Mumbai on 16th July, 1999 with his wife, Saira Banu, having survived one of the most despicable "Patriotism Test" in recent memory.

Saira Banu said that she saw no reason why her husband should return the Award. She explained to the reporters that the said Award was given to Dilip Kumar for excellence in the field of art for his contribution in social work and community service and for spreading peace and harmony among the peoples, cutting across religions and ethnic differences. She, too, said that the conflict in Kargil had nothing to do with the going-ons in Kargil. She felt that the issue was being given a communal colour and asked why after having lived all their lives Mumbai they were being asked to prove that they are Indians. She parried: Was it because they were born Muslims? Other communities were not asked to prove their loyalty. She stated that Dilip Kumar was being targeted only because of his religion.

Dilip Kumar, the Brave-Heart and darling of the Indian nation, said that he could sacrifice anything for India. “After all,” he responded, “What’s an award? All that one possesses can be laid down for one’s country and its prestige. Anything can be sacrificed.” Much before the Nishan-e-Imtiaz issue, Dilip Kumar had already made a secret contribution of Rs.1,00,000/- (One Lakh Rupees) by cheque, in response to an appeal by a daily, MIDDAY, for the Army Central Welfare Fund. If we did not hear of it before it was only due to the unwillingness of Dilip Kumar to make this public for it was "no big deal" according to him. The covering letter, attached to the cheque, read:

“For the most worthy cause Midday has espoused, herewith is my humble contribution for the valiant Jawaans and Officers for their supreme sacrifice in the name and for the honour of their motherland – their country.”

It is painful and strange that Dilip Kumar whose film career began with Jwar-Bhata in 1944 and whose fore-fathers did business in India, particularly in Bombay City, should be looked upon with suspicion and subjected to the ignominy of proving that he is a patriot. The star of SHAHEED, LEADER, NAYA DAUR AND KARMA and many other movies whose objective has always been to cultivate patriotism, pro-establishment culture, family values, as well as philanthropy, and perfection in all fields in both reel and real life, is an ever-shining icon whose life has undoubtedly inspired generations of actors and the general populace. It is very appropriate that he is conferred with the Bharat Ratna which he singularly so richly deserves.





- by Nasir.

“There are no victors in war – only victims. The Message of the new millennium is clear Learn to co-exist Man in peace! Or else perish.” - DILIP KUMAR

The Thespian and the legendary darling of the nation had taken permission of the concerned authorities in India before accepting the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Nishan-e-Pakistan) Award. As he said:

“It was not conferred on Dilip Kumar the Actor for his acting prowess. It was given to me for whatever little credibility I enjoyed for my work in the socio-civic field for causes of the poor which were not bound by region or religion, caste or creed, which crossed all barriers.”

With the Kargil crisis looming large over the Indo-Pak relations and the “Bus Diplomacy” of the NDA Government in the doldrums, little did Dilip Kumar realize that he would be sucked into the vortex of a tamasha that would endanger his safety as well as the safety of the members of his family, what with all sectarian and communal forces bullying him into returning the Award. One failed to understand what the Kargil conflict had to do with this Award and how was this Award different from any other awards given to Dilip Kumar by other nations. Centuries ago, Dr. Samuel Johnson had stated: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” – and here was the Shiv Sena’s demand that Dilip Kumar return this Award to “prove he is a true Indian.” It was the courage of his conviction in the face of this personal crisis and the overwhelming odds and how he emerged triumphant by obeying only the dictates of his conscience in retaining the Nishan-e-Imtiaz Award, especially at a time when his physical conditions were at the lowest ebb, with his having recently undergone a major heart surgery that has made Dilip Kumar the real-life hero as well.

Not finding much support in Mumbai, Dilip Kumar rushed to New Delhi to meet the then BJP Prime Minister of the NDA Government, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee. It is not as if his visit to New Delhi was without protests. The hotel where the Thespian stayed was virtually turned into a fortress with heavy deployment of armed personnel, including women constabulary. The Shiv Sena there had been demonstrating outside this hotel and shouting slogans against the Tragedy King. They too wanted him to return the said Award. At this time, about twenty (20) activists of the Student Federation of India (SFI) clashed with the Sainiks whose supporters paraded Dilip Kumar’s effigy on a donkey and later set it on fire. The SFI activists were now joined by the Congress and the Janata Dal workers who held the Sainiks back. Dilip Kumar requested the Centre to put an end to the volatile situation and expressed his concern that when the Shiv Sena could hold violent protests in Delhi which is the seat of Central Administration what would they be capable of in their citadel of Mumbai!

Meanwhile, in the Mumbai edition of THE TIMES OF INDIA (sometime in mid-July 1999) the Editorial entitled PATRIOT GAMES condemned the bullying game of the Shiv Sena. It stated that the Nishan-e-Pakistan was given to Dilip Kumar in recognition for his “immense contribution to the Cinema and popular culture in the sub-continent.” At that time Mr. Vajpayee was of the view that this honour would help foster amity and goodwill between India and Pakistan. Ridiculing the attempts by some political parties to force Dilip Kumar to return the Award, the editorial also pointed out that it will not be long before we are told that it is unpatriotic to read Faiz and Manto, listen to Abida Parveen and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and maybe even to speak Sindhi. It might have well added to the list the names of Malika-e-Tarannum, Noor Jehan, Mahdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali, whose works in the relevant fields are very popular in India.

To continue.....

Saturday, December 15, 2007


The Last Decade - Rising of the Phoenix.


Yes, Rafi Sahaab was all set to revive the glory of his early Sixties as was evident from his signing spree with the music directors in 1980.  Just some seven months before, Mohammed Rafi Sahaab had celebrated his 55th birthday.  The Polydor (India) that later went on to become Music India Ltd., wished him Many Happy Returns of the Day and also expressed their appreciation of Rafi Sahaab "in making this life worth living." (See inset)

The cruel hands of fate, however, snatched Rafi Sahaab from our midst and he breathed his last on 31st July 1980.  As luck would have it, just that morning he had his discussion with Composer Basu and Manohari and Director Mukul Dutt regarding a composition of a Bhajan meant for Durga Pooja album despite his critically bad health. The party had come to Rafi's mansion all the way from Kolkata for him.  He was the last person to disappoint any one for his personal reasons and he finished the job despite suffering severe pain in the chest.  When he came back home the pain had accelerated.   He couldn't even have water since he was fasting during the Islamic month of Ramzan.  He sat down on the sofa.  He was sweating profusely in agony.   His nails had turned blue.  Alarmed at the situation, Mrs Rafi called the family doctor who then advised the family to shift him to a hospital.  He refused the Ambulance service and opted to go by his own car.  Before leaving, Rafi Sahaab beckoned his family to his side.  He kissed them on forehead.  His last words were:  "Mere Liye KHuda se Dua Karna"  (Pray to God for me).  Even in that condition he walked down the stairs to his car.  Before leaving for the hospital, he looked up one last time from his car and waved at them.  Rafi Sahaab did not survive the major heart-attack.  He died in the state of  compulsory Ramzan fasting, which was his last action. 

Allah had chosen to call back Rafi Sahaab on the most auspicious day:  27th Day of the month of Ramzan, the month when especially during the last ten odd nights the gates of Heaven are open and dying in this month increases the chances of entering Paradise as a martyr for Islam. How auspicious was the combination: Month of Ramzan, 27th Night of Shab-e-Qadar, and Last Friday of this month for burial!  This definitely proves Rafi Sahaab was  a saintly person.   

The news of his death was very shocking to all those who knew him personally and to those millions who knew him through his melodious voice and songs.  Reports of suicides of his fans on hearing about his death  filtered through slowly, showing how popular he was even outside India.  Many schools in Mumbai declared a holiday on that day.  Everything seemed to come to a standstill.  It was the month of July and it was raining very heavily that day.  Open umbrellas and umbrellas could be seen every where. Yes, it was raining cats and dogs. It was as if the heavens were weeping. Despite the torrential rains, the funeral procession of Rafi Sahaab was such that has never been seen before for any film personality or even a political leader in Mumbai at least to my knowledge.  In addition to the relatives and friends, as well as the neighbourhood of Bandra, the entire film industry was present including Amitabh Bachchan, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Jeetendra, Vinod Mehra, Randhir Kapoor,  Naushad, Shankar, R.D. Burman, Chitragupt, Rajesh Roshan, Kalyanji, Anandji, Laxmikant, Pyarelal, Sapan Jagmohan, Sonik-Omi,  Bappi Lahiri, Yash Chopra, Manmohan Desai, Nasir Hussain, Sultan Ahmed, Ramanand Saagar, Shakti Samant, J. Omprakash, O.P. Ralhan, Ravi Chopra, Prasan Kapoor, Premji, Qamar Jalalabadi, Kaifi Azmi, Gulzar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Naqsh Lyalpuri, Anand Bakshi, Shyam Sagar, Anjan, Salim, Raza Murad, Sachin, as well as Rakhi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Usha Mangeshkar, Mahendra Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Sulakshna Pandi, Bhupendra, Hemlata, Manhar, Jaspal Singh, and others.   Only Shammi Kapoor was conspicuous by his absence since he was away and had no knowledge that he had "lost his voice."  At the home of Rafi Sahaab, his beloved wife and now the widow wept uncontrollably.  There were Naseem Bano, Saira Bano, Shammi, Mrs.Nasir Husain and others who tried to console her. 

Zahir, the brother-in-law and Secretary of Rafi Sahaab too was irrepresiblly weeping and wailing:  "Sahaab why didn't you take me along?" And looking at  Ravindra Jain, who was there, he asked: "Dada, whom would you now call 'Tansen'?"  Shahid Rafi lapsed into unconsciousness several times in grief. 
Even death had not robbed Rafi Sahaab of his smile which everyone was used to seeing in life. The body was kept in the verandah for everyone to see.  Each took turn in having a last glimpse of the face of the immortal singing legend and finest of  human beings.  Sulakshna Pandit kept on sobbing throughout.  Kishore Da too wept a lot, holding the feet of Rafi Sahaab.   The other members of Rafi Sahaab including his other sons and daughter and son-in-law who were in London had already been informed and they were expected to come by Saturday.
All the roads in the Bandra vicinity from 28th Road to Waterfield and the New Talkies were blocked by the people following the  bier of  their beloved  Rafi Sahaab.  Everyone wanted to carry the bier.  Namaaz-e-Janaazaa was performed at the Bandra Masjid after the Juma' prayers,  and thereafter the funeral procession started from the Masjid at 2 p.m.  Rafi Sahaab's body was finally laid to rest at the Santacruz (west) Muslim Qabrastan at about 4.45 p.m.

Now anything written after this would be an anti-climax since we would not be touching upon Rafi Sahaab’s various actions of altruism and his monetary and psychological help to other singers, music directors, and all those who came to him for help; or his giving free service in the name of friendship or just because he liked the particular composition or the song was a one-liner. Neither the views of the celebrities about Rafi Sahaab will be cited since there is a plethora of such writings available. What we need to download into our memory is the fact about the sterling qualities of Rafi Sahaab as a singer of originality of style and whose voice possessed amazing range, phrasing, pitch, timbre, timing, vibrato, versatility, clarity of diction, emotional impact and such sweetness as never had been heard since. We also need to be aware that certain elements have always been interested for one reason or another in distorting his achievements or attempting to gain upmanship – though unsuccessfully.

Let us now consider some other external circumstances in which Rafi Sahaab found himself in the Seventies. It is common knowledge that during the last years Rafi Sahaab was once again involved in a controversy vis-à-vis
Lata Mangeshkar over the entry of her name in the Guineness Book of World Records as the most recorded artist for 25,000 songs in various languages. Rafi Sahaab who had been recording songs since 1944-1945 stated that he sang at least two songs a day and sometimes even five and therefore Lata’s figure should be reassessed. Even as late as November 1979, Rafi Sahaab’s request for reassessment was never heeded. It was sometimes three years after Rafi Sahaab’s death that the Guinness Book of Word Records stated Lata Mangeshkar's name for the "Most Recordings" but also stated: "Mohammad Rafi claimed to have recorded 28,000 songs in 11 Indian languages between 1944 and April 1980. As for Lata Mangeshkar, she stated: "I don't know anything about it." "I don't know how my name appeared in the Guinness Book, or where they got their information from. Certainly I didn't supply it. I don't keep a record of the number of songs I have sung." Imagine this! So for Rafi Sahaab the Guiness authorities used the word “Claimed” and for Lata Mangeshkar they gave a clean chit of "most recorded." In short, Rafi Sahaab was never given an opportunity to prove his own claim. Later on, sometimes in 1999 the names of both Rafi Sahaab and Lata Mangeshkar were deleted from the Book.  Since it was rumoured that those letters were drafted at Naushad's home, Lata Mangeshkar did not take kindly to it.  This is evident even after thirty years, for I have observed that in the many interviews that she gave to the media, including TV channels, she has never included Naushad's name even once among  Five Music Directors of her choice.  The fact remains that Naushad's compositions have a very high standard and he has given Lata Mangeshkar many of his best compositions to sing.   

Recently, in order to short-change his achievements some are claiming that Rafi Sahaab never sang the alleged number of songs at all. Rafi Sahaab's own assessment was based simply on the work he put in, that is, how many recordings did he do per day for all those decades. Many fans of Rafi state that he has sung over 28,000 songs. Whatever the case may be, it would be well to remember that Emily Bronte wrote just one novel "The Wurthering Heights" and this just one has assured her name to the hall of fame of great novelists. As for Rafi Sahaab, we have thousands of his songs to prove his immortality.

Then it is said that "perhaps overexposure in the sixties where one could just hear his voice everywhere- from heroes to character actors to comedians was the reason for this decline." Not a valid statement, this! This is not the field of acting where, for example, the screen legend, Dilip Kumar, took great pains not to over-expose himself for retention of number one slot in the late Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and till the mid-Seventies. It was not the case of having George Clooney for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Over-exposure of voice could never happen because those were different times. How many could afford a TV, or a tape-recorder, or even gramophones? One had to depend on the radio programmes which had fixed timings to hear the songs of one’s choice. Have we forgotten that even in the late Seventies Doordarshan used to telecast Chhayageet (literally: Songs with Images) programme which was an assortment of screened movie songs only every Thursday? The entire neighbourhood used to then gather in the home that had just one TV. Where is the question of over-exposure? Even though Rafi Sahaab playbacked for all sort of characters it is of paramount importance to make a note that his voice never sounded monotonous. There could never be "over-exposure." On the contrary we couldn't have enough of him. Vidya Rao, the great thumri and light classical singer, once described Mohammed Rafi’s voice as one with an internalized smile. How can one be antagonistic to a smile? Lata Mangeshkar admits that Rafi Sahaab's voice was his greatest blessing. Hafiz-e-Shirazi, the 14th century poet and philosopher, if he had seen him, would have nodded with approval:

Yes, Fresh and Invigorating song: 'Taaza ba Taaza Nau ba Nau' which was the hallmark of Rafi Sahaab's voice. Rafi Sahaab's was the sweetest, magical, "And I don't know What" Voice and remains to be so even till this day. The so-called theory about "over-exposure" therefore holds no water.

Then much is sometimes made of "yodeling" by saying that Rafi Sahaab could never yodel. Fasten your seat-belts: It was Rafi Sahaab who introduced yodelling to the Indian screen. Now a dictionary describes the word "Yodel" as "To sing with frequent changes from the ordinary voice to falsetto and back again, in the manner of Swiss and Tyrolean mountaineers." There you are! It is not part of the Hindustani Music
. (Of course, someone knowing the classicals can always give a name to even Yodeling as some kind of a 'Swar'.) This is the reason why Rafi Sahaab did not pursue this insignificant antic. However, just for the satisfaction of his fans he did yodel in at least a few songs and that too with a variety, such as voice-breaks. To name a few, the picnic song: UNSE RIPPI TIPPI HO GAYI HO HO YAANI BAAT PAKKI HO GAYI from Agra Road (1957), a Rafi-Shamshad duet, ISS KEE TOPEE USKE SAR from Miss Bombay (1957), DO QADAM AUR AY SAATHEE from Khubsurat Dhoka (1959), HELLO SWEET SEVENTEEN - a duet with Asha Bhonsle - from Dr. Z (1959), THODI THODI GORI in Superman (1960), O CHALE HO KAHAAN KAHO from the movie Reporter Raju (1962), APNI APNI PASAND HAI in Raja (1963), YEH TO KAHO KAUN HO TUM in Akeli Mat Jaiyyo (1963), DIL KE AAINE MEIN TASVEER TERI REHTI HAI from Aao Pyar Karen (1964), KENA SABAN DAIEN - a Punjabi song with Dilraj Kaur among others. Most importantly, his yodeling was original too and not copied from the style of the Swiss or the Austrian yodelers.

During the last decade, circumstances may have caused interruption in Rafi Sahaab's career. We noted before how Hameed (brother-in-law, referred to as "brother") tried to persuade Rafi Sahaab to settle down in Toronto for good when the latter flew there for his live programme in 1979.   It cannot be contradicted that such persuasions were not tried before especially from his near and dear ones in his own interest of course.  Once he came out of the dilemma whether to sing or not to sing Rafi Sahaab never lost sight of his goal.  He was a go-getter and an extraordinary singer and person though in early Seventies he had been made a victim of  some terrible psychological circumstances and machinations of his detractors.  But he remembered his song:


and it is precisely because of this that persona of Rafi Sahaab emerges all the greater, in fact much greater than that of his contemporary singers.

We can go on and on writing about Rafi Sahaab and the hosts of qualities both in terms of his being an unparalleled singer and a great human being. This is humanly not possible to do justice to either.

Rafi Sahaab was known as "a complete family man" who enjoyed the bliss of his home and hearth.  He would invariably come back home after his recording sessions to spend time with his wife and children.  At times he would fly his black kites during the day from the terrace of his villa, joined by his children.   At times he did throw a party at home for his Bollywood colleagues on the occasions of winning an award.  He would relish Mughlai dishes, including Biryani. He also loved sweets.  He loved to drink tea but only at home or that which he carried from home.  Sometimes he would find time to take his wife and children outside the city to such places as Mahableshwar or Matheran or to Lonavla where he had his own bungalow, and there he would jump into the swimming pool to the delight of  all, clad in dhoti-kurta.  Sometimes they had singing sessions at home.   

Even during world tours, he would take his wife along with him since then she could see her children who had been sent away to London for education.  Their daughter Nasreen was only  12 then, and their sons Khalid, Hamid and Saeed were 16, 12 and 8 years old respectively.  Yasmin and Shahid at that time were little, and they remained home at Mumbai.  The children were never exposed to filmy atmosphere.   Their eldest daughter, Parveen, had also settled abroad.  They were never encouraged to take up singing as career or to do anything with the film industry.  Though Shahid did do Socha Na Tha after Rafi Sahaab had passed away.    Yasmin  states: (see the inset to the right)
Nasreen, Yasmin, Shahid have settled down in Mumbai. 

Before winding up, I would like to point out that when a debate erupted in the form of letters to the editor of the Filmfare Magazine as to who was greater, Rafi Sahaab or Kishore Da, the latter put an end to the controvery by clearly stating that "Rafi Sahib has been the greatest male singer of our times."

Surprisingly and not surprisingly, the altruistic attitudes have passed on to Rafi Sahaab's fans all over the world, which can be termed as the greatest of the compliments to his memory. "Surprisingly" because they have nothing to gain; "Not surprisingly" because when we are in good company the "goodness" is bound to pass on to all those who come to associate themselves with great souls. When a person goes on distributing Henna leaves to others for their benefit, his own hand attains the colour of Henna in the process. So we have his fans joining hands and making Rafi Sahaab's Death Anniversary a special day; or some personally holding shows or Rafi Nites and then donating the proceeds to the poor and needy of their localities or even donating to various charitable funds or constructing unique bus shelters for the public. Or some fans such as the one in Ahmedabad constructing a temple in the name of Rafi Sahaab to exhibit his boundless love for him. Or constructing a memorial in Birmingham to his name. Or those laying the Rafi Foundation in various Indian cities, including Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, or those coming up with the Biographies of the Legendary Rafi Sahaab; or those who are ready to defend their icon whenever some one tries to bring down the relevance and importance of Rafi Sahaab. Heartiest felicitations and many many greetings to all these selfless noble souls of all generations over the globe, who have acquired the altruism from their icon Rafi Sahaab and who have been continually keeping the flame of Rafi Sahaab's memory burning even after 26 years of his passing away. May their tribe ever increase and may their zeal and enthusiasm in this direction never cease. May all of them meet with success in whatever fields of life they are.  Blessings to the progeny of Rafi Sahaab too.  Amen



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Friday, December 14, 2007


The Last Decade - Rising of the Phoenix.

A Humble Tribute by Nasir Ali: 

A year after Rafi Sahaab had won the Film World Magazine Award for the Hawas song: "TERI GALIYON MEIN NA RAKHENGE QADAM" destiny had a surprising turn of events for him in store -which began with "Emergency."
Often we come across the word, "Emergency," while discussing Rafi-Kishore episode during that period. So it's better to get the hang of it but without going into intricate political details. Indira Gandhi had already exploded India’s first nuclear bomb in 1974 that also resulted in the fizzling out of the All India Railway Strike of George Fernandes. Soon the Allahabad Hight Court had declared Indira Gandhi guilty of corrupt practices in election. Emboldened and being surrounded by sycophant Ministers who gave her a distorted picture of governance she clamped Emergency in India on 26.6.1975. The Fundamental Rights of the citizens were suspended. Under the MISA (which can be compared to later decades' POTA and TADA) the police were given powers to arrest any suspect without warrant. Police brutality stooped to the lowest level. Freedom of Press was curtailed. The opposition leaders went underground. Some, like Jayaprakash Narayan, were arrested. In the meantime, Sanjay Gandhi, Indira's maverick son, gained considerable clout and was commonly known to throw his weight around so much so that even Ministers were at his beck and call. On his orders many shops and dwellings around the Jama Masjid in Delhi were razed to the ground in the name of beautification. In order to achieve the Family Planning targets sterilization camps sprang up everywhere and people irrespective of age-group were taken to these temporary camps and sterilized. It was said that even 70-year old men were not spared. Government servants too were warned to limit their family-size. No one dared to oppose Sanjay Gandhi. Violence in Bollywood movies was banned to a ludicrous extent. Even some songs and characters came under the scrutiny of the Board.
But there are always two sides to a coin. During the Emergency, the crime rate dropped to an all-time low. Smugglers, including the powerful Haji Mastan (who afterwards turned over a new leaf and formed a political party of his own), were put behind the bars. Prices of foodgrains were regulated. Investors in real estates were suitably restrained and so cost of apartments, especially in and around Bombay, came crashing down so that people could now afford them. Thus it was also called an "an era of discipline." On the positive note, politically speaking, for the first time in the history of independent India the people got united to bring down the repressive Indira Congress government. The Janata Party came to power in 1977 ending the 19 months of Emergency.
Now, as is very well known, during the above period it so happened that Kishore Kumar was summoned by Sanjay Gandhi to sing at his function and dinner party. He just did not go. Whether that was the result of his refusal to tow the party line or his prior commitment to his studio-recording session in Bombay and being found out later as such, is immaterial. The fact remains he couldn't make it. What is generally not divulged is the fact that soon thereafter the nation woke up one fine morning to Rafi Sahaab’s soulful, mellifluous, and golden-toned strains on the ubiquitous radio. The noteworthy thing this time was that Rafi Sahaab’s songs began to be aired on All-India Radio and national media one after another continually for weeks together to the immense delight of his fans. It appeared as if suddenly the sun had come shining out of the clouds; or on a pitch dark night the stars and the moon suddenly made their appearance; or a desert weary and thirsty traveler had suddenly chanced upon an oasis. It was a heavenly feeling. Those beautiful melodies of the great music directors was pervading the Indian nation in the voice of Rafi Sahaab. It was such a heavenly feeling indeed. In the words of Wordsworth: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive..."
In the meantime, it became public knowledge that Kishore Kumar was banned from the national media. And wonders of wonders! It was our Rafi Sahaab who was the foremost amongst those who got the ban removed from his collegue, whom he always used to address as Kishore Da. Yet, when Rafi Sahaab's humanitarian and fellow-feelings are discussed they say they have nothing to do with it, forgetting that a person needs to be a better human being before he can be an excellent singer. Some of of those who claimed they too were against the ban were more interested capitalizing the situation and forming their own political party. Dev Anand was one such person and was disillusioned later. Good for him too! The Janata Party hardly survived for two years and the people of India brought back Indira Gandhi triumphant.
Post 1975 the jinx of Jhumri Talaiyya was broken. Also, the axis of RDB-KK-RK was jolted. If "Laila Majnu" had given the fillip to Rafi Sahaab, the "Emergency" had accelerated his career. The "Era of Discipline" opened up the floodgates of the immortal songs of Rafi Sahaab for the public and thus disciplined their ears and memories which had been lulled into accepting even the ordinary cacophonies. Many music directors now sought out Rafi Sahaab and we have already provided their names before. The old faithfuls, Laxmikant-Pyarelal had continued with Rafi Sahaab all along and were amply rewarded for their trust.  R.D. Burman came back to Rafi Sahaab in a big way with such movies as Balika Badhu, Chor Ho To Aisa, Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, Chandi Sona, Ghar, Devta, Shalimar, Phandebaaz, Kasme Vaade, Mukti, Naya Daur, Naukar, Abdullah, Shaan, Bulandi, Takkar, Phir Wohi Raat, Jal Mahal, The Burning Train, Heeralal Pannalal, Kaalia, Gehra Zakhm, Harjai, Jail Yatra, Daulat Ke Dushman, Ganga Meri Maa, Chameli Memsaab, Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai, Biwi O Biwi, Aan Aur Shaan, Jaane Jaan (Nikamma), Shiva ka Insaaf, and Faisla. Rafi Sahaab's KYA HUA TERA WAADA won him the Filmfare Award as well as his second National Award in 1977. Thus, those who had come to scoff remained to pray.
Thereafter there was no turning back and we have mentioned before all those nominations of Filmfare Awards that this extraordinary singer was cited for. In 1980 three of his songs were nominated for the said Award. These songs were easily the best of the lot. In 1980, the weekly Binaca Geet Mala programmes too reflected Rafi Sahaab's increasing popularity. For example, in the programme dated May 28, 1980 we had ten songs of Rafi Sahaab compared to the two of Kishore Kumar out of the total sixteen songs. Rafi Sahaab was all set to revive the glory of the early Sixties.
Yes, the moment had arrived when he could translate into practice what he had sung before:
To continue.


The Last Decade- Rising of the Phoenix.

A Humble Tribute by Nasir Ali: 


Coming back to our main discourse, the mid-seventies saw some changes in the equation of the playback scene in Bollywood which also had its hand in indirectly affecting Rafi Sahaab and the repercussions of which can be heard even today. One such factor was the rift between Asha Bhonsle and O.P. Nayyar. It was O.P. Nayyar who had really launched Asha Bhonsle to the exclusion of Lata Mangeshkar whose clout was tremendous during all that period. Asha left OP and hitched on to the bandwagon of R.D. Burman. Later, OP and Asha Bhonsle parted company for good. How bitter that parting was can be seen from the fact that some two years later she even refused to accept the Filmfare Award for her CHAYN SE HAMM KO KABHI AAP NE JEENE NA DIYA which OP had composed for her in Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye (1974). Though O.P. accepted that award, so much heart-broken was he that on his way home he threw it out of his car. This beautiful composition had been picturized on Rekha but it appears that Asha and Lata used their clout behind-the scene to have it dropped from the film altogether. That bitterness was never forgotten by her even as she married R.D. Burman in 1980.

The saddest thing about the fall-out of the Asha-OP relationship was that even those beautiful Rafi-Asha duets that she sang earlier in the Fifties and the Sixties under the baton of the music director seems to have been forgotten by her:

Tumsa Nahin Dekha (SAR PAR TOPI LAL and DEKH QASAM SE),
Bahaaren Phir Bhi Aayengi (DIL TOH PEHL SE HI MADHOSH) among others.

And all along we thought that Asha Bhonsle cherished her duet songs with Rafi Sahaab.....

Though both Rafi Sahaab and Asha Bhonsle carried on singing duets for the remaining part of the Seventies right up to 1980, (according to some estimate they sang about 800 songs together), yet it appears that Asha Bhonsle has negated the excellence of Rafi Sahaab as the greatest male playback singer in Bollywood by certain utterances. Of course every one has the right to one's opinion. So the other day in the Eighties at a concert at Chicago when Asha Bhonsle stated that Suresh Wadkar was as good as Rafi, this was not taken kindly by the knowledgeable audience some of whom were totally shocked. We need to hear what Suresh Wadkar himself stated about Rafi Sahaab:
"I think that no other singer could bring out the sweetness and 'Masti' of every word, incredibly fitting his voice to every hero and yet be in such perfect 'Sur' that every note was well-rounded and a complete experience in itself."

It is otherwise too abundantly clear that Asha Bhonsle preferred Kishore Kumar to Rafi Sahaab. In a recent live telecast of the RKB show in August 2007 she expresedly stated that Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar were "gods" for her. Clarifying that she might even be resented for saying so she went on to say that she listened to only Lata and Kishore Kumar and none else when it came to filmy music.

It must be remembered that Rafi Sahaab came to the dominate the playback scene at the time when Talat Mehmood, Mukesh, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, C. Ramchandra, Kishore Kumar and even his protégé, Mahendra Kapoor were at the peak of their singing voice. But those singers got type-cast in their own genre whereas Rafi Sahaab could sing in all their genres and more: Talat's ghazals, Manna Deys's classical, Mukesh's sad songs, Kishore's light compositions, Hemant's philosophical songs and so on. The Mangeshkar sisters had no competiton. Also, the maximum beneficiary of Rafi-Lata feud was none other than Asha Bhonsle though some like Suman Kalyanpur, did get the crumbs that fell from the table of the said feud.
Next, the Seventies saw commercial interests of the music industry coming to the fore and making promotions of their best bet at that time which happened to be the axis of RDB-KK-RK. As we know, with the rise of R.D. Burman and his preference for Kishore Kumar over Rafi in the early Seventies and with Asha Bhonsle already joining the team right from early seventies after ditching O.P. Nayyar, and with the "Phenomenon" Rajesh Khanna to boot, the way for eliminating Rafi Sahaab was all the more clear - though it just didn't happen. Giving winds to the fire was the role of the media and the sudden emergence of an unknown small town called Jhumri Talaiya into public memory. This town gained notoriety for the maximum number of "questionable" requests for the non-Rafi songs in programmes such as Man Chaahe Geet: "Jhumjri Talaiyya se chunnu munnu aur unke mummy papa likhte hain ki..." The requests were in such profusion that it looked that the said town might have had the population of the cities such as Bombay and Calcutta. Yes, the age of manipulation had started. Formerely the AAP KI FARMAISH or such other requests used to be genuine. The Binaca Geet Mala too had lost it lustre at least for some of their listeners who could never under why some songs were given a step-motherly treatment despite their huge popularity and appeal. The less said - the better. We would not be looking to the emerging political scene as the matter is too sensitive but would be touching only on the "Emergency" of 1975 later.

Here we have to rewind to the old case of Anil Biswas who haughtily believed that any singer could sing what Rafi Sahaab sang. In other words, he had turned a blind eye to the sterling qualities of Rafi Sahaab as an unparalleled singer. When this was brought up before Manna Dey he admitted that there was no one to touch Rafi Sahaab. In fact he recalled an incident where his uncle K.C. Dey who was a visually-challenged musician and singer of the Thirties-Forties actually preferred Rafi Sahaab to Manna Dey for a song in a movie called Justice. Admitting that he had accepted the superiority of Rafi Sahaab over himself, Manna Dey stated that the way Rafi Sahaab gave expressions to his songs was simply outstanding. In his memoirs ("Memories Come Alive") he says of Mohammad Rafi Sahaab:

"Rafi's renditions were like an early spring morning with its varied hues and shades and appealed to me immensely."

The pertinence of the above paragraph is that even in the late Nineties when Anil Biswas presided as a Judge in a musical competition called SA RE GA MA which is still telecast on TV channels but with an addition of the note “PA” now, the competitors used to be apprehensive about singing Rafi Sahaab’s numbers lest that would rub Anil Da on the wrong side. In other words, in one form or the other conspiracy against Rafi Sahaab existed even after more than a decade of his passing away. How we wished that Anil Biswas had heard the song of K.C. Dey: "BABA MANN KI AANKHEN KHOL."

Someone of the lot of the new playback singers has asserted that Rafi Sahaab had adapted the style of method of G.M. Durrani. Another back-stabbing Rafi Sahaab, this! Now it is common knowledge that Mukesh as well as Kishore Kumar were inspired by Kundan Lal Saigal in their earlier days of playback singing. Mukesh's DIL JALTAHAI TAU JALNE DE is a classic example in point. (But it was the young Rafi who had had the honour and pleasure of singing with the former legend, K.L. Saigal, in the chorus - the last two lines : RUHI RUHI RUHI MERE SAPNON KI RANI where he can also be spotted in the group.) This affords a ground to those who imitate Kishore Kumar or Mukesh to justify their cloning. It is also very well known that those who imitated Rafi Sahaab were able to carve a niche for themselves in the film industry as well. Not that G.M. Durrani was not a good singer but then there is a difference between the word “good” and “excellent.” So whoever came out with that comparison had done so as self-aggrandizement in order to assert his own importance and justification of imitation - but at the cost of Rafi Sahaab’s original style.

When we look at the songs of Rafi Sahaab and G.M. Durrani especially the one that sounds somewhat similar in tune for better appreciation, such as G.M. Durrani’s (sung with Lata) GAYE CHALA JAA (Humlog) Rafi Sahaab’s QADAM BADHAAYE JAA NA DAR (Bada Bhai), we easily realise that Rafi Sahaab’s is a powerhouse of rendition. Or in their duet together…. HAMM KO HANSTE DEKH ZAMAANA JALTA HAI (Hum Sab Chor Hain) the styles are distinctly different. In fact as early as early as the mid-forties the Queen of Melody, Noor Jahan, had rightly sensed the superiority of Rafi Sahaab over G.M. Durrani and got the latter replaced for the evergreen Jugnu (1946) duet: YAHAAN BADLA WAFA KA. If someone were to point out the numbers almost rendered in bass by Rafi Sahaab such as HAAY RE DUNIYA (Zeenat -1945) or TERA KHILONA TOOTA BAALAK (Anmol Ghadi – 1946) the answer is that those were the days of low octave and music directors hardly bothered to break that fetter (This is discussed in our first post on Fifties. It was only when Rafi Sahaab was available that the music directors were assured that they could come up with any type of compositions. Then, even in the 1951 golden jubilee hit, Deedar, G.M. Durrani’s number: HAMARA NAAM BHI LIKH DO MOHABBAT KARNE WAALON MEIN.. sounds so different in rendition, style, voice and timbre from Rafi Sahaab’s songs in the same movie (MERI KAHAANI BHOOLNE WAALE or HUWE HAMM JINKE LIYE BARBAAD, etc). So the difference is stark. The similarity? As between the chalk and the cheese! In fact, G.M. Durrani "never really was a front runner as a playback singer except for a brief while before his more gifted colleagues made their presence felt," says Manna Dey. Consequently, it can be very safely and uncontrovertibly asserted that Rafi Sahaab copied no one even in his salad days but forged the stamp of his own individual style of singing.

Even in the 21st Century Rafi Sahaab is being avoided by the new composers who have invented their own fusion style of music. Oh! Pausing here for a moment, this sentence makes it appear as if Rafi Sahaab is still living. But he does seem very much alive! Otherwise, why did Sonu Nigam admit that Rafi Sahaab's name is a taboo in the recording studios. Why? It appears that the standards set up by Rafi Sahaab is beyond the reach of many aspiring singers today even after his 26th death anniversary. Some, like Abhijeet, are waiting for an R.D. Burman and a suitable voice on the screen. Therefore, one can imagine how it must have been in the early Seventies for Rafi Sahaab when seeds of conspiracy were sown for ignoring him. It has to be remembered that even when a diamond falls to the ground it still remains a diamond and that even when the dust rises to the sky it is still the dust. In short, Rafi Sahaab survived the decade with all the glory of the rising phoenix.

Let's now turn to the so-called "Emergency," that was clamped on India by the Indira Gandhi Government, suspending the Fundamental Rights of the citizens. 

To continue...


Thursday, December 13, 2007


The last decade: Rising of the Phoenix.

A Humble Tribute by Nasir Ali: 


Before we proceed further with the Seventies we would do well to make a passing reference to our previous posts where we learnt how Rafi Sahaab had successfully filled the void that had been created by the Legendary singer, K.L. Saigal and how he changed the face of the Indian filmy music. There we also saw him reaching the zenith of his singing career and how he became the voice of almost all actors - big or small, thereby giving a new dimension to the word “versatility”. If he sang for someone, that person became a star. Our previous posts also mentioned that an excellent playback singer does not rest on his laurels but explores new territories to conquer. And this precisely is what Rafi Sahaab did in the Seventies.

Rafi Sahaab pioneered a new trend of globe- trotting for performance of his live shows, besides performing in Indian cities including the one at Calcutta in February 1980. It is said that no less than 25 times did he give such performances on the stages around the world. As Pyarelal (of the Laxmi-Pyare duo) informs us, Rafi Sahaab was the first singer to go on foreign tours regularly every year – first with his small orchestra and later with a bigger group. In fact this trend began in 1968 when he performed live at Mauritius and where he also sang in the Creole language which is spoken in the areas of the Carribeans, north and east coast of South American, western Africa and the Indian Ocean.   According to one report, Rafi Sahaab went to Trinidad at the height of his popularity in 1966.  He had a great audience.  There in the Request Segment he was so kind and unassuming that he said "If it were even one line he would sing for the person requesting the song."  The audience remembers him not only as the extraordinary singers but also as "Truly a great man." 

In fact, Rafi Sahaab marked his Silver Jubilee by  visiting the U.S., and Canada, and the Fiji Islands and New Zealand in 1974.  His programmes attracted crowds of all kinds, including the young and the old.  It was his personal charisma, his child-like simplicity, his enthusiasm and zeal to deliver his best without regards to personal gain that endeared him to the peoples of the countries where he held his programmes. Yes, of course, when he sang with his divine voice, and without an iota of pride or airs, everyone knew that they were beholding someone uncommon, so uncommon that such personalities are born only after centuries. Thus, apart from his tours in the US, Canada and the UK, Rafi Sahaab successfully conducted his tours in South America and the West Indies; the Middle East including Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi; East Africa, Central Africa, and Mauritius; the Far East including Malaysia, Singapore and Hongkong; the Scandinavian countries including Holland; and of course nearer home in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Rafi Sahaab’s live shows had lots of energy and full money’s worth.

Alluding to the stage shows in modern times, the Filmfare Award winner for playback singing, Abhijeet, was very forthcoming and frank when he stated in a live TV telecast (the RKB Show) that today people in foreign countries pay large sums of money to hear their favourite singers on stage but that many a time the singers just unbashedly lip-synch their own songs before the cheated audience. This is not something new. I do remember that once I happened to watch a so-called live telecast of a very popular playback singer on the Door Darshan in the late Seventies or the Eighty. When I heard him on the TV, I was struck by the fact that he “sang” that number just as had been originally rendered by him for the movie, what with all the intermezzo music. Maybe it was meant to be a joke but it was later found out that he had only lip-synched his own song. Even the "Tenor of all times" Pavarotti was caught in a scandal of lip-synching during the ‘live’ performance on the stage. Besides, today, we also know that current technologies make a singer sound much better than he or she actually is. It has also become a fashion for a singer to mark his territory. This he does by “specializing” himself in a particular genre. Rafi Sahaab was innocent of all these tricks and technologies. Rafi Sahaab performed live in such places as the U.K., the U.S., South America and the Carribeans among others. In 1977 he performed live in many towns and cities of United Kingdom. One such show was held at the St. George’s Hall at Bradford, West Yorkshire. There his melodious voice soared all around, captivating the eager audience. Around that time in the U.K., he also gave an interview to the British Broadcast Corporation about his songs some personal experiences and moods. Rafi Sahaab also visited the Middle East as well as Afghanistan where he performed along with one of the greatest female singers of Afghan community, Jheela.

In his live shows, there were no bevies of beautiful belles, no scantily clad dancers, no Wizcraft-managed stage. Yet, when Rafi Sahaab sang, the audience listened to him as if in a trance, mesmerized and hypnotized. His soft speaking voice transformed into a rainbow of many hues. The audience was captivated by all shades of his vocal styles and varying range besides the pronunciation of lyrics whether he was singing a devotional song (Bhajan) or western type of pop numbers or classical numbers or any other genre. Rafi Sahaab liked singing semi-classicals filmy music in his live shows with a view to propagating Indian music. He used to name the Raga (classical base) of the songs before rendering them. For example, before singing the immortal O DUNIYA KE RAKHWAALE he would say that the song belonged to Raga Darbari. Before singing MADHUBAN MEIN RAADHIKA NAACHE RE he would give the name of the Raga as Hamir. His Raga Malkauns based Bhajan, MANN TADPAT HARI DARSHAN KO AAJ was admired the world over. He sometimes even embellished his popular songs that sounded better than the original recordings. For example, in one of the stanzas of his ever-popular, O DUNIYA KE RAKHWAALE, he renders MAHAL UDAAS AUR GALIYAAN SOONI many times over in different styles with such pathos which brings tears to our eyes. Even the refrain of RAKHWAALE coming at the end of this lamentation he would sing more than the required number of three. Similarly, his ability to hold a note, even at high pitch for a long duration, was uncanny. It has also been noted that in live concerts, while rendering the famous Dosti song: CHAAHUNGA MAIN TUJHE SAANJH SAVERA, he used to hold the high piitched MITWA for a duration which far exceeded that of the original studio recording. He could also churn out 13 different variations of a song on the spur of the moment.

Usually, Rafi Sahaab interspersed his duets with innocent comments. When the accompanying female singer sang: DIL TO YEH MERA SANAM TERA TALABGAAR THA (This Heart of Mine O Beloved was in need of you) he would ask: “Kab Say”? (since when?). In the Teesri Manzil duet, when the female singer continues with the refrain, AA JAA AA AA AJAA ….a trifle longer, Rafi Sahaab modestly butts in saying ITNI JAASTI DER TAK (FOR SUCH A LONG DURATION), i.e. don't tire yourself so! An ardent fan recollects that during the time Rafi Sahaab sang the same song with Usha Timothy in Calcutta, he would deliberately interchange the AAJA AAJA with JAAJAA JAAJAA and also pretend to be out of breath. All this made the crowd go crazy with laughter and happiness - to which the showman Rafi Sahaab would utter: O what has happened to you guys of Calcutta -and then resume singing AAJA AA AA AAJA.... the orchestra then starting all over. Incidentally, it is said that Asha Bhonsle, who had sung the original song with Rafi Sahaab, had found this tune a bit difficult to adjust to but then took it up as a challenge and was ready after ten days of rehearsals.

During the concert, Rafi Sahaab sometimes even used to give the chronology of the song he was about to sing, i.e. whether the song was an old one or relatively new. Such little comments endeared him to the sane and controlled audience. In later years, he began the show normally with BADI DUUR SE AAYE HAIN and other hits. His songs included BEKHUDI MEIN SANAM…, PARDA HAI PARDA HAI, HAMM TO CHALE PARDES, KYA HUA TERA WAADA, O DUNIYA KE RAKHWAALE and Punjabi songs besides other hits. His favourite was SUHAANI RAAT DHAL CHUKI. Some of his other great hits that set the stage on fire were BADAN PE SITAARE LAPETE HUWE, MADHUBAN MEIN RAADHIKA NAACHE RE, CHAUDHVIN KA CHAAND HO, and BAHAARON PHOOL BARSAAO.

In some countries, such as Surinam the official language of which is Dutch but which has a sizeable population of  Indians from Bihar, he even performed for the general public right in the city’s square for their benefit since they could not afford the fees of his concert that had been held there. His AY YAY YA SUKOO SUKOO was a great hit among the people of mixed origin who felt no one could sing like him.  In fact, this song in Surinamese, "Ayyay yaa mi lobe sranang soeko soeko" was sung by Rafi Sahaab with such childlike enthusiasm and energy that it has to be heard to be believed. 

That was not the first time that Rafi Sahaab had opened the flood-gates of his generosity for those who could not afford his live concerts. It is said that in one of the shows in India in the state of Andhra Pradesh, the tickets having been sold out a large crowd was trying to gate-crash. Rafi Sahaab instructed the show organisers to let the people in at his cost. It is a fact that crowd management was a big headache for the local police of the city where Rafi Sahaab had his live shows such as the ones in Calcutta. "Rofi" was really popular in that city so much so that according to an eye-witness account the audience wouldn't allow even Kishore Kumar to come on the stage after Rafi Sahaab's performance. They wanted him to be at No.1, No.2,3 and 4 all rolled into one. (I personally have witnessed how powerful is the mob behaviour of the Calcutta crowd though at a different place). It is said that Rafi Sahaab came back on the stage and started singing ARRE RAFTA RAFTA DEKHO AANKH MERI LADI HAI - a Kishore Kumar number from Kahani Kismet Ki (1973). He sang two lines to pacify the crowd so that they would allow Kishore Kumar to perform too! (On a momentary reflection, this reminds us of Kishore Kumar rendering Rafi Sahaab's on the occasion of the 1981 Filmfare Awards in Bombay. He had won the Filmfare Award for the Thodisi Bewafai number). Lathi charges outside the auditoriums were a regular feature whenever Rafi Sahaab performed.

In 1979 Rafi Sahaab gave a live performance at Toronto, Canada.  According to the fresh knowledge being available, there he met his brother Hameed (not real brother) his Man Friday who was always with him from the beginning of his career in Lahore when he had  put the 13 year old Rafi on the stage to fill in for the Legendary Saigal Saab.  He had also accompanied Rafi Sahaab to Mumbai and remained with him till late the Seventies when he migrated to Canada.  It appears that during the 1979 shows in Toronto, Hameed advised Rafi Sahaab that he too should migrate to Canada to spend the few years of life together.  It seems that he even advised him to stop singing since it was at his behest that Rafi Sahaab had started singing.  We are told that Rafi Sahaab nodded in the affirmative.  Hameed never realised that Rafi Sahaab would keep his promise the way he did.   By next year, Rafi Sahaab had left for his heavenly abode.  Yes, he would be singing no more!  Hameed himself survived many years and died in 2001 and was buried in Toronto itself.    But let's leave this grim picture and come back to Rafi Sahaab's verve, energy, enthusiasm, melody and music. 

Thereafter Rafi Sahaab went to the U.S.A.  One of the fans while watching Rafi Sahaab live in Detroit, Michigan, can never forget the way Rafi Sahaab sang, HAMM TOH CHALE PARDES... To this day, he rues the fact that he was not able to bring his wife to the show for lack of funds. He feels very guilty especially because Rafi Sahaab passed away the next year.

During that tour, Rafi Sahaab's wife had also accompanied him and as luck would have it, he had three days off between two concerts.  These were fruitfully utilized with the family with  a visit to the Disneyland when Shahid Rafi too joined them there.  "It was a very memorable trip," recalls Shahid.  There they were joined by the ace comedian, Mehmood, and his wife. 

Rafi Sahaab also performed in the New York's Madison Square. Soi, one of the organizers recalled:

"Rafi sahib was a saint and a magician on stage. We were sold out and had to go an hour over, because people would not leave. Rafi Sahib said you will lose money in thousands for going over time and I said go back and have fun, we all love you, and I want to listen to you as well. I really cherish the show, because he came here in 1979 and he died in 1980."

The music loving Indian and Pakistani communities in the U.S.A.  and Canada presented Mohammed Rafi with a token of their appreciation of the "Celestial Voice" (see inset) in 1979.

Diehard fans still remember the grand show on the Colombo beach where hundreds of thousands fans saw and heard Rafi Sahaab's live performance. According to one estimate there were at least twelve hundred thousands at his show. Under the baton of Usha Khanna, the music director, Rafi Sahaab began with BA.DI DUUR SE AAYE HAI.N....This show was conducted just three months before the Legend passed away into the Hall of Immortality.

In 1980 itself, he had also performed live at London's Wembley Stadium, where his fans still remember that Rafi Sahaab sang AADMI MUSAAFIR HAI, MAIN JAT YAMLA PAGLA DEEWAANA, TUJH KO PUKAARE MERA PYAAR, KYAA HUWAA TERAA WAADAA, CHAL UR JAARE PANCHHI, BAHAARON PHOOL BARSAAO, PARDA HAI PARDA, O DUNIYA KE RAKHWAALE,  among other songs.
Thus Rafi Sahaab captivated the hearts of millions round the world by the magic of his voice which has become the subject for research by his admirers some of whom consist of the best names in the field of playback singing today.

Apart from his World Tours, Rafi Sahaab also got engrossed with the religious obligation of the Hajj and spiritual duties and contemplations. Therefore, it is sometimes stated that because of Islamic restrictions on music Rafi Sahaab must have decided on giving up his singing career altogether. Without going into the theological aspects, the Muslim community, both now and in the past, are generally agreed in regarding music with disapproval. As Mrs. Bilquis Rafi (d.1998) revealed that she herself was from a very conservative family and didn’t quite like music and that neither did Rafi Sahaab encouraged her to listen to his songs. If we hark back to the past even till as late as the Forties and the Fifties we would know that it was considered a taboo in India to seek a living either as an actor or a musician or singer. Such people were looked down upon in the conservative Indian society. The readers may definitely remember the case of Naushad who at the time of his Nikah had to declare his profession as a “Tailor.” The irony was that the band wallahs outside his house were actually playing the song from his own film.

Again, it is also possible that Rafi Sahaab must have contemplated on the philosophical dimensions of his own song:


Evidently, such contemplations, the question of Right and Wrong, the Hamletian complex whether "To sing or not to sing.." all these must have heavily weighed on Rafi Sahaab's mind after he had performed the Hajj.  Fortunately for us, those days we did not have the so-called Muftis issuing Fatwas every now and then even on trivial issues as we do now. Anyhow, being a family man and a person who was never seduced by Bollywood's lure of lucre, ladies, and parties, Rafi Sahaab continued to spend as much time with his family as he could, pursuing his innocent hobby of flying kites by the day and devoting the early hours of the day to 'Riyaaz'.  In 1972 he was sojourning in his London home. His deliberately remaining away from the recording studios, resulted in a drastic cut-down of his recording sessions. He came back to the recordings at the insistence of his sons. And why not?  His son Shahid feels that a a God-gifted singer like Rafi Sahaab is born only once in a thousand-year. Yes - a thousand-year. No doubt, Rafi Sahaab was posthumously honored with the "Best Singer of the Millenium" Award by Hero Honda and Stardust magazine in Mumbai on Jan 7, 2001  (see inset).

Lata Mangeshkar while offering her 'Sharadhhanjali' (tribute) to Rafi Sahaab when she sang his SUHAANI RAAT DHAL CHUKI and DIL KA BHANWAR KARE PUKAAR aptly quoted Allama Iqbal in his honour:


In the meantime we have also to consider that Rafi Sahaab had also been recording many songs in Indian regional languages such as Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bhojpuri, Avadhi, Telegu, Kannad, Oriya, Bengali including Nazrul Geet, Konkani Cantaras, a few English ones, as well as in Sindhi. He had also recorded an Assamese trend-setter song for Jitu-Tapan, viz., ASOMIR SUTALATA. He was also in the midst of recording Malyalam songs but owing to his untimely demise could not complete the project. One such Malyalam movie was "Atma Raksha." But he did sing a Hindi song SHABAB LOKE ...JAADU HAI MEETHA MEETHAA for a Malayalam movie, Thaliritta Kinnikal, under the baton of  a disciple of Naushad Saab, Jithin Shyam whose identity as a Music Director had become known after Rafi Sahaab had soulfully recorded  songs for him in Arab Ka Sona.   

Rafi Sahaab  also recorded many non-filmi Ghazals, non-filmi Bhajans, non-filmy songs, Shabads and Naatiya Kalaams. Rafi Sahaab could be thus very prolific. He could sing, memorise, and deliver full five songs in a day. And yes, those were not the days when just one line each could be recorded with the help of modern technology. And yet, his adversaries and detractors came out with the theory of "lean period" in his career or his being "overshadowed" by Kishore Kumar. Nothing could be further from truth since it was Rafi Sahaab"s own volition to go on a holiday from the tinsel world of Bollywood to pioneer a new trend of giving live concerts abroad.

Pausing here for a moment let’s examine the case of Rafi Sahaab vis-à-vis Kishore Kumar who had begun his singing career in 1948. Since work was not coming his way, Kishore Da was ready to pack up in 1965 and return to his native Khandwa after the "Padosan" (released 1968) song, KEHNA HAI KEHNA HAI. R.D. Burman who had always nurtured a soft corner for him advised him not to do so. With Teesri Manzil in 1966 RDB became a name to reckon with. But even he had to wait till 1971 for giving his favourite a restart. We noted how with the severe illness of S.D. Burman who was composing music for Aradhana (1969) that opportunity came earlier than expected and RDB gave Kishore Kumar the songs that S.D. Burman had earlier wanted to give Rafi Sahaab. This was one among the many other factors that gave an immense boost to the sagging career of Kishore Kumar. As noted above, by the late Sixties and early Seventies Rafi Sahaab began his globe-trotting and live performances right upto 1980. A very important fact that has also to be taken into consideration is that the Bombay Film Industry was and is still notorious for borrowing huge sums of money from loan sharks who charge exhorbitant rate of interests. (It's only now that the Corporates have stepped in). Therefore, when Rafi Sahaab had shifted to London or was not available for recording, the producers could not wait for ever and therefore music directors had to take whoever was available. Kishore Kumar fitted the bill very nicely what with the rise of R.D. Burman and the phenomena Rajesh Khanna whose golden jubilee hits of Aradhna and Do Raaste in 1969 worked wonders for Kishore Kumar. Then there were so many releases of Dev Anand (who, again, had always preferred Kishore Kumar) starrers right from Mahal (1970) to Des Pardes (1978) and even later movies including Lootmaar (1980). With the later hitching of Asha Bhonsle to RDB bandwagon the coup de grace was complete. All these ensured the rise of Kishore Kumar so much so that even the Thespian Dilip Kumar opted for his voice in Sagina (1974) which had (and who else?) S.D. Burman as the music director. However, once Rafi Sahaab got over his "reluctance" and tried making himself available, the restoration process had begun with the needed fillip of Madan Mohan, and the "Emergency" which we shall be broaching presently.

Otherwise, too, the mammoth myth of Rafi Sahaab's lean phase was amply exposed by a prestigious Indian weekly magazine named SCREEN in one of their publications: "The reduction in Rafi’s visit to the recording studious did not necessarily imply that Rafi was down. And ironically it was the high quantum of Rafi’s song in the pre-Aradhana phase that helped to fuel this myth. In actual fact it was during 1971-76 period that Rafi’s standing almost paralleled Mukesh’s. For Rafi had greater than ever percentage of hits…” The weekly goes on to emphatically state how Rafi Sahaab’s impact gave a permanent place in Bollywood musicals to even smaller composers during that period. It concluded triumphantly: “Rafi and down? Haven’t we heard that titans go down only in history.”

Rafi Sahaab gradually began overtaking Kishore Kumar and by 1980 he had clearly outstripped him in matters of sheer numbers and popularity.

(To continue)