New Delhi: Four decades have passed since the legendary singer Mohammed Rafi left for heavenly abode. But the magic of his velvet voice is still lingering in the hearts and minds of millions of his fans across the globe.
He was the greatest ever playback singer of India. He was uniquely and singularly responsible for the very existence of the finest artistic grandeur, splendor and original creativity that embodied the golden era of music and melodies of Hindi cinema.
He had such fascinatingly wide musical range, supreme artistic caliber, versatility and mastery over music and melodies. Such was his voice clarity, pleasantness of pitch and exquisite tone that he was unsurpassable and unparalleled.
CitySpidey caught up with several celebrities including Rafi’s son Shahid Rafi, music maestros Kalyanji, Pyarelal, singers Udit Narayan, Aroon Bakshi and many others to share their memories with the golden voice of the silver screen on his 98th birth anniversary (December 24). The legend lives on through his magical voice.
For distinguished music composer Pyarelal of Laxmikant-Pyarelal combo, there is no better male singer than Rafi.
Over a leisurely chat, he brought the whole era alive. “Rafi was an amazing human being. He was a topnotch singer, but so down to earth. Whenever Rafi saab stepped into the studio, Kishore Kumar would stand up and offer his respect. Agar woh log achche insaan nahin hote, toh woh gaane itne khoobsoorat nahin ban paate…”
Pyarelal puts it poignantly, “My father had once taken me to Rafi sahib’s house to ask for money during our bad times. When I became a composer, I worked with Rafi sahib and Lataji on the song ‘Yeh dil tum bin kahin lagta nahi, hum kya kare’. I remembered that I had to give Rs 500 to both of them. Rafi sahib didn’t recall giving me money, Lataji did. But they told me to keep the money as their blessing for me.”
Noted music composer Anandji Virji Shah of Kalyanji-Anandji fame recalled their association with him as a “versatile singer”.
He said, “Rafiji was a nice human being and was very much dedicated to his work. He sang some of the beautiful renditions of our Bollywood music. He always satisfied us with his music. He was a complete singing package and could sing any composition effortlessly and flawlessly. He knew how to blend emotions and melody perfectly, and gave the right treatment to each song, which resulted in thousands of soulful songs.”
Shahid Rafi, son of the late singer recalled how the unlettered singer would politely turn down requests for autographs as his fame grew.
He even sang in English. Not a bad feat at all for a singer who struggled with even English. He began practising his signature diligently and when Ammi (mother) enquired why he was wasting reams of paper, he told her that he did not want to deprive his fans and so was learning to sign his name in English. Soon he began signing autographs in English and enjoyed doing so. It came as a great compliment for all his efforts when a journalist mentioned that he had the best signature in the industry.”
Famous playback singer Udit Narayan, who got the chance to sing with Rafi in the film ‘Unees Bees’, says, ‘‘Mohammed Rafi sahib created a unique musical artistic identity and niche for each music composer whose compositions he sang. His voice conveyed every intricate human emotion with such subtle care, artistic dexterity, exquisite pleasantness and unique artistic creativity that it influenced and overpowered the hearts and souls of millions of music lovers all over the world. He had infused life into the poetry written by legendary poets, songwriters with the power of his supreme capabilities as a musical genius and marvelous singer.”
He has the distinction of being the first playback singer of all times to be featured in the pioneering list of the Guinness Book of World Records, for having sung the highest number of songs, which is a total of 26,000 songs, in Hindi and other languages.
In 1948, on the fateful day when the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi was no more, famous poet Rajendra Krishan wrote, “Bapu ki Amar kahani”. It was sung by Rafi on the very same day on All India Radio (AIR).
It was so mesmerising to hear the poetic biography of Gandhi, in the melodious voice of Rafi that the millions of the listeners of All India Radio were all moved to tears with sorrow and poignancy.
It was a great achievement because before that no singer had ever attempted to sing songs which had more than two stanzas but to sing a whole poetic biography seemed impossible at that time however for Rafi it was natural and many a time he has sung the most difficult and long compositions with absolute panache and marvelous elegance.
“Mohammed Rafi was like an angel. He was very soft spoken, seldom angry, very humble. He was a very pious person. He believed in the concept of simple living and high thinking. During his lifetime Mohammed Rafi had donated immeasurable money in charity, noble causes and for our country,’’ says Aroon Bakshi, well-known actor-singer.
“He was a true patriot of India and he believed in our country's secular values and our rich culture, tradition and heritage. The boundaries of religion, caste, creed, richness, poverty, economic class, language and politics were beyond the legendary stature of Mohammed Rafi and he was above all these boundaries. Numerous instances are there when he bought expensive imported Dialysis equipment to our country to assist charity hospitals that serve ailing kidney patients of our nation. Rafi sahab was an ideal man with lofty ideals and esteemed values for which he was ready to face anything,” Bakshi added.
This was the same reason that he declared that he will not take royalty for any of the songs that he had sung. A view-point that resulted in a grave clash of principles with another legend Lata Mangeshkar, who had a major debate over the issue of royalties in 1960. Rafi believed that once a recording was over and a singer had been paid, he or she should not ask for more. Lata, on the other hand said that singers should be paid royalties for their works, over and above the amount given for the singing.
For three years, Rafi and Lata did not sing duets or speak with each other. It was the most dignified silence over clash of principles. They refused to sing songs together. At the insistence of Nargis they finally made up at a stage concert and sang ‘Dil Pukare’ from the film Jewel thief, composed by SD Burman. Many new music directors would come to Rafi and request him that if he sang for their compositions then they would get a chance in films.
“Mohammed Rafi sahab would not only sing for them but also when the producer used to pay remuneration for the songs, Rafi sahib would gift it to these new music directors. That was the encouragement that Rafi sahib had for new talent. He would recommend names of his contemporary singers without an iota of jealousy. Thus, making Rafi sahib the most loved respected and cherished human being of all time. Till the day he lived, he ruled like a king and after passing away from this mortal world also Mohammed Rafi's voice and his melodies continued to reign the music world,” Payarelal concluded.