December 24, 1924, Kotla Sultan Singh in Punjab was the place that witnessed the birth of a boy who went on to become a legend in the history of Indian film music. And we are talking about Mohammed Rafi whose legacy cannot be inherited.
Today is his birthday and let’s not get into how old he would have been had he been alive now. The maestro breathed his last on July 31, 1980 at the age of 55. It was a setback for the film industry as the evergreen singer was no more. His death paved way for the likes of Shabbir Kumar, Mohammed Aziz and later Sonu Nigam, who rose to fame in his absence.
Now, there is no motive to look down upon these singers who are talented in their own way, but it’s the Rafi tag that helped them bag lucrative assignments in the film industry. The industry after Rafi’s demise was looking for an alternative, with Kishore Kumar still alive. The Rafi vs Kishore battle had died an untimely death, but what about the vacuum Rafi left behind? Hence, the ones stepping in who modelled themselves on Rafi!
Yes, these singers have given us hits after hits, but had Rafi not left for his heavenly abode, would they have made a mark? No, because RD Burman would have looked to Rafi for Betaab. Laxmikant-Pyarelal wouldn’t have thought twice before having Rafi on board for Teri Meherbaniyan. And there could be more such examples.
Rafi Saab still holds a position that no singer could. Yes, he had to face the heat of the Kishore wave with the entry of Rajesh Khanna in the ‘70s. Even a Dev Anand preferred Kishore to Rafi. The angry young man called Amitabh Bachchan made more hit songs with Kishore than Rafi. Yet, even in the ‘70s when Kishore was at his peak, Rafi excelled in patches and left an indelible imprint on the hearts of music lovers.
For example, Haathi Mere Saathi in 1971 starring Khanna in the lead! One song, Nafrat ki duniya ko rendered by Rafi stole the show. It was also a comeback of a sort for the legendary singer. Who can forget Kya hua tera wada from the film Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977)? Rafi was the voice for the second lead Tariq in the film and not the first lead Rishi Kapoor. But RD composed one of his most memorable numbers with Rafi in mind that also bagged the latter a National Award.
Look back a bit, and who can forget Teri galiyion mein from the film Hawas (1974)? What a song, what a composition by Usha Khanna. And talk about Usha Khanna, she teamed up with Rafi for the number Tu is tarah from the film Aap To Aise Na The (1980). It should go down in history as one of Rafi’s best.
Readers may be wondering why the article harps on the ‘70s and ‘80s and not the ‘50s and ‘60s when Rafi was unbeatable. The reason is simple: It is aimed at emphasising on Rafi’s greatness amidst all odds (read the Kishore wave).
Yes, Rafi did face competition during his peak from Mukesh, Manna Dey and even Talat Mahmood, but the ‘70s and ‘80s simply belonged to Kishore and Rafi found going tough in the true sense of the term. Yet, he held his own and even joined Kishore in songs like Ek raasta (Ram Balram), Bane chaahe dushman (Dostana) among others. Such was Rafi’s aura that even a staunch Kishore fan like RD roped Rafi in to sing for Rishi Kapoor in Zamanae Ko Dikhana Hai (1981). Rafi died before the film released though. In Shaan (1980), Rafi chipped in with Yamma yamma that was a runaway hit. Laxmikant-Pyarelal in Karz (1980) had Rafi singing Darde dil and the music director duo didn’t have to look beyond him for Sargam (1979). And the list just goes on and on.
This writer despite being a Kishore fan has utmost respect for Rafi and some of his numbers come to his mind during the emotional turbulences he goes through. There is something special about this singer who has fought the mightiest of tides to cement his place in the hearts of passionate music lovers. If one thought, the ‘70s and ‘80s were all about Kishore, then it was time to go through this piece. Rafi has even sung for Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan when music directors had only Kishore in mind for the superstars. Even Rishi Kapoor who has a number of Kishore hits to his credit lip synced for Rafi as well.
The magic touch in Rafi’s voice stands him apart. And yes, Mohammed Rafi, you are missed! Happy Birthday!