Mohd Rafi started his career at the age of 20, with a punjabi song, Soniye Hiriye, teri yaad ne bahut sataya for the movie Gul Baloch, which was released on 28th February, 1944. The producer was Sham Sunderji, who was very much impressed by Rafi’s style of singing and did not think twice on booking Rafi for all his future films.
In the year 1944, Mohammed Rafi recorded his first song under music director Shyam Sunder. It was for a Punjabi movie named Gul Baloch. It was recognized by many and Rafi started to get more and more offers. Rafi also sang songs composed by Naushad for the movie Pehle Aap in the year 1944. He also acted in a couple of movies named Laila Majnu (1945) and Jugnu (1947). Another splendid performance was in the year 1946 when he sang the song "Tera Khilona Toota Balak" of the movie Anmol Ghadi. With the movie Jugnu (1947), Rafi bagged his first major hit. The song "Yahaan Badla Wafa Ka'' with Noor Jehan under Feroze Nizami went on to become a major hit with the public.
In 1944, Rafi was very famous as a singer. Many of his songs were sung by youths and school-going kids. Rafi was invited by Nasir, a well-known actor of those times to Bombay. From this point, there was no turning back. Rafi sang for Shamji Sundarji’s production Gaon Ki Gori. This movie was also a great hit. With this hit, Rafi was called Play Back Singer. He was famous and settled play back singer around 1948.
His music in the movie Baiju Bawara proved critics wrong and he went on to become one of the most demanded playback singers of that time. The film happened by accident. Talat Mehmood was the first choice for the film. Naushad, the music director caught Talat Mehmood smoking and was very annoyed. He then gave all the songs to Mohammed Rafi and the results were outstanding. In the year 1949, his song named "Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki" of the movie "Dulari" went on to become an anthem of sorts. There was no looking back thereafter and Rafi went on to produce hits after hits. He was the undisputed singer till the 70's.
He was patronized as the voice of the great actor Dev Anand during 1950's and 60's. He became the favorite singer of director O.P. Nayyar and sang many beautiful songs for him. Rafi also produced some of the greatest hits with S.D. Burman, which includes films like Tere Ghar ke Saamne (1957), Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Guide (1965), Aradhana (1969) and Abhimaan (1973). In fact, he even sang a playback number for the great singer Kishore Kumar for the movie Raagini. Apparently, O.P. Nayyar was so fascinated by Rafi's music that he got him to sing "Man Mora Baawara" of this movie. Rafi sang with Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar and belted out hits after hits. Rafi became the voice of noted actor Rajendra Kumar and sang many romantic songs for his movies. His boisterous style of singing suited the versatile actor Shammi Kapoor.
During the 1970's, Kishore Kumar came into the limelight with his hits in the movie Aradhana. Rafi's output declined and Kishore Kumar started to overshadow his popularity. However, Rafi's songs were still everyone's favorite and he proved that no matter how many singers come and go, his position would remain undisputed. During mid 70's Rafi made a huge comeback with the movie "Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahi" and won the national award for the song "Kya Hua Tera Waada".
His major hits in the 70's include Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Sargam (1979) and Karz (1980). The Qawali song "Pardah Hai Pardah" of the movie Amar Akbar Anthony was a superhit. Other hit songs in late 1970s include films like Laila Majnu (1976), Apnapan (1978), Qurbani, Dostana (1980) and The Burning Train (1980).
K.L.Saigal & Pandit Paulsikar had no words for Rafi’s praise. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, Rafi sang a song Suno Suno Ay Duniya Walon, Bapu ki Yeh Amar kahani written by Rajinder Krishan and music by Hunslal Bhagatram, which touched everyone and was a great hit.
Whenever there used be a fusion of Naushad’s music, Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics and Rafi’s voice, that number would become super-duper hit. These three were quite a team then. Their songs were being heard in all corner of the streets. In fact, those songs are still equally melodious now.
Naushad’s compositions in 1952-film Baiju-Bawra really paved way for Rafi’s ascent to the top spot.
Tragedy-king Dilip Kumar, Yahoo- rebel Shammi Kapoor, Jubilee-king Rajendra Kumar and comedian Johnny Walker were the actors for whom Rafi sang his most memorable songs. But then every possible actor debuting in sixties- from Joy Mukherji to Jeetendra could lay claim to that distinction!
Over the next three-and-a half decades Mohammed Rafi went on to become perhaps the most influential male playback singer in Hindi film music. An exceptional range and malleability made Rafi’s voice a dream voice. Soft and mellow in one instant to robust and forceful the next- Rafi could switch gears effortlessly. Add to that his ability to come up with just the right vocal expression and emotion for the screen- character he was singing for and Rafi became the byword in versatility. From Shankar-Jaikishan to Laxmikant-Pyarelal and from O.P.Nayyar to R.D.Burman, Rafi could do perfect justice to any composer’s tune.
A supremely soulful Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki, a coolly carefree Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya, an intensely lovelorn Yaad Na Jaaye Beete Dinon Ki, a thought-provoking Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai, a hopelessly romantic Khoya Khoya Chaand, a classically erudite Madhuban Mein Radhika Naache Re, a wild-n-wacky Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe, a crazily comic Sar Jo Tera Chakraye and a movingly patriotic Kar Chale Hum Fida Jaano Tan Saathiyo- all these diverse songs serve as perfect examples of Rafi’s mind-blowing ability to switch genres with aplomb.
Rafi would pick up the subtle nuances of the screen character and present them through his songs with such unerring precision that you could close your eyes and still identify whether it was Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar or Johny Walker who was singing the song on the screen. When I was interviewing her, the one and only Lata Mangeshkar had gushed over this unparalleled range of Rafi's voice and had aptly described it as 'the gift of God'! How else can you describe such out of this world talent?
Advent of seventies saw him lose the top throne to Kishore Kumar- the very person for whom he had provided playback in earlier songs like Man Mora Bawra and Ajab Hai Dastan Teri Aye Zindagi. 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. Even in this down- phase, Rafi could come up with super-hit songs like Chaand Mera Dil, Darde Dil Darde Jigar and Parda hai Parda.
Rafi had several opportunities to sing in public. The range of Rafi’s voice was very very high. This is noticeable from the number O Duniya Ke Rakhwale from the movie Baiju Bawara. Naushad was very impressed by Rafi’s performance.
Rafi Sahab receiving the National Rajat Kamal Award fromPresident Sanjiva Reddy for his song ‘Kya Hua Tera Vaada’ in the film ‘Hum Kissise Kum Nahin’ in 1977.
Rafi could sing any type of song. Let it be pop, qawali, bhajan, gazal, romantic, rock’n'roll, light music, slow numbers, sad song, parody, fast numbers…, anything he was remarkeable. He was the first to fit into the playback singer role in a convincing way. His voice enhanced the brilliance of actors like Dilip Kumar. We could feel Guru Dutt’s heart beat when he sang Badi Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari.
Rafi Sahab was honored by the Indian Government in 1965 with the prestigious PadmaShree Award. Here he is seen with PresidentZakhir Hussain at the award ceremony in New Delhi.
With the start of the famous Binaca Geet Mala in 1952, the program aired the immortal songs of the film Baiju Bawra and this really launched Rafi as a popular singer for all ages. Thousands of request for Rafi’s songs poured into Sri Lanka Radio. If he stylised his voice for the Dev Anand’s mannerisms, he took the job of instilling emotions in deadpans Suhani Raat Dal Chukhi in Dulari.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that actors like Shammi Kapoor owe their career to this little man with the Voice of God.
No singer at that time or even now in this era, can match Rafi. Rafi’s singing style was so simple, that nobody could imitate it. Even if they tried, they were not successful. His verstality was very different and way too impressive. His contemporaries were either ineffective in this front or were unwilling to compromize.
All this was about his singing carreer. But as a person, he was much more. Rafi did not imitate any one nor did he stop any one from imitating him. Where there was cut-throat pressure, Rafi was always totally with himself. Through out his carreer Rafi has not been accused of anything. Nor did he stop any new singer from taking his position. He was such a whole-hearted person, who would agree to sing for producers who could’nt afford him in return to nothing. Listening to Rafi is like rowing down a river in a moonlit night.
Now, Rafi is not amongst us, but that divine voice and soul will never fade from this earth. He was, and remains, a major force in film music, the music of love, despair, hope, humor…etc. Rafi’s voice had the healing capability. His music is as calm, as raging, as deep, as beautiful. It is the manifestation of the goodness and the divine.
The year was 1980. Thirty-first July had just fluttered off the face of the calendar. The time was 3.15 a.m. Actor Shammi Kapoor and his wife were just returning from a religious discourse in Brindavan-temple, when an obviously distressed man stopped them in their tracks and said, “Shammi-saab, aap ki aawaz chali gayi!”
(Mr.Shammi Kapoor, you have lost your voice!) Bewildered Shammi realized the significance of that statement a moment later- when that person uttered the next sentence- “Rafi-saab is dead! You have lost your voice!”
Mohammed Rafi was not just Shammi Kapoor’s voice; he was the voice of an entire magical era. A voice which not only sang many exquisite tunes but also launched and shaped the careers of many legendary screen personalities.
When the cruel clutches of fate snatched him on that fateful thirty-first July twenty-five years ago, Rafi had already left an indelible mark on Indian popular music and a rich legacy of many a memorable song.
The last song sung by Rafi was in the film 'Aas paas'. The poignant lyrics of that song perfectly echo the sentiments of millions of music-lovers all over the world -
Tere milne ki aas hai dost
Shaam phir kyon udaas hai dost,
Maheki maheki fija yeh kaheti hai
Tu kahin aaspaas hai dost,
Tu kahin aaspaas hai dost !!
So, when your eyesfocus and your finger points to the Rafi album displayed on the colorful rack alignedalong with Dhamakas and remixes, understand that it is nothing unnatural, just the triumphof voice over noise.