As Mohammed Rafi's 30th death anniversary comes up on July 31, melody queen Lata Mangeshkar pays a personal tribute to one of India's greatest playback singers.
Rafi bhaiya was not only India's greatest playback singer but also a wonderful person. I am yet to come across another artist so modest, dignified and unassuming. The blessings of Goddess Saraswati were with him and this was responsible to a great extent for his iconic success and he believed in true sadhna. Every morning he practised his riyaz like a devoted singer and rehearsed before recording each song.
Suhani raat dhal chuki in “Dulari”, tuned by Naushad saab, made him a household name in the late 1940s.Since then there was no looking back for Mohd. Rafi.He went from strength to strength as a singer never conscious of his amazing abilities. While raising his voice to the highest octave for O Duniya Ke Rakhwale in “Baiju Bawra”, he was so involved that he was not even aware that his vocal chord was disturbed and blood oozed out. Naushad saab had to compel his musicians and the sound recordist to stop the recording with immediate effect.
He was not only cordial but affectionate and cooperative with his colleagues. I consider myself very lucky for having sung the maximum number of duets with him under Naushad, C. Ramchandra, S.D. Burman, Shanker-Jaikishan, Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan, R.D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji. Even other talented composers like Hemant Kumar, Ravi and Khayyam worked with us with resounding success. We sang so many memorable duets together. I remember Do Sitaron Ka Milan, Sau Saal Pehle, Dil Pukare, Yeh Dil Tum Bin...He was one singer whose vocal range could outclass any other singer, whether it was me, Asha, Mannada or Kishore bhaiya. Yet, he never believed in dominating the scene.
Rafi Bhaiya was very particular about lyrics. He was dead against obscenity. Salil Chowdhury, who generally did not use Rafi bhaiya, composed the haunting Tasveer teri dil mein, which we sang for “Maya”. It was the Hindi version of his Bengali master piece, Ogo aar kichu to noi. Rafi bhaiya was not getting the antara, phirun tujhe sang leke, accurately. Salilda grew impatient and showed flashes of anger, but Rafi bhaiya would not react. He politely asked Salilda to explain it to him and ultimately delivered it even better than what Salilda expected.
For top heroes
Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Guru Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, even Rajesh Khanna... Rafi bhaiya sang for top actors with equal ability and resounding success. The way he rendered Aye chand jise, Na mukhda mor ke and Tujhe dekha for Uttam Kumar in “Choti Si Mulakat” was mind-blowing. He was at his best rendering Teri bindya re for Amitabh Bachhan and Dard e dil for Rishi Kapoor.No wonder even music directors of the 1970s, like Bappi Lahiri and Rajesh Roshan, used his voice very effectively. I still remember him singing Dil ki kali tuned by Rajesh Roshan for “Inkar” in 1978.The female voice simply paled in comparison.
It is very wrong to say that Kishore Kumar overtook Rafi bhaiya in the early 1970s.Kishore was no doubt at his peak, but Rafi bhaiya was equally effective with Tere naam ka diwana, Gulabi aankhen, Yeh duniya yeh mehfil and Tum jo mil gaye ho. Even Kishore bhaiya never felt he was ahead of Rafi.
It's been three decades since he left us but his melodies are alive not only in my heart but in that of countless music lovers. Rafi bhaiya, Yaad na jaye beete dino ki.