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Updated: October 24, 2009 23:55 IST

Forgetting the phenomenal talent of Rafi?

Mohammed Yahya Ansari
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Mohammed Rafi: A voice that was superb when musical scope was minimal. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu Mohammed Rafi: A voice that was superb when musical scope was minimal. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Central government ignored the prodigious contributions of Mohammed Rafi to the world of music. The least it could do to redeem its laxity and mistake is to confer both the Bharat Ratna and Dada Saheb Phalke awards on him posthumously. The nation owes him a stupendous debt of gratitude.

It is highly gratifying news that singing maestro Manna Dey has been awarded the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award for 2007. He richly deserves the honour. The award has come his way rather a bit too late. But it is most welcome.

My greatest regret is that this Central government has ignored Mohammed Rafi, arguably India's best and most versatile, gifted male playback singer, who rode unchallenged like a colossus on the musical firmament of Bollywood for four decades. Though fate snatched him away from us at the early age of 55, his discography exceeds 20, 000 songs in 20 languages. Besides, he had a large volume of non-filmi renderings. Imagine and choose any occasion, and you have Rafi's number absolutely suiting it. Be it bhangra, ghazal, qawwali, romantic songs, lullaby, classical, folk song, patriotic song, playful number, bhajan and even the rare 'rukhsati'song, the magic of Rafi's voice holds the listener in ethereal thrall. The legendary K.L. Sehgal blessed him and prophesied that he would one day outshine him. Kishore Kumar used to sing his own songs in his films. But even he, used playback by Rafi in three or four songs.

Rafi's phenomenal talent transcended eras, ages and styles. He had the ability to become the voice of every generation. His magical, velvety and manly voice suited every actor. If any, his match can be found only in the inimitable Lata Mangeshkar. If she is the queen of melody, Rafi is undoubtedly the king. Individually, they are masters but together in their duets, they are magical and divine.

Singing package

He was Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Mahendra Kapoor, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, all rolled into one. He was the most complete singing package. What these worthy contemporaries of Rafi could sing individually as their forte, he could acquit himself single-handedly with greater honour, perfection and felicity. He sang any composition flawlessly, effortlessly and elegantly. He was one stop and single window shop for all music composers, film directors, producers, lyricists and actors. Once Laxmikant Pyarelal remarked on his death that before Rafi, when we invented a tune, we used to search for singers, as who could sing it, but when he came on the scene, he put a challenge before us that you dare compose such a tune which he could not sing. He was a perfectionist to the core and lent his immortal voice to songs in every possible genre of music. His usual was so much better than the best around him.

We are indeed spoilt for choice when we look at his awe-inspiring repertoire. His voice lifted the ordinaries into memorable and divine and was superb when the musical scope was minimal. His voice mirrored the whole gamut of human emotions, viz., sorrow, romance, love, its pain, separation, union, hatred, revenge, elation, patriotism, chutzpah, etc. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called Rafi to be the magician of voice. Naushad, the doyen of Hindi classical music, who had the knack of drawing the purity of a raga with an aesthete's Midas' touch, used only Rafi's voice for his composition throughout his distinguished career. He combined classical and popular music and produced a new genre for which Rafi gave the soul through his mellifluous voice.

His silken voice made Rajendra Kumar a jubilee star and imparted to Shammi Kapoor, his sui generis style. He sang for Johnny Walker in his unique thin voice. He crooned for thespian Dilip Kumar. He sang for Raj Kumar and mesmerised the nation by his golden voice in the song, Duniya KeRakhwaale(Baiju Bawra) for Bharat Bhushan. The list is daunting and endless. He sang for Rishi Kapoor and hypnotised the youngistan of his times.

Whatever song his golden voice touched made it classic. He had rigorous training in classical music at the hands of very able gurus. He sang every raga with consummate skill. He died in harness. He received his last Filmfare award for best playback singing only a year before his sudden demise.

The Central government ignored the prodigious contributions of Rafi to the world of music. The least it could do to redeem its laxity and mistake is to confer both the Bharat Ratna and Dada Saheb Phalke awards on him posthumously. The nation owes him a stupendous debt of gratitude. If Lata Mangeshkar can be a Bharat Ratna, why not Rafi? Even a belated gesture on the part of the government will warm the cockles of the hearts of millions and millions of Rafi's fans and aficionados all over the world.

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