Mohammed Rafi’s 1958 trip to Cochin and a lost wedding song

Playback legend Mohammed Rafi flew down to Kochi in January 1958 to sing at a wedding. Mohammed Rafi Fan Blog, a 31-minute-film, traces the story of a wedding song sung by the legend, which has since been lost, and a blog on him

December 29, 2023 07:29 pm | Updated December 30, 2023 08:17 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

A still from the film ‘Mohammed Rafi Fan Blog’ which shows a group photo with Mohammed Rafi in it taken during his Cochin trip for the wedding.

A still from the film ‘Mohammed Rafi Fan Blog’ which shows a group photo with Mohammed Rafi in it taken during his Cochin trip for the wedding.

In January 1958, playback legend Mohammed Rafi flew down to Kochi — then Cochin — to sing at a wedding. The marriage of Abdul Razaq and Rabia Bai, cousins and members of a wealthy Kutchi Memon family, was on January 11.

At a special event the next day, Rafi mesmerised the guests with his soulful voice. He started off with his hits, and then, much to the delight of the newlyweds, sang a song composed specially for them. Sadly, all copies of that recording have since been lost.

Mohammed Rafi Fan Blog, a film by Nihaal Faizal, an artist based in Bengaluru and grandson of Razaq and Rabia, chronicles two intriguing episodes in his family’s history linked to Rafi; the first is the big wedding and the lost recordings of the Urdu song which opened with the line Meri Pyari Rabia Beti. The second is about a blog on the singer started by the couple’s eldest son Mohammed Parvez (brother of Faizal’s father’) which remained hugely popular with Rafi fans until he discontinued it in 2014.

The 31-minute film is one of the draws at Contextual Cosmologies, an art exhibition curated by Bose Krishnamachari that is on at the Government College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram. And it just so happened that the screenings of Mohammed Rafi Fan Blog coincided with Rafi’s birth anniversary on December 24.

“In the absence of both the recordings and the blog, the film sets out to trace the story around these two media objects,” a note explaining the context of the film reads.

Completed in 2017, the film premiered at the Sharjah Film Platform in 2019. It has since been screened in Sweden, Baroda, Bengaluru and the U.S. This is the film’s first public screening in Kerala.

For Faizal, its making was a way to reconnect with his family after having been away for a long time. “The recordings are gone, the blog is gone, so the story was starting to fade away. It didn’t exist anymore. I wanted to capture that,” he says.

In the film, the stories are related in the form of recollections by his grandparents and uncle, who still reside in Kochi. . Razaq says Rafi arrived from Mumbai (Bombay) on a Dakota aircraft and that he had sung 22 songs, which included the special wedding number.

“We took a group photo the next day. I still have that photo,” he remembers. Rafi began his concert with a song from the 1957 S.M. Yusuf movie Pak Daman, recalls Rabia.

It was not that Rafi was personally known to the family. The singer was reportedly paid a hefty sum for putting in an appearance. The origins of Meri Pyari Rabia Beti’ remain a mystery. The identity of the composer is not known, says Mr. Faizal. Rafi’s rendition of it would have been a priceless collectible today.

According to the film, Koya, a businessman and friend of the family, possessed the only recordings of the concert. Later, the family did receive three or four records of the special wedding song, but none has survived.

A diehard Rafi fan, Parvez started his blog on the singer in 2008. It became a huge draw for admirers of the singer from India and Pakistan and other parts of the world. When Parvez deleted all the posts in 2014, he was flooded with queries from people wanting to know why he had done such a thing.

Although Rafi’s original recording of the wedding number has been lost, perhaps irretrievably, the song has survived in a curious manner. Rabia’s cousin, called Nindi Bai by the family, had memorised the lyrics. She would sing it at gatherings of the family. Nindi Bai is no more.

Faizal’s touching tribute to his family ends with footage of her singing the song at his cousin’s wedding in 2008. It was also around that time that Parvez decided to launch his blog, recalls Faizal.

Contextual Cosmologies, which opened during the Keraleeyam 2023 celebrations organised by the State government, will close on December 31.

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