Today (24th December 2014) will mark the 90th birth anniversary of one of Hindi cinema’s finest singers and my personal favourite, Mohd Rafi. When I planned to make a list of my favourite Rafi numbers as a tribute, it struck me that I would just not be able to come up with a list of 10 songs. There is no way that one can put a finite number to a singer whose legacy is as vast as Rafi’s.
Yes, there have been exceptional singers on the Hindi playback scene – Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Talat Mahmood and Mukesh for example. And yes there are some songs of these singers that I absolutely love (Tum Pukar Lo, Poocho Na Kaise Maine, Jalte Hain Jiske Liye or Chin-o-Arab Hamara to name a few). But in my opinion, there has been no one like Mohd Rafi. Each time I listen to his songs, I am overwhelmed by his voice, the nuances in expression and his sheer range. His voice and singing gives me the gooseflesh for most part.
Rafi has sung for numerous heroes starting from Dilip Kumar to Rishi Kapoor; for comic actors like Johnny Walker and guess what, his singing for each of these actors is different. It is possible to guess who the hero is on screen just by listening to the song. The admiration is further enhanced because the impression that one gets of him as a person is that he was a kind, generous, humble and very nice man.
Mohd Rafi was born on 24th December, 1924 in Kotla Sultanpur, a village near Amritsar. His father Haji Mohammad moved to Lahore with his family sometime in the 1920s. The story goes that young Rafi (nicknamed Pheeko) was interested in singing and this talent was recognised and encouraged by his eldest brother’s friend, Abdul Hameed. Hameed convinced Rafi’s conservative family to let him learn music and then later move to Bombay. Rafi made his singing debut in Lahore for a Punjabi film in 1941. He moved with Hameed to Mumbai in 1944 and subsequently made his singing debut in Hindi (a duet with GM Durrani) in 1945. Between 1945 and 1980 (when Rafi died), he sang more than 5000 songs in different languages – Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi and Konkani, Kannada, Sindhi, Marathi and Assamese. He won 6 Filmfare Awards, 1 National Award and the Padmashri (in
Coming back to the list, one idea I got was to check the 20 most played songs on my playlist. That was soon dropped because almost all of them were Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand songs (barring two that were picturised on Guru Dutt and Johnny Walker)
I was thinking of a list based of songs based on different moods, but that also proved restrictive – too many songs of one mood and too few of another that I seem to like ;-). So this is a list of
20 25 songs (all picked very subjectively and in no particular order.) The songs below are solos. I shall do another list of 20 of my fave Rafi duets.
1) Man Re Tu Kahe Na Dheer Dhare (Chitralekha, 1964, Roshan): If I were asked to pick a favourite song, it probably would be this or the one next in the list. This is not the first time I have written about this song. This Rafi number composed by Roshan and written by Sahir got the top spot in a poll conducted by Outlook among current Hindi film musicians (singers, composers and lyricists) to choose their favourite Hindi song. All the songs of this interesting Kedar Sharma movie are timeless. Based on a Gujarati novel and set in the Mauryan times, the story reflected on the philosophy of love, sin and renunciation. Meena Kumari plays a dancer and Pradeep Kumar is a soldier who is in love with her. Ashok Kumar plays a sanyasi who heads an ashram. The sanyasi denounces the dancer’s wicked ways and this gets her thinking and she renounces material life and enters this sanyasi’s ashram. However, the sanyasi soon falls for her charms, raising the question – is it better to renounce the world to attain salvation or be a part of it and aspire for salvation? The amazing Lata Mangeshkar number, Sansaar Se Bhaage Phirte ho gives the point of view of the dancer regarding this existential moral question.
Man Re Tu Kahe Dheer Dhare features at a time when Pradeep Kumar is extremely low after Meena Kumari has renounced the world, broken their engagement and gone to the ashram. The words are very meaningful as he ponders about life and unrequited love in general. The music is subdued as Rafi’s voice conveys the emotions. Extremely poignant and touching. Surely one of his best.
2) Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye Toh Kya Hai (Pyaasa, 1957, SDB): From the poignant to the cynical. Rafi is sublime in this masterpiece of a song. One of Sahir’s best poems, set to tune masterfully by SDB, Rafi evokes the bitterness, the cynicism of the disillusioned poet, Vijay (Guru Dutt). The song starts off slowly as Rafi drawls and then soars off into a high-pitched crescendo (Jalaa Do Mitaa Do…) The music in keeping with the tone of the song. SDB lets the words/ lyrics never get submerged in a deluge of musical notes, making the soundtrack of Pyaasa in my opinion, the best score in Hindi film music. Masterful as the music and lyrics are, it is Rafi’s singing that caps off this number and makes it an immortal classic.
The picturisation is equally spellbinding, as Vijay presumed to be dead, makes a grand entry in a function that was commemorating him posthumously. The shock on the publisher Ghosh babu’s face (a superb Rehman) and his wife’s (Mala Sinha, guilty and disbelieving) and finally the relief on Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) is unforgettable.
3) Jungal Mein Mor Nacha Kisine Na Dekha (Madhumati, 1958, Salil Choudhary): If Rafi could ‘be‘ Guru Dutt and sing Yeh Duniya Agar mil bhi jaaye, in this number, he is Johnny Walker – a drunk Johnny Walker at that with all its associated hiccups! My favourite song from this Bimal Roy classic which had other soulful numbers, Rafi sings this comic number amazingly well adapting his singing to sound slightly slurring, swaying and brilliant. Delightful!
4) Aye Gulbadan, Aye Gulbadan (Professor, 1962, Shankar-Jaikishen): A list of Rafi’s songs would be incomplete if there are no Shammi Kapoor songs! (Or in my case, many Shammi kapoor songs!!) Rafi’s voice is sheer velvet in the romantic number! As Shammi Kapoor emotes soulfully on screen and Rafi sings, “Kahin Aaj Kisi Se Pyaar Na ho Jaaye“, I fell in love – with Rafi’s voice and Shammi Kapoor.
Professor (1962) was an extremely entertaining movie with Shammi playing two roles (he pretended to be an old man as well) with lovely songs composed by Shankar Jaikishen. I would have enjoyed the movie much more, if only the heroine was different!
5) Khoya Khoya Chand (Kala Bazar, 1960, SDB): Another favourite – picturised on Dev Anand and composed by Sachin Dev Burman. Rafi had three brilliant solos and one heavenly duet with Geeta Dutt in this movie. Just see how he sings each one differently – if he is flirting in Apni toh Har Aah with a tongue-in-cheek way, then listen to how he infuses dark humour in Teri Dhoom Har Kahin. In Khoya Khoya Chand, he is plain romantic. Superb, really!
6) Pukarta Chala Hoon Main (Mere Sanam, 1965, OPN): One of those Kashmir movies of the sixties, this Biswajeet-Asha Parekh starrer had heavenly music by O.P.Nayyar. Rafi saab was at its best. Sample this and his heart-rending, compassionate rendition, Tukde Hain Mere Dil Ke.
What a lovely song this is – beautiful girls on cycles in such a beautiful place. The music by O.P. Nayyar is top notch and Rafi’s singing blissful! Just one grouse – why was this wonderful song wasted on Biswajeet??
7) Teri Aankhon Ke Siwa Duniya Mein Rakha Kya Hai (Chirag, 1969, Madan Mohan): What strikes me about this song is the ease with which Rafi saab sings it. This Madan Mohan composition, like most of his other compositions, is extremely intricate and not easy to sing at all. There is much variation as the tune goes up and down, making it a beautiful number – hard to sing but easy to listen. This is picturised on one of Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh and is from the 1969 film Chirag. Lata Mangeshkar gets to sing one line at the end – but I shall still include it as a solo. Another, probably biased comment, among all the tandem numbers (sung separately by a male and a female singer), Rafi has sung, and there are many, his version is the better one. This is a case in point – Lata’s version sounds to me a bit shrieky.
8) Tum Poochtey Ho Ishq Bala Hai Ki Nahin (Nakli Nawab, 1962, Bipin-Babul): One of my favourite Rafi numbers, this sweet ghazal is from a much-forgotten Nakli Nawab, a Muslim social that I quite enjoyed when I watched it many many years back – it was part drama, part romance and had something of a murder mystery. It stars Manoj Kumar, Shakila and Ashok Kumar (who was a standard fixture in these movies those days.) This is one of the few films I like Manoj Kumar in. Just like Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar was good in his earlier movies – mostly pre-1967, when he donned his patriotic avatar in Upkar!
9) Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj (Baiju Bawra, 1954, Naushad): It is a well-known trivia that the people involved in crafting this superb Bhajan – Naushad, Shakeel Badayuni and Mohd Rafi were Muslims. Based on Raga Malkauns, this is being sung to his Guru, Swami Haridas. The Guru is likened to God and is a medium to reach the almighty. (‘Bin Guru Gyan Kahan se Paaon‘). The singing is flawless as it reaches a crescendo with the chorus chanting Murli Manohar Mohan Giridhar Hari Om fervently.
10) Mujhe Dekhkar Aapka Muskuraana (Ek Musafir Ek Haseena, 1962, OPN): This S.Mukherjee production had many many wonderful songs, making the soundtrack a delightful one to hear. This song gives me the gooseflesh – merely because of Rafi’s velvet voice and the various intonations. How he sings, ‘Ho Mujhe Dekhkar Aapka Muskurana…’ each time! Mesmerising! Joy Mukherjee had some very nice Rafi numbers picturised on him and this is just one. And Sadhana looks beautiful.
11) Saathi Na Koi Manzil (Bambai Ka Babu, 1960, SDB): This is in complete contrast with the previous number. A despondent, heart-wrenching song, Rafi is at his pensive best. Listen to the way he croons, ‘Hum Dum Mile Koi Kahin, Aise Naseeb Hi Nahin, Bedard Hai Zameen door aasman.’, the words ‘Aise Naseeb hi Nahin’ the second time round, sound defeated, lonely and miserable. Bambai Ka Babu starred a handsome Dev Anand and a beautiful Suchitra Sen and had excellent music by S.D. Burman. The rest of the songs also deserve a special mention and a separate post someday.
12) Mere Mehboob Tujhe Meri Mohabbat Ki Kasam (Mere Mehboob, 1963, Naushad): What a beautiful beautiful love song, this one is! Mere Mehboob was a 1963 H.S Rawail Muslim social blockbuster, that starred Rajendra Kumar (who actually looked good in this movie! Now that is a wonder!), Sadhana (absolutely gorgeous), Ashok Kumar, Nimmi, Ameeta and Johnny Walker. The music was composed by Naushad and the lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni. There is a Lata Mangeshkar version to this song – but again, the Rafi rendition is far superior. The longing, the need to look for his beloved and find her all are expressed very well in Rafi’s rendition.
13) Ae ji Dil Par Hua Aisa Jadoo (Mr and Mrs 55, 1955, OPN): One of the few happy Guru Dutt songs, this one has a Guru Dutt, just in love, and going on and on about his new feelings to his much exasperated friend, Johnny Walker. Rafi’s singing and Nayyar’s lilting music, along with Dutt and Walker (and their amazing on-screen chemistry), make this a chirpy, happy, sweet song.
14) Yoon Toh Humne Lakh Haseen Dekhe Hai (Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957, OPN): This is the song that catapulted Shammi Kapoor to stardom. This is one fun number, flirtatious and teasing, delightful and charming. Shammi Kapoor’s antics, Rafi’s singing, Sahir’s words and OPN’s music – all combine to make this a legendary song.
15) Yeh Wadiyan Yeh Fizayen Bula Rahi Hai Tumhein (Aaj Aur Kal, 1963, Ravi): Changing the mood from the previous one, here is a gentle, romantic, caring song from Aaj Aur Kal. Picturised on Sunil Dutt, this one has him encourage and tenderly coax a shy, sweet and under confident Nanda (who is confined to a wheelchair.) Absolutely lovely – the tenderness oozes out of Rafi’s heavenly voice in this one. The superlative music is by Ravi and the lyrics by Sahir (who else?!!)
16) Aise Toh Na Dekho (Teen Deviyan, 1965, SDB): I was torn between this one and the lovely ghazal from the same movie, Kahin Bekhayal Hokar (a song that I have only recently started appreciating for its superlative singing and music! Never liked it much earlier.) If the previous song was tender and romantic, this is almost seductive. Of course, Nanda looks so sweet that one would never associate seduction with her or this song! But Rafi’s singing is seductive!
17) O Mere Shah-e-Khuban (Love In Tokyo, 1966, Shankar Jaikishen): This beautiful love song penned by Hasrat Jaipuri has an interesting trivia attached to it. The lines “Tum Mere Paas Hote Ho Koi Doosra Nahin hota” is a slight reworking of a classic sher in a ghazal by Momin – “Tum mere paas hote ho goya, koi doosra nahin hota.” Ghalib was so impressed by this one sher that he is supposed to have offered his entire body of work in exchange for this one verse. This is again a tandem song. Lata Mangeshkar sings the female version. But for me, this Rafi rendition is flawless and makes it one of the best love songs sung.
18) Lakhon Hai Nigah Mein Zindagi Ki Raah Mein (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, 1963, OPN): Ok, another song from a Joy Mukherjee – Asha Parekh film. This had beautiful music. The songs were good and the movie was a typical Nasir Hussain movie (if you have watched one of his films, you have watched 9-10 of his seminal work!) Having said that, they are such absolute fun – beautiful locales, actors, and wonderful, absolutely wonderful music. This one is filmed in Kashmir, as Joy wonders who is the one made for him! Similar to that mesmerising Jawaniyan Yeh Mast Mast bin Piye from Tumsa Nahin Dekha. Rafi is at his light, lilting best.
19) Aaj Purani Raahon Mein Koi Mujhe Aawaaz Na De (Aadmi, 1968, Naushad): Changing the mood, here is this bitter, cynical number from Aadmi. Rafi conveys the pain of a bitter, defeated individual who has lost everything, is aware of his painful loss (mainly due to his own doing), his own folly and finally becomes a better person making peace with his life.
20) Madhuban Mein Radhika Naache Re (Kohinoor, 1960, Naushad): This is a masterpiece of a song. Simply perfect – be it the dance by Kumkum, or Dilip Kumar’s acting and of course the singing. Rafi excels in this classical song. One of his best. Scintillating!
21) Baar Baar Dekho (China Town, 1962, Ravi): From an Indian classical number to a song much influenced by Western music. The song is lively, peppy, very hummable. Rafi is at his best. And the song is picturised on two very charming actors – Shammi Kapoor and Shakila.
22) Din Dhal Jaaye Raat Na Jaaye (Guide, 1965, SDB): Rafi pours his soul into this sad, lonely number full of anguish. There is heartbreak written all over it – the beloved is in the next room but the distance between them is vast. Sheer genius.
23) Kisi Na Kisi Se Kabhi Na Kabhi (Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964, OPN): This movie was my introduction to Rafi. I may have heard his songs before but this was when I actually registered the name, his voice, and the actors on screen. With this began my obsession with old Hindi movies and music. A typical OPN song – beautiful and lilting.
24) Raat Bhar Ka Hai Mehmaan Andhera (Sone Ki Chidiya, 1957, MD: OPN): If Sahir was bitter and cynical in Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye Toh Kya Hai, he is inspiring in this touching song. An O.P. Nayyar composition (though it sounds more like that of Shankar Jaikishen and is a proof of Nayyar’s genius), this has been sung piercingly by Rafi. The movie stars Balraj Sahni, Nutan and Talat Mahmood (who plays the bad guy but gets to sing some lovely songs!). Nutan is about to commit suicide when the song plays and she stops and goes towards the singer. The singer onscreen is Balraj Sahni who plays a poet. There is a small duet version of this song (with Asha Bhosle) that comes right at the end. O.P.Nayyar tunes this song so well that the focus remains on Rafi’s singing and the lyrics.
25) Tumne Mujhe Dekha (Teesri Manzil, 1966, RDB): Ending my list with my favourite Rafi number sung for my favourite hero, Shammi Kapoor from one of of my favourite films, Teesri Manzil. Shammi Kapoor shot for this song just after his wife, Geeta Bali’s death. This song, rendered by Rafi, is immortal. The gratitude that Shammi Kapoor’s character feels towards Asha Parekh’s is aptly conveyed in both Majrooh’s simple lyrics and Rafi’s voice.
This is a very small list – that hardly covers the range of the genius that was Rafi. There has not been a singer like him since and will perhaps never be. Every time I listen to his songs, I am stumped by how good a singer he was – his voice, range and versatility were unmatchable.