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How fair were they to Mohammed Rafi?

August 23, 2006
Last week, a Bangladeshi musician claimed that Mohammad Rafi was not given his rightful due in India. In a week-long series finds out if the great Rafisaab was indeed ignored by the Hindi film industry and the government.

Today: Raju Bharatan, doyen of India's film journalists, salutes a legend.

It happened at the height of the Rajesh Khanna wave --- in the after-1970 Aradhana glow when Mohammed Rafi's confidence was at its lowest ebb. The Mohammed Rafi who had sung, for Naushad, a total of 149 songs (81 of them solo) through 35 years. That ace composer had heard about how sheer nonentities, in the recording room, had begun dictating to Mohammad Rafi.

During a small-time composer's Rafi recording, therefore, Naushad quietly slipped into the sound recordist's booth at Mehboob Studios in the Bandra suburb of Bombay. As he sat through the recording, Naushad felt aghast to find striplings, in the recording room, telling a stalwart like Rafi how to sing.

Whereupon Naushad discreetly moved out, leaving word that his pet performer should call on him, without fail, at his Ashiana Bandra home -- on the singer's way back to Rafi Villa after the recording.

As Rafi entered his mentor-composer's home, Naushad first took him severely to task. The burden of the Naushad song -- "Who are these people to tell Mohammed Rafi what to do? Isn't Rafi too trained a performer to submit to anyone but the song composer?"

Having heard out his benefactor, Rafi explained to Naushad in detail how, through three years, they had sapped his will to perform -- as his own man. Naushad's counter to that -- "Never ever forget that you are Mohammed Rafi, a performer whose seasoning, by now, far exceeds that of any male singer in the industry. Always remember, Rafi that the singer you identify as your rival, now, has no classical background at all. So how possibly could he be competition to you, Rafi? Go back, confident like before, to the recording room. Just sing like my Rafi always did."

Having said that, having identified Kishore Kumar as no classical competition to Rafi, Naushad instinctively realised that something more tangible had to be done to restore to Rafi his known niche in our song lexicon.

To this end, Naushad hurried with a recording due for My Friend (1974) and summoned Rafi, for a song-rehearsal, for that film. For a solo cast in the Naushadian Bhairavi mould. As Naushad thus put Rafi through his performing paces afresh, for the My Friend Bhairavi classic going as Naiyaa Meree Chaltee Jaaye Sahare Tere Badhte Jaaye, Rafi instinctively regained performing poise.

Almost concurrent with that happening came the Film World magazine awards and Rafi, here, was very much in the running for the Best Singer citation. Bombay's Shanmukhananda Hall was jampacked that serene evening as it came to be announced that Mohammed Rafi had been voted Best Singer for his empathetic rendition of Teree Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Qadam Aaj Ke Baad -- as written by Saawan Kumar and tuned by Usha Khanna to go on Anil Dhawan in Hawas. The moment -- to the backdrop of the Teree Galiyon Mein number playing -- Mohammed Rafi was pronounced the winner, this singer, in walking up to the stage, was a man metamorphosed.

All of Rafi's shaken singing confidence thus returned in one stroke --- it was his first award in years. The same Mohammed Rafi who had made it a habit of bagging the prestigious Filmfare Best Male Singer award every other year.

Rafi had won it for Ravi's Pahadi beauty on Guru Dutt, Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho (Chaudhvin Ka Chand), in 1960. For Jaikishan's Teri Pyaari Pyaari Soorat Ko on Rajendra Kumar (wooing Byrappa Saroja Devi) in Sasural (1961). For Laxmikant-Pyarelal's 1964 DostiChahunga Main Tujhe Saanjh Savere. For Jaikishan's Bahaaron Phool Barsaao on Rajendra Kumar in Suraj (1966). For Shanker's Main Gaaon Tum So Jaao on Shammi Kapoor playing Brahmachari (1968).

Also Read: Did Rafi get his due?


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