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How fair were they to Mohammed Rafi?

August 23, 2006
Thus far, Rafi had been the voice of one and all. Even Dada Burman, while never giving up on Kishore Kumar, had turned, willy-nilly, to Rafi with Khoya Khoya Chaand (on Dev Anand) in Vijay Anand's Kala Bazar (1960). When therefore Dada Burman's own Aradhana overnight swung the industry tide against him, Rafi just did know what to do.

Where Kishore Kumar could mentally 'act' the song, Rafi was left to react. His stalwart heroes having failed him one by one, for the first time in his life, Rafi felt confusion to be entering his vocalising mind.

For all that, if R D Burman was emerging as the new wave-maker, Laxmikant-Pyarelal (rooting for Rafi still) never yielded the palm to Pancham.

Maybe Pancham set the neo-music trend, but Laxmikant-Pyarelal still ruled the juke-box office. Indeed the maximum number of songs rendered by Mohammed Rafi was to be for Laxmikant-Pyarelal -- a phenomenal total of 369 numbers, 186 of them being solos. Compare this with Rafi's aggregate of 341 numbers (216 solo) for Shanker-Jaikishan and a total of 197 numbers (only 56 solo) for O P Nayyar. So long as Laxmikant-Pyarelal were predominant, Rafi could hope and cope. But even L-P could not indefinitely sail against the Kishore-Pancham wind.

Still Rafi, by dint of sheer effort, had staged a comeback without parallel in the annals of the industry. A comeback beginning with Usha Khanna's award-winning Teri Galiyon Mein in Hawas (1974).

At a subsequent Usha Khanna recording, Rafi thought he had done full justice to this gracious lady composer's song. But Usha Khanna could not summon the gumption to tell a giant like Rafi that she had wanted 'a certain vocal effect' that she had not quite got in the song. When Rafi later came to know of this, he asked Usha Khanna point-blank: "But why didn't you order a retake? Remember, you, as the music director, have the right to order me to this day."

That was the genuine humility of the man. Even Lata had been taken on by Rafi only after continuing provocation. If only Rafi, likewise, had so stood up for his place in the sun where it came to accepting a mere Padma Shri! It is all very well to argue that the State was not fair to Rafi in the matter of the extent to which it chose to honour him.

Yet the fact remains that the Padma Shri was a citation Rafi could have politely spurned. Indeed Lata had quietly done just that --- until they bestowed her with a Padma Bhushan in 1969. But Rafi, as a simpleton, allowed himself to be persuaded that to refuse the Padma Shri would be to insult a government specifically honouring him. A magnitude of offence Rafi could ill afford to give, as one belonging to the minority community. Sadly, Rafi fell for this line of thinking.

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