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How fair were they to Mohammed Rafi?

August 23, 2006
Actually Dada Burman viewed this development with mixed feelings as he returned from his sickbed. Kishore Kumar had been SD's pet for long, so that there was no reason to query Pancham's choice of singer. Yet there had been no reason whatsoever to jettison Rafi either -- after the way this singer, under SD's bountiful baton, had vocally come across in Goldie Vijay Anand's Guide (1965).

Without taking away anything from the Pahadi impact made by Kishore (and Lata) on Dev Anand (and Waheeda Rehman) via Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, Dada Burman frankly acknowledged that he could not have come up with his lifetime-best score, in Guide, sans the vibrant vocals of Rafi.

"Goldie's Guide," noted Dada, "offered me more scope to score than any other movie I had done through two decades in Hindi cinema. So that I have to concede that Rafi fulfilled my highest expectations in his rendition of Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya, Din Dhal Jaaye Haay and Tere Mere Sapne on Dev," Dada had concluded

It therefore was on the tip of my tongue to ask Dada Burman as to why then Kishore Kumar had taken over so pre-eminently from Mohammed Rafi on Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana. The frugal Dada Burman had thrown one of his rare parties, at his The Jet Bandra bungalow, on the eve of Aradhana's release.

The central idea of the party was to announce that S D Burman was back with a bang after his debilitating illness. At that point, neither SD nor I could know that Aradhana would prove such a pathbreaker. Also, it would have been unfair to question SD on the Kishore point here, since it was RD who had played a signal role in the ultimate dropping of Rafi from Aradhana.

This industry is all about luck. It was sheer bad luck, therefore, that Rafi began losing out with Aradhana, considering that this singer, originally, was still SD's prime pick for that musical trend-setter. Yet you also make your own luck in this industry.

Here is where Rafi, I feel, failed to respond with all his seasoning when the Aradhana challenge came. Maybe Rafi had become a trifle laidback by then, as all vocal competition stood eliminated by end-1969.

As Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar and Manna Dey had been impelled -- gradually by the turn of circumstances -- to concede that Rafi's was the universal voice that the industry recognised as the one with the spot box-office pull.

From Dilip Kumar to Dev Anand, from Rajendra Kumar to Shammi Kapoor, from Jeetendra to Dharmendra, from Sunil Dutt to Joy Mukerji, Rafi had been the cult voice. As Shanker-Jaikishan, then Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji, dominated the turnstiles, there could be no doubt about Rafi's being number one.

Indeed Rafi had grown so bold by 1969 that he had fought, by then, a running royalty battle with Diva Lata Mangeshkar -- before the Aradhana body-blow came to be delivered. Lata, recognising Rafi's peer No 1 position by 1962-1963, had wanted this singer to back her in demanding a half-share from the 5 percent song royalty that the film's producer conceded to select composers.

Lata's contention was that, once Rafi joined her in the battle, there was no way producers and music directors could deny this singing duo, reigning supreme by then, one-half share in that 5 percent song royalty to the composer. But Rafi -- by this point charging the same Rs 5,000 for a song as Lata -- took a diametrically opposite view.

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