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How fair were they to Mohammed Rafi?

August 23, 2006
Rafi, following the sensational turn his career took, with his emerging as the classical voice of Bharat Bhooshan with Naushad's Baiju Bawra (1952), had risen from the ranks on the humble principle that his claim on the film's maker ended with his being paid his agreed fee for the song. After that, if the film proved a hit, good luck to the movie's maker, he was welcome to keep the Gramco (HMV) royalty he earned from it.

If the song failed to click -- argued Rafi -- he had already been paid his fee for rendering it, so that the film's maker and he were quits.

There was deadly logic in Rafi's reasoning running as: "We playback artistes don't create the song, we merely re-create it on the screen, as guided by the music director. We sing, they pay, so there the commitment of both sides ends."

Rafi was talking robust commonsense, but Lata viewed his stand as her royalty stumbling block. Lata dramatically said she would no longer sing with Rafi. Whereupon Rafi, greatly daring, observed that he, from thereon, was only so keen to sing with Lata as she was with him. "If Lata is number one, Mohammed Rafi, too, is number one!" claimed our Trojan in a rare burst of self-pride.

Rafi perhaps nursed the sneaking feeling that Lata, in reality, was not prepared to acknowledge his late-earned suzerainty. While the two, for example, were rendering Tasveer Teri Dil Mein (to go on Mala Sinha-Dev Anand in Maya: 1961), Lata had even lost her cool with Rafi in a certain passage of the song.

Rafi here felt belittled upon seeing Salil Chowdhury siding with Lata. Certain composers were not all out for Rafi and Lata knew it. Yet just hear, afresh, Tasveer Teri Dil Mein and you just cannot tell where Rafi is anything less than Lata.

For years after that royalty ruckus, therefore, Lata-Rafi refused to compose their dueting differences. Even when they finally made up, it was only a professional reunion. After all, why let Mahendra Kapoor and Suman Kalyanpur advance further, when producers still wanted Lata-Rafi as the supremo duo?

Do always remember that, even in the case of a Son Of India Naushad duet (in Yaman) like Dil Tod Ne Waale (1962), Ae Dil Ke Sahare Rafi had to be paid the same Rs 5,000 as Lata. This is the norm in the industry. Even a line by Rafi in the duet and the charge became Rs 5,000 for the male -- as for the female. A payment of Rs 5,000 might sound peanuts today. But it was a lot of many when colour had still to gain a firm foothold in the industry. If Lata's price rose to Rs 15,000 for song with colour taking root in our cinema by 1964-1965, Rafi too now commanded a matching fee.

Rafi therefore saw no reason to submit to Lata any longer. For years he had played second fiddle. Now that his hour had come, Rafi was no longer prepared to undervalue himself. He held firmly to his royalty conviction and the industry -- especially the big music-director brigade in it -- was with Rafi! That the same industry ditched the same Rafi after 1969, in the post-Aradhana era, is the way of the film world.

A new line of heroes was taking over from Dilip Kumar and Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor and Sunil Dutt, even Joy Mukerji was no longer the box-office talisman he used to be opposite Asha Parekh or Saira Banu.

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