No other male Playback singer attained such glory in Hindi films.For twenty years(1949-69) Md Rafi’s voice defined melody and success in film music in a manner akin to Saigal in the 1930.After all,wasn’t it with Saigal’s blessings that Rafi started his bid for a career in music at the tender age of fourteen,having performed live as stopgap in a show while Saigal waited for power to be restored?yet,for all his admiration of Saigal,even as a struggler in Bombay in 1944,Rafi’s singing was remarkably original.It was the strength of his originality and richness of his tone that Rafi ruled Hindi film music like a colossus for twenty years.The generation of today,distanced in time,may swear by Kishor Kumar as the best,but they would be surprised to be told that Kishor himself venerated Rafi as singer.It is no coincidence that the end of the Rafi era in 1969 saw the end of melody in music for good measure.
He may have been discovered by Shyam Sunder for the Panjabi film ‘GUL BALOCH’ and the Hindi ‘GAON KI GORI’ in the early 1940s,but to Naushad goes the credit of polishing the uncut diamond that Rafi intrinsically was.As early 1948,Naushad had demonstrated Rafi’s grip on music and the gold in his voice.’BAIJU BAWRA’ was the crowning glory in the Naushad-Rafi takeover of filmdom.Banking on his early classical traning under Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan and Gulam Ali Khan,Rafi proceeded to give the classical composition of Naushad an authenticity that even the far better trained Manna Dey feared.
Rafi was already exploring another facet to his singing,this time under the baton of newcomer O.P.Nayyar,whose compositions,in sharp contrast to Naushad’s serious music,spoke of the joy and triumphs of life.Rafi’s skyrocketing fame in the mid 1950s is due to in no small measure to Nayyar’s breezy and extremely catchy songs for him.Rafi;s soles for Nayyar in the 1060s are far better,but it is with these carly Nayyar composition that Rafi emerged as a more versatile singer,a facet that many other composers,Shankar Jaikishan and Sachin Dev Burman included, capitalized on.
S.D.Burman woke up to Rafi reluctantly,barely giving him a handful of songs till 1956.However,for Guru Dutt’s PAYASA Burman had turn to Rafi,as Nayyar had already positioned Rafi as Guru Dutt’s voice in earlier films. What followed was a veritable feast of Rafi gems under SD’s baton.As Dev Anand’s voice,Rafi sang some of his most memorable solos for SD in the 1950s to 1960s.
By the end of 1950s,every other male singer had to reconcile to the fact that producers and composers wanted Rafi first.instance of songs originally recorded in other’s voice being re-recorded at the last minute in Rafi’s voice were many,CHAL UD JAA Re PANCHI being a case of point.The song was recorded first by Talat.Manna Dey was to originally sing the duet with Lata TERE BIN SOONE in S.D. Burmen’s MERI SOORAT TERI AANKHEN in 1963,but Rafi took over at the last minute at the producer’s instance.By the early 1960s.there was only one male playback singer who mattered.Talented composer Roshan saw commercial success only with Rafi.Madan Mohan, for whom Rafi had sung superbly.A chastened Madan plumped for Rafi,achieving name and fame with the songs Rafi sang for him throughout the decade.
Rafi created superstars out of ordinary actors with his vocal virtuosity.In those musically rich decades,no hero could do without Rafi hits.Rajendra Kumar,who had moulded himself after Dilip Kumar,piggybacked to stardom on the vocals of Rafi.All those songs sang by Rafi,that contributed to making Rajendra Kumar as Jubilee Kumar.Old timers insist that Rafi used to sing differently for every actor,and just by hearing his song,they could say whether the actor was Dev Anand ,Rajendra Kumar or Dilip Kumar.Shammi Kapoor owed his boisterous,youthful image totally to Rafi’s voice.
In much the same way that composers jettisoned Mukesh and Talat in 1952 in favour of Rafi,every Rafi loyalist switched over to Kishore in early 1970s.An embittered Rafi confessed to Naushad that he felt like calling it a day in the face of all composers going for Kishore wholesale.Naushad advised him to quit when he was riding high.Fortunately,Rafi took that advice.
When death came unexpectedly on 31st july 1980,Rafi was well on his way for what seemed a long second innings.He may have been lucky to die when he was again on the rise,but the world lost melody irrevocably that rainy day.With Rafi went a whole gharana of music,as a senior colleague and admirer Manna Dey put it.It was almost as thought the music industry lost the desire to create melody after Rafi.Again much like Saigal,his death too spawned a whole bunch of Rafi clones,his influence lasting almost three decades after his death in the voice of Sonu Nigam,the latest sensation in playback.”JAY HOO RAFI SAHEB”