24.12.1924 – 31.07.1980

I have always maintained that I do not have a ‘favourite’ singer – male or female. I love songs, and which song I want to listen to, or which singer I like, depends on the moment and the mood I am in. In my post on Kishore Kumar, I responded to a comment about ‘favourite singer’ by saying “…when I hear Beqarar karke humein, Hemant Kumar is my favourite singer; when I hear Jinhe naaz Hind par, I love Mohammed Rafi; when I listen to Chalo ek baar phir se, I’m sure Mahendra Kapoor is my favourite singer. Yet there are so many many songs of Kishore’s that I listen to, over and over and over again.” That is equally true for female singers. But if I were forced to name a favourite singer, it would be, without any hesitation, Mohammed Rafi.

Perhaps it is because I grew up listening to him. Perhaps it is because, as far as I am concerned, at least, he sang more wonderful songs than all the others combined. Perhaps it is because the more I heard him, the more I fell in love with the sheer range in his voice. I do not know. I do know that it is difficult, sometimes, to explain just why you like somebody or something. You like them, and that is that. Mohammed Rafi, to me, falls into that category.
And so, it is so strange even to me that, in three years since I began writing, I have not published a post on Mohammed Rafi (other than a post of my favourite Rafi songs when I first began blogging). Of course, I did write about Rafi singing for Shammi Kapoor, though that leaned heavily towards the actor than the singer. Later posts – another one on Shammi, on Johnny Walker, on Joy Mukherjee, even Dev Anand, not to mention my themed lists – had a surfeit of Rafi. But I had never written one that was devoted solely to him.
Mohammed Rafi was born in Kotla in Punjab. As a young lad, Rafi was fascinated by the voice of a wandering fakir, and began to imitate his songs. (You can listen to an interview where he talks about his early days here. Soon, his father moved to Lahore, where young Rafi began his classical training under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan. He also trained under Feroze Nizami and Pandit Jeevanlal Matto Kashmiri
Call it Fate or Destiny. Mohammed Rafi’s first public performance was at a concert in Lahore where KL Saigal was scheduled to perform. Due to a power outage, the microphone was useless and the legendary singer refused to sing until the power came back on. The crowd was growing restless and the organisers were in a fix. Abdul Hameed, a friend (and soon-to-be-brother-in-law) convinced the organisers to let Mohammed Rafi sing until Saigal could take over. Thirteen-year-old Rafi thus performed for the first time in public. KL Saigal, impressed by the young lad, blessed him with success. Music director Shyam Sunder was a member of the audience and was also quite taken by the young lad’s voice. He offered Rafi a chance to sing for him, and in 1941, Mohammed Rafi recorded his first songSoniye (Goriye?) nee heeriye nee for the Punjabi film Gul Baloch. (The film only released in 1944.) By this time, Rafi was beginning to make a name for himself, and by 1943, had become a regular on Radio Lahore. It was only a matter of time before Hameed was persuading Mohammed Rafi’s father to let Rafi move to Bombay, under his guardianship. 
Eventually, the two did come to Bombay. The days of singer-actors was still the norm, and a singer who only wanted to sing was unusual. Life was not a cakewalk for the young singer. Days of struggle followed though everyone who heard the young man sing were enthralled by his voice and predicted great success in the days to come. It was Tanvir Naqvi, poet and lyricist, who introduced Rafi to film producers and directors such as Mehboob Khan, Abdul Rasheed Kardar and (actor) Nazeer. Kardar, who was making a film called Pehle Aap  (1944), signed Naushad to compose the songs; and Rafi sang his first song for the composer-Hindustan ke hum hain. (He was accompanied by Allaudin, Shyam Kumar and chorus) It was the beginning of a long collaboration between the composer and singer. 
There is some dispute over Mohammed Rafi’s first song in Hindi. While Dil ho kaboo mein  from Gaon ki Gori under Shyam Sunder’s baton is considered to be his first song in Hindi (and was corroborated by Mohammed Rafi in that link to the interview that I gave earlier), in an interview with Star & Style, Rafi stated that he had sung a qawali along with SD Batish for Pandit Govind Ram in the Nazir-Swarnalata blockbuster, Laila Majnu. However, Pehle Aap‘s songs were released before Gaon ki Gori‘s score, and Laila Majnu released only a year later. Slowly, the young lad began to make a slow but steady foray into the world of film music.
In 1946, one of Mohammed Rafi’s dreams would come true – he would sing in a chorus for Shah Jehan, where the lead singer was KL Saigal. It was a memory he cherished. The next year would see him sing a duet with another legend – singer-actress Noor Jehan. The film was Jugnu, and the song Yahan badla wafa ka. Though he had earlier sung Tera khilona toota balak in the Noor Jehan starrer Anmol Ghadi, this was the first time he would be singing with the songstress. Reports suggest that it was Noor Jehan who recommended Mohammed Rafi for the song.(You can also see Rafi in a cameo in this song, a duet with Asghar Sarhadi.) Yahan badla would catapult Mohammed Rafi to the top, as much as it provided a great fillip to the career of its hero, Dilip Kumar
It was only the beginning.
It was as hard a task to mine through his entire career and come up with a handful of songs, as it was to do so for Lata, Mukesh, Kishore, Manna Dey, etc. I also tried not to repeat songs that I have already posted in other lists, but sometimes, an overlap is inevitable. But then, I could make a hundred disparate lists of Mohammed Rafi songs that I love and there will still be more to explore. Here are a few of his solo songs that I absolutely love – different music directors, different genres, all beautiful songs that one can listen to again and again, marvelling all the while at the sheer versatility of a man who was not only a great singer but was also the epitome of humility. 

1. Hai bas ke har ek 

Mirza Ghalib (1954)
Music: Ghulam Mohammed
Lyrics: Mirza Ghalib

In the film based on the life of the legendary 19th-century poet, Mirza Asadulla Baig Khan, better known as Ghalib, this was the only Mohammed Rafi song other than a duet with Banda Hassan (Sakhi sarkar hain tere), and it was not picturised on ‘Ghalib’ (Bharat Bhushan). Ghalib’s voice in the film was Talat Mahmood while Suraiya sang for Chaudvin (Suraiya herself), Ghalib’s ill-fated lover. Directed by Sohrab Modi, the story was written by Sadat Hasan Manto, while Rajinder Singh Bedi worked out the screenplay. More than the fictionalised biography of Ghalib (there is no evidence to suppose that Moti Begum, a.k.a Chaudvin, the courtesan, ever existed), it was the use of Ghalib’s nazms and ghazals that were set to music by Ghulam Mohammed that raised the movie to one that was not merely a biopic. Ghulam Mohammed’s versions of Nuktacheen hain gham-e-dil, Dil-e-nadaan tujhe hua kya hain, Aah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak, etc., are still considered classics.  

2. Duniya na bhaye mohe 

Basant Bahar (1956)

Music: Shankar-Jaikishen
Lyrics: Shailendra

Bhajans are not usually my cup of tea, but there is something very attractive about Mohammed Rafi singing bhajans – the devotion is unmistakeable, the faith is unwavering, and it is hard, as a listener, to not feel it. (I feel the same way when I hear Yesudas sing Guruvayoor ambala nadayil for that matter. As my grandmother said when she learnt that the Guruvayoor temple authorities had forbidden him entry, “All Yesudas has to do is to sing it wherever he is, and Guruvayoorapan will present himself in front of him.”) That is precisely how I feel when I hear Mohammed Rafi sing a devotional song. Devout Muslim that he was, he seemed to transfer that faith to whichever God he was singing to – bearing out the tenet that there is just one God. Basant Bahar, adapted from Ta-Ra-Su’s (TR Subba Rao) Kannada novel Hamsa Geethe, had a plethora of melodious songs, including Manna Dey’s Sur na saje and Ketaki gulab ki, and the Lata-Manna Dey duet, Nain mile chain kahan.Rafi’s two solos, Badi der bhayee and Duniya na bhaaye mohe are no less soul-stirring. He instils both with the right blend of fervour and pathos.   

3. Mohabbat zinda rehti hai

Changez Khan (1957)
Music: Hansraj Behl
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
Changez Khan (real name: Temujin; Genghis Khan to the West) is a film better left unviewed unless you like getting your kicks out of purportedly historical films that have precious little to do with actual history. However, call it a cinematic license, what if Changez Khan had fallen in love with a Tatari damsel and was willing to put the land to the sword so he could claim her for his own? Wouldn’t that help explain his bloodthirsty conquests? (See… we have an explanation for everything!Of course, that wouldn’t explain the number of women he is supposed to have impregnated along his campaign trail. But then, who said we had to be factual?

I do not remember much of the other songs in the film (I do remember a very young Helen dancing, though), but this one stands out for the music and the way Mohammed Rafi sings it. (It helps to see a very young and dashing Premnath onscreen too.) It starts off on the lower octave, and then soars to heights that seem incredible for a male vocalist, and then drops an octave and a half, with flawless control.            

4. Hum aur tum aur ye sama

Dil Deke Dekho (1959)
Music: Usha Khanna
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
If this is a post about Mohammed Rafi, can I leave Shammi Kapoor out of it? Rafi has indeed sung for many heroes before and after Shammi Kapoor, but the relationship between Shammi and Rafi transcended the usual affinity between actor and singer. Shammi, definitely, thought of Rafi as his voice, his soul. And he claimed that Rafi always put in ‘a little extra’ for him. It is true that the best songs of Shammi Kapoor have been sung by Mohammed Rafi. And when I did a post on Shammi Kapoor’s songs sung by Mohammed Rafi, it was hard to decide what to leave out. In fact, Hum aur tum aur ye sama has seen the light on several of my lists. But it is one of my all-time favourites, and to me at least, exemplifies all that is best about the actor-singer collaboration. 

A handsome Shammi, a doe-eyed Asha Parekh, the swirling mists, Mohammed Rafi’s voice sounding like liquid gold, and intoxicating as hell… this was romance, distilled to its purest essence. This song was incredibly sensuous, but there was a tinge of innocence that offsets it. Usha Khanna’s music (her debut), barely there until it swells into a triumphant crescendo at the end, just complemented the picturisation. 

5. Toote hue khwabon ne

Madhumati (1958)

Lyrics: Shailendra
Madhumati won for Salilda the Filmfare award for Best Music Director. This was the year that Filmfare also constituted the Best Playback Singer award, and it was awarded to Lata Mangeshkar (there was the only category that included both male and female singers) for Aaja re pardesi. Bimal Roy had veered from his usual scripts to film Ritwik Ghatak’s whimsical tale of a vengeful ghost, reincarnation, and a love that transcended death. Bimalda made full use of shadows and light to heighten the suspense, and Shailendra wrote lyrics to match the mood. The tour de force however, was Salil Choudhary’s music that made full use of the folk rhythms of the North East. Toote hue khwabon ne is one of the songs that make you wish that Salilda had utilised Mohammed Rafi’s voice more than he did. But while he had Mukesh sing all the other songs in the film (except for O bichua which was vocalised by Manna Dey), he had to bring in Rafi to sing this and Jungal mein more nache. Just listen to both songs, and witness the voice modulation that differentiates between the two actors. The pathos that Rafi brings to this song is indeed heartwrenching.

6. Lagta nahin hai dil mera ujde dayaar mein

Lal Qila (1960)
Music: SN Tripathi
Lyrics: Bahadur Shah Zafar
The last Mughal Emperor of India is supposed to have written these lines while living his last days, ailing, in exile in Rangoon. There is a dispute whether the Bahadur Shah Zafar ever wrote this ghazal (or even Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon) but the film, and popular imagination credits the exiled and dying emperor with the writing this as his own epitaph. He was after all known to be an Urdu poet of no mean talent, and reportedly, wrote his verses on the walls of his prison with the burnt end of a stick when he was denied writing materials by the British, who were wary of his attracting an army to him through his poetry.

Rafi’s voice, reciting this ghazal, with barely any music to accompany him, carried every ounce of the pathos felt by the unfortunate emperor – a man imprisoned far away, lamenting his misfortune, not at losing the crown, but at the knowledge that he would not, after his demise, be buried in his homeland.

7. Jaane kya doondhte rehte hain

Shola aur Shabnam (1961)

Music: Khayyam
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
Considered one of Rafi’s best numbers, this extremely complicated song is also widely regarded as the best of Khayyam’s compositions. A very young Dharmendra (this was only his second film) sings his frustrations out on screen – Rafi’s voice expresses that emotion off screen. This is not a man who is merely expressing his heartbreak over a lost love; it is a person who has deliberately set out to obliterate any memories of a childhood love. In a test between friendship and love, one has to be sacrificed for the other. He chooses to sacrifice his love. Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics perfectly describe the emotions behind that decision.This is what set our legendary singers apart from their imitators – the ability to emote, in song, that which the actors expressed on screen. Rafi’s greatest virtue, apart from his unmistakeable vocal talent, was his ability to modulate his fabulous voice to suit the actor he was singing for. He sounded different while singing for Johnny Walker, for instance, or for Shammi Kapoor. His songs for Dev Anand sounded different from his singing voice for Rajendra Kumar. 8. Nain lad jai hein

Ganga Jumna (1961)
Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni 

As I said before, Naushad could rightly claim to be the person who ‘introduced’ Mohammed Rafi to the Bombay film industry. After all, it was his composition in Pehle Aap that was Rafi’s first released song after he left Lahore. Why did I choose this song over Naushad’s raga-based compositions for Mohammed Rafi? Simply because I wanted something different. The first composition that comes to mind when I think if Naushad-Rafi is O duniya ke rakhwale, and I already had abhajan. Besides, this song is great fun. A brothers-on-the-opposite-side-of-the-law story set against a rural background, the film veered away from Hindi to use a dialect. Bhojpuri. (It is closer to Avadhi; see AK’s comment below.) While South Indian Vyjayanthimala impressed with her faultless enunciation, lyricist Shakeel Badayuni also used Bhojpuri the dialect for the lyrics, instead of Hindi, to insert a sense of verisimilitude into the proceedings. Mohammed Rafi, as usual, sang this song with the same elan with which he sang songs written in Hindi and Urdu. This was one of Naushad’s best scores in later years.

9. Tu kahan ye bata

Tere Ghar ke Saamne (1963)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This song, as much as any other that Mohammed Rafi sang for Dev Anand, typified the person Dev Anand was – full of life and the joy of living. Rafi’s voice, swelling and ebbing through the serpentine roads on a misty night, is filled with the ecstasy of love, and brimming with the eagerness to find one’s beloved behind the closed doors and shuttered windows. And when he finally sees her, smiling gloriously at him, it is as if the moon has just stepped out from behind the clouds, dispelling the darkness around. Just hear the complete and joyous surrender in both Dev’s face and Rafi’s voice as the song comes to a close.

SD Burman had a long association with Mohammed Rafi, composing some of the latter’s career-best songs.  

Godaan (1963)
Music: Pt. Ravi Shankar
Lyrics: Anjaan

Based on Munshi Premchand’s famous novel of the same name, Godaan was the story of a farmer and his family, set against a background of class and caste discrimination and injustice. Mehmood plays the younger brother, with greyish undertones, very dissimilar to his usual comic side roles. Like Ganga Jumna before this, Godaan also used the Bhojpuri a regional dialect to great effect. Anjaan’s lyrics evoked the rustic simplicity of a villager, and Pandit Ravi Shankar used folk music very effectively in this lovely composition. The rollicking folk tune is the kind that puts a smile on your lips and a lilt in your step as you go about your day. And as always, Mohammed Rafi sings it with a vim and a verve. You can sense the joy that Mehmood’s character feels as he goes back home to visit his beloved.

11. Roshan tumhi se duniya

Parasmani (1963)
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Indeevar 
The composers, once music arrangers for SD Burman and later assistants to Kalyanji-Anandji got their big break with Babubhai Mistry’s fantasy Parasmani. (Their first film Hum Tum aur Woh as independent composers was not released.) Parasmani was one of those films that had better songs than it deserved. Each one of the songs that the young music directors meticulously composed was a gem. They had the backing of some of the greatest vocal talents in the industry as well – Lata Mangeshkar (Hansta hua noorani chehra with Kamal Barot and Ooi ma ooi ma), Mukesh (Chori chori jo tumse mile), and Mohammed Rafi (Roshan tumhi se duniya  and Woh jab yaad aaye). It was the beginning of a long association with Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. Roshan tumhi se duniya had Rafi exercise his considerable vocal skills as he plays effortlessly with the notes. He makes the song sound exceedingly simple.

The songs of Parasmani, however, were not the legendary singer’s first songs with the composer duo. Mohammed Rafi’s first recorded song for LP was Tere pyar ne mujhe gham diya from Chhaila Babu. It was recorded in 1961. However, the film only released in 1967. 

12.  Man re tu kahe na dheer dhare

Chitralekha (1964)
Music: Roshan

Kidar Sharma had already adapted the novel of the same name by Bhagwati Charan Verma, into a film starring Mehtab, Nandrekar, and AS Gyani. He decided to make it again 23 years later. Chitralekha, brought to a realisation of Princess Yashodhara’s love for Bijgupt, commander-in-chief of the Mauryan army, decides to forsake her love for the sake of king and kingdom. However, Bijgupt is bereft, and feeling the pangs of lost love. He seeks refuge in an outpouring of grief that questions not just how love seems to end in heartbreak, but the futility of life itself. Roshan’s music and Sahir’s lyrics combined to give us one of Hindi film music’s clasic melodies. Mohammed Rafi’s mellifluous voice melds mood and music together to bring to life one of Hindi cinema’s finest odes on love and loss.

 13. Dil beqaraar sa hai 

Ishaara (1964)
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

I hold Mohammed Rafi personally responsible for a great many ‘heroes’ becoming successful. Of the likes of Biswajeet, Bharat Bhushan, and their ilk, Joy Mukherjee was the one person who could reasonably lay a claim to Shammi Kapoor’s legacy.

It was interesting to see how Mohammed Rafi modulated his voice in this song. The song has all of Rafi’s adaas even though it is one of the quintessential romantic numbers that he had sung a hundred times before. I love the way his voice rolls over the syllables, almost as if he is drunk – on love, not liquor. Sublime. 

14. Choo lene do nazuk hothon ko

Kaajal (1965)
Music: Ravi
Lyrics:  Sahir Ludhianvi

There was a time when every second Gulshan Nanda novel was made into a film. Kaajal was no different – adapted from Nanda’s Madhavi, the script was edited and polished by Phani Majumdar while Kedar Sharma added the scintillating dialogues. But like many films of that period, it is the music that lifted the film above story and script. Sahir’s lyrics, set to music by Ravi, still make for engrossing listening.
For a teetotaller, Mohammed Rafi has sung a number of ‘drunken’ songs, slurring his voice quite effectively. This is one such though the context is slightly different – here, the character on screen (Raj Kumar, playing Meena Kumari’s profligate husband) is trying to coax his wife into having a drink. It is Rafi’s voice that adds the touch of reality to Raj Kumar’s stylised depiction of a drunkard.   

Dulhan Ek Raat Ki (1966)

Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan 

Based on Tess of the D’Ubervilles, and credited for the same, the film did not have much to recommend it, even with its stellar cast of Nutan, Dharmendra and Rehman. (Even though we got to see some fantastic acting from all three leads as well.) However, it did have some wonderful songs, courtesy a certain Madan Mohan Kohli, ably complemented by his long-time lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan. As was the case with most films that Madan Mohan composed for, Dulhan Ek Raat Ki found few takers at the box-office. Perhaps the fact that it was a Black & White film in an era where colour had begun to be the default proved to be its nemesis. Or perhaps people just didn’t want to see such a tragic film. Its music, however, continues to delight us. Mohammed Rafi’s voice caresses the notes, reminding us of the whiff of long-gone romance that continues to faintly linger on in our memories.  

16. Aap ke haseen rukh pe

Baharein Phir Bhi Na Aayegi (1966)
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Anjaan

This was the quintessential love ballad, and a very good-looking Dharmendra evokes goosebumps, especially since Mohammed Rafi’s vocals almost caresses each note. OP Nayyar had a long and mutually rewarding association with Mohammed Rafi, and this song, one of the best that has come out of that partnership, is pure romance. There is no doubt at all. He is laying his heart at her feet, she is more than willing to accept it. There is a quiet promise in his avowal of love, and above all, there is devotion – in the lyrics, in Rafi’s voice, in the way Dharmendra and Tanuja look at each other… how can it be his fault that his heart skips a beat when she is close by?
This is one of the songs that remind me why, when pushed to make a choice, I always pick Rafi as my favourite male singer of all time.  
Teesri Manzil_Mohammed Rafi_Bollywoodirect_Singer_India

Teesri Manzil (1966)
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics:  Majrooh Sultanpuri

“Mohammed Rafi’s foray into RD Burman’s compositions was like that of an esteemed guest – infrequent, but fondly remembered.” (RD Burman – The Man, The Music)
Mohammed Rafi has sung many songs for Shammi Kapoor. He has sung many exuberant songs for Shammi Kapoor, so it should come as no surprise that he should do so yet again.  Deewana mujhsa nahin is quietly exuberant (even if that is an oxymoron). Even though it is one of Shammi’s ‘stalker songs’, it is less egregious than most others.

RD Burman very nearly did not compose for Teesri Manzil. He had been signed on, in place of his father who was unwell at the time, when Dev Anand toplined the cast. Unfortunately for RD, Dev Anand was then busy with his home production, Guide, and decided that he couldn’t take on more work. Shammi Kapoor stepped in. It was well-known by then that Shammi’s composers of choice were Shankar-Jaikishen or OP Nayyar. But Jaikishen persuaded Shammi Kapoor to give RD Burman a chance. In a later interview, RD would mention how nervous he was at the audition. When he nervously sang the first two lines of a Nepali folk song, “Shammi completed the song for me and said ‘Aage chalo. Ye gaana main Jaikishen ko denewala hoon.’ ” That completely destroyed the young composer’s equilibrium. But soon he won over the charismatic star, and RD was on board. With Shammi in the film, there could also be no dispute over who the male playback would be – and so Mohammed Rafi got to sing every song, solo and duet, his smooth vocal calisthenics making every song seem simple – from the rambunctious Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera to the lively O haseena zulfonwali  to the softly romantic Tumne mujhe dekha.

While RD switched allegiance to Kishore Kumar quite early on, and by Yaadon ki Baraat was beginning to favour using Kishore almost exclusively, I came across this rarely heard solo Mohammed Rafi version of Chura liya. I do not know where the song was used; whether it was a cover version for their duet, or if not, why it was recorded, because the male solo is not part of the film itself.

These are but a few of my favourites from among Mohammed Rafi’s vast repertoire of solo songs. As you may imagine, it is a hard task to keep to a limited number of songs. And as always in this category, I need to keep the duets for another post since it is well nigh impossible to do justice to both solos and duets in just a single post. Hence, part II will have a selection of some of my favourite Rafi duets.

For a man who has, and continues to give me countless hours of listening pleasure; for a man who was beloved of all who knew him, and of countless others who didn’t; for a man who was as good a man as he was an artiste, my humble tribute…
Tell me, what are your favourite Mohammed Rafi solos?

Written By: Anuradha Warrier, is a writer, editor, film and music buff. She writes for pleasure, edits for a living, and indulges in watching films, listening to music, and writing about both on her blog Conversations Over Chai as and when time permits.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and Bollywoodirect.com do not necessarily subscribe to it. Bollywoodirect.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.

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