One of the greatest playback singers of India, Mohammed Rafi is considered no less than a genius when it comes to varied styles of music. Born on December 24th, 1924, this great soul had the perfect blend of melody, emotions and energy, which reflected greatly in his songs. Be it the classically inclined songs of Baiju Bawara or the foot tapping songs of Kashmir Ki Kali, Muhammad Rafi gave each song the treatment it deserved. His contribution to the Hindi film industry has been fabulous and perhaps no singer till date has managed to capture the hearts of fans the way Mohamed Rafi has.
Today (December 24) marks the 90th birth anniversary of Mohammad Rafi.
Muhammad Rafi was born in Kotla Sultan Singh located near Amritsar in the then undivided Punjab. Rafi had five older brothers ad his father's name was Hajji Ali Mohammad. Lovingly addressed as "Pheeko" by his family, Rafi started showing his inclination towards music at a very early age when he used to imitate the chants of a wandering beggar in his village. In the year 1935, Rafi's family moved to Lahore. Rafi's love for music was recognized soon by his family and he was encouraged to pursue it further. Thus, Mohamed Rafi went on to seek training in Hindustani classical music from eminent personalities like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pundit Jiwanlal Matto and Firoze Nizami.
Rafi's first public performance was at the tender age of 13. One day Rafi along with his brother Hamid went to attend a performance by the renowned K.L. Saigal. But there was a power failure at the venue and the legendary singer refused to sing. When the audience began to lose patience, Rafi's brother Hamid requested the organizer to allow Rafi to keep the audience entertained till the power came back. He was allowed to do so and it turned out to be the correct exposure for him. Among the audience was seated the great composer Shyam Sunder who immediately recognized immense talent and untapped potential in Rafi. He invited Rafi to come to Bombay for a recording. From there on began the journey of the most versatile singer of India.
In the year 1944, Mohammed Rafi recorded his first song under music director Shyam Sunder. It was for a Punjabi movie named Gul Baloch. It was recognized by many and Rafi started to get more and more offers. Rafi also sang songs composed by Naushad for the movie Pehle Aap in the year 1944. He also acted in a couple of movies named Laila Majnu (1945) and Jugnu (1947). Another splendid performance was in the year 1946 when he sang the song "Tera Khilona Toota Balak" of the movie Anmol Ghadi. With the movie Jugnu (1947), Rafi bagged his first major hit. The song "Yahaan Badla Wafa Ka'' with Noor Jehan under Feroze Nizami went on to become a major hit with the public.
His music in the movie Baiju Bawara proved critics wrong and he went on to become one of the most demanded playback singers of that time. The film happened by accident. Talat Mehmood was the first choice for the film. Naushad, the music director caught Talat Mehmood smoking and was very annoyed. He then gave all the songs to Mohammed Rafi and the results were outstanding. In the year 1949, his song named "Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki" of the movie "Dulari" went on to become an anthem of sorts. There was no looking back thereafter and Rafi went on to produce hits after hits. He was the undisputed singer till the 70's.
He was patronized as the voice of the great actor Dev Anand during 1950's and 60's. He became the favorite singer of director O.P. Nayyar and sang many beautiful songs for him. Rafi also produced some of the greatest hits with S.D. Burman, which includes films like Tere Ghar ke Saamne (1957), Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Guide (1965), Aradhana (1969) and Abhimaan (1973). In fact, he even sang a playback number for the great singer Kishore Kumar for the movie Raagini. Apparently, O.P. Nayyar was so fascinated by Rafi's music that he got him to sing "Man Mora Baawara" of this movie. Rafi sang with Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar and belted out hits after hits. Rafi became the voice of noted actor Rajendra Kumar and sang many romantic songs for his movies. His boisterous style of singing suited the versatile actor Shammi Kapoor. One could not imagine a reserved and gentle person like Rafi singing the "Yahoo" number. But then, that was Rafi.
During the 1970's, Kishore Kumar came into the limelight with his hits in the movie Aradhana. Rafi's output declined and Kishore Kumar started to overshadow his popularity. However, Rafi's songs were still everyone's favorite and he proved that no matter how many singers come and go, his position would remain undisputed. During mid 70's Rafi made a huge comeback with the movie "Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahi" and won the national award for the song "Kya Hua Tera Waada".
His major hits in the 70's include Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Sargam (1979) and Karz (1980). The Qawali song "Pardah Hai Pardah" of the movie Amar Akbar Anthony was a superhit. Other hit songs in late 1970s include films like Laila Majnu (1976), Apnapan (1978), Qurbani, Dostana (1980) and The Burning Train (1980). On July 31st, 1980, this great singer went back home early after recording and dies due to a massive heart attack. His funeral procession was one befitting a king. Mohammed Rafi was a legend of legends and shall remain so till eternity.