On Mohd Rafi’s 97th birth anniversary, revisiting the time when a great singer like him was surrounded by self-doubt but continued to give his voice to some classics.
On Mohd Rafi’s 97th birth anniversary, here’s an interesting anecdote from the singer’s life. (Photo: Express Archives)
Hindi film music has been through various ups and downs in the last few decades but amid the ebb and flow of hits and misses, there are a few musical geniuses who have been our constant companions. While a layman might not understand the intricacies of their music, they sure know that there will never be another Mohd Rafi. His humble persona, and his ever smiling face gave voice to thousands of popular film songs that are evergreen classics but there was a time in his life, where he started doubting his talent. It sounds bizarre that a singing legend like him ever questioned his musical proficiency, but such is the film business that even Mohd Rafi had to pause and examine his circumstances.
It was in 1969 that Kishore Kumar, who had been a prominent figure in Hindi film music for a few years, found himself ahead of Mohd Rafi in terms of popularity. The two had been contemporaries but Mohd Rafi was still known as the supremo. Things changed soon after the release of Aradhana as Kishore was now being celebrated as the new ‘number 1’. With popular numbers like ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani’, ‘Kora Kagaz Tha Yeh Man Mera’ and ‘Roop Tera Mastana’, Kishore Kumar had truly arrived and the audience was left enchanted. RD Burman’s music had swept the nation and it was at this point that the unshakeable partnership of Pancham Da and Kishore Da took off. And as is the wont of business, Kishore’s rise was read as Rafi’s fall.Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar were often pitted against each other even though they had nothing but respect for each other. (Photo: Express Archives)
In the 2017 documentary titled Dastaan-E-Rafi, this phase of the legendary singer’s life is discussed by singer Mahendra Kapoor’s son Rohan Kapoor. Rohan narrates an incident from the time where Mohd Rafi called Mahendra Kapoor to discuss his circumstances. The two singers shared a fond friendship and would often get together. Rohan shared, “Rafi sa’ab called up my father and said ‘Mahendra, yaar bada udaas ho gaya hun main, tu milne aa’ (Mahendra, I’m feeling upset. Come and see me.)” Mahendra Kapoor went to Mohd Rafi’s house and found him sitting in the garden, all alone.https://images.indianexpress.com/2020/08/1×1.png
Rohan recalls, “Rafi saab kehte hain Daddy ko ‘Mahendra kamaal ho gaya yaar’. He said, ‘Voh producer jo paer ko haath lagate the, ab mooh dekh ke nikal jaate hain, they don’t even recognise me’ (Rafi saab told my father ‘Mahendra, it is so strange’. He said ‘The producers who would once touch my feet, they now ignore me on my face’). He asked my father, ‘Have I become a bad singer?’. So my father said ‘Iska main aapko kya jawab dun Rafi saab (What do I tell you Rafi saab), if they can do it to you, they can do it to anybody. It’s not whether you are good or bad, it is the type of people we are dealing with’. My father pacified him in his own way saying ‘koi nahi yaar ho jata hai’ (It happens).”https://www.youtube.com/embed/3GYp_B2J_hI
It was at that point that Mohd Rafi had recently recorded a song for composer Madam Mohan for the 1973 film Hanste Zakhm. He told Mahendra about the song and sang a few lines of ‘Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho’ which eventually became a big hit.
In the same documentary, singer Sudesh Bhosale shared that the film magazines had created an unsavoury rivalry between Kishore Kumar and Mohd Rafi when in fact, there was none. He shared that soon after the magazines labelled Kishore Da as ‘number 1’, he released a statement saying that this kind of nonsense should stop. Kishore Kumar’s son Amit Kumar shared that “Rafi saab was my father’s senior. There was immense respect from both sides.”
Mohd Rafi’s legacy has lasted way beyond the petty rivalries that were created by the naysayers and his many evergreen songs are proof that there won’t be another Mohd Rafi in Hindi film music.