Born On: December 24, 1924
Born In: Kotla Sultan Singh, Punjab, British India
Died On: July 31, 1980
Career: Hindi Playback Singer
Whether it was Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Johnny Walker, Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, Dharmendra, or Raaj Kumar, he had the magic and power in his voice to flawlessly suit every actor's song. Right from classical to swinging, from soulful to comic, and from philosophical to frivolous, he was blessed with a range that could sing in three octaves without veering out of control. The legendary Mohd. Rafi, as he is known to the music world, is undeniably one of the best singers India ever gave birth to. He is regarded as the most popular male singer and the second most popular singer, after the eminent Lata Mangeshkar. A singer par excellence, Rafi could surpass all the playback singers with his outstanding singing ability of getting into the soul of the song. Apart from the extraordinary armory that Rafi possessed, he was a very down-to-earth person on the personal level. With an attitude of a commoner even at the pinnacle of glory, Rafi managed to win the hearts of every individual who listened to his songs, just once. Till date, he is remembered for his astonishing capabilities of wining audiences with his melodious and miraculous voice.
This great singer was born at Kotla Sultan Singh, Amritsar (British India), as the fifth of six sons, to Hajji Ali Mohammed. Fondly called as Pheeko, Rafi began singing as a child by imitating the chants of a faqir in his village. In the 1920s, when his father shifted to Lahore and opened up a men's salon in Noor Mohalla, Bhatti Gate, Rafi's voice was recognized by Ahmed Hameed, his elder brother's friend, who advised him to move to Bombay to explore his singing career. Later, Hameed became his brother-in-law. His firth public performance was held when he was just 13, at a concert in Lahore under K.L. Saigal. Later in 1941, he made his singing debut in the Punjabi film 'Gul Baloch' with the duet song 'Soniye nee, Heeriye nee', along with Zeenat Begum, but the movie released only in 1944. The same year, he was invited by All India Radio Lahore to sing for them. Although Rafi's family was reluctant to send him to Bombay, Hameed managed to convince them and accompanied Rafi to Bombay in 1944. It was here that Rafi learnt classical music from music maestros Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwanlal Matto, and Firoze Nizami.
Mumbai proved to be a turning point for Rafi's singing career, which gave India its biggest singing sensation of all times. Here in Bombay, his future brother-in-laws helped him find a rented room on the busy streets of Bhendi Bazar. He was introduced to film producers, like Adbur Rashid Kardar, Mehboob Khan, and actor-director Nazeer. He recorded his first song with the legendary Naushad for the 1944 film 'Pehle Aap' - 'Hindustan ke hum hain', along with Shyam Kumar, Alauddin, and others. As part of the chorus, Rafi gave several songs for Naushad, including 'Mere sapno ki rani, Roohi Roohi' for the 1946 film 'Shahjahan'. He even sang a duet with Noor Jehan in 1947 'Jugnu', but she migrated to Pakistan during the partition of India in the same year and paired with Ahmed Rushdi.
Since Shyam Sunder had already offered him a song in his previous film 'Gul Baloch', he offered him another number 'Aji dil ho qaabu mein to dildar ki aisi taisi' with GM Durrani in 'Gaon ki Gori' in 1945, which turned out to be the first Hindi song for Rafi. Guided by Husanlal Bhagatram and Rajendra Krishan, Rafi created the song 'Suno suno ae duniya walon, Bapuji ki amar kahani' overnight after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, for which he was invited at the then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to sing at his residence. The same year, he was even awarded a silver medal by Nehru on Independence Day. Rafi's solo singing career began in 1949 with offers from Naushad for 'Chandni Raat', 'Dillagi', and 'Dulari'; Shyam Sunder for 'Bazaar'; and Husanlal Bhagatram for 'Meena Bazaar'.
Rafi & Naushad
Although Rafi's first song with the notable Naushad was for the film 'Pehle Aap' in 1944, but his solo soundtrack with the music director was for the movie 'Anmol Ghadi' in 1946. Although Talat Mahmood was Naushad's favorite singer previously, but on spotting him smoking during recording, he asked Rafi to record all the songs for 'Baiju Bawra'. It was his association with Naushad that Rafi got immense recognition and went on to become one of the greatest Bollywood singers. At the end, Rafi had recorded a total of 149 songs for Naushad, including 81 solos.
Rafi & SD Burman
Rafi was considered as the voice of Dev Anand and Guru Dutt under the music directorship of SD Burman. Along with him, Rafi gave hits, like 'Pyaasa' (1957), 'Guide' (1965), 'Aradhana' (1969), and 'Abhimaan' (1973), others being 'Kaaghaz ke Phool' (1959) and 'Tere Ghar kay Saamnay' (1962).
Rafi & Shankar-Jaikishan
It was under Shankar-Jaikishan that Rafi delivered chirpy and cheesy numbers, especially for actors like Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar. The song 'Yahoo! Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe' was a Shankar-Jaikishan composition. He even won 3 of the 6 Filmfare Awards for this musical-duo. 'Basant Bahar', 'Professor', 'Junglee', 'Brahmachari', 'Suraj', 'An Evening in Paris', 'Prince', 'Love in Tokyo', and 'Yaqeen' are some films recorded by this combination. Rafi sang a total of 341 songs for Shankar-Jaikishan, of which 216 were solo.
Rafi & Ravi
Rafi's hard work and long-desired singing career reached its peak when he won his first Filmfare Award for the title song of 'Chaudhvin ka Chand' in 1960, composed by Ravi. The National Award that he was honored with was for the song 'Babul ki duaen leti ja' from 'Neel Kamal' (1968), which again was Ravi's composition. Other memorable songs recorded by Rafi-Ravi duo include for the movies 'China Town' (1962), 'Kaajal' (1965), and 'Do Badan' (1966).
Rafi & Madan Mohan
While Rafi had been recording duets and chorus with several music directors, his first solo was offered to him by Madan Mohan for the film 'Aankhen' in 1950 for the song 'Hum ishq mein barbad hain barbad rahenge'. Eventually, the two paired together for numerous popular songs, some being 'Teri aankhon kay siva', 'Yeh duniya yeh mehfil', and 'Tum jo mil gaye ho'.
Rafi & O.P. Nayyar
Once quoted by OP Nayyar as "If there had been no Mohammad Rafi, there would have been no O. P. Nayyar", Rafi worked for this eminent music composer during the 1950s and 1960s. It was under Nayyar that Rafi got a chance to sing for Kishore Kumar's 'Raagini' for the song 'Man mora baawara'. Later, he went on to sing several more songs for this singer-actor, like 'Baaghi', 'Shehzaada', and 'Shararat'. Nayyar paired Rafi and Asha Bhosle for most of his songs, who went on to sing golden hits for 'Naya Daur' (1957), 'Tumsa Nahi Dekha' (1957), and 'Kashmir ki Kali' (1964). A total of 157 songs were sung for OP Nayyar by Rafi, of which 56 were solo.
Rafi & Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Right from his very first film 'Parasmani' (1963) for Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Rafi was patronized by the composer duo. The team's song 'Chahoonga main tujhe saanjh savere' from 'Dosti' (1963) won a Filmfare Award. 369 numbers, including 186 solo, were sung by Rafi for this distinguished composer duo.
After an initial struggle, Rafi managed to create a niche for himself in the Indian cinema. He lent his voice for a number of actors in Bollywood and was one of the most sough-after singers between 1950s and 1970s. For his contribution to the Indian fraternity, he was bestowed upon with the Padma Shri Award by the Government of India in 1965. With the beginning of the 1970s era, Rafi fell ill and confined himself to fewer recordings. During his absence from Bollywood during Hajj pilgrimage in 1969, Kishore Kumar's popularity increased as he bagged the remaining two songs for the film 'Aradhana', recorded by R.D. Burman, son of S.D. Burman, with Kishore Kumar. Eventually, Rafi's output in terms of songs reduced, but he did continue to sing some prominent hits. His signature song 'Tum mujhe yun bhula na paoge' from 'Pagla Kahin Ka' in 1971 was recorded during this period. Others include 'Yeh duniya yeh mehfil', 'Heer Ranjha' (1970); 'Jhilmil sitaron ka', 'Jeevan Mrityu' (1970); 'Gulabi aankhen', 'The Train' (1970); 'Chalo dildar chalo', 'Pakeezah' (1972); 'Chura liya hain tumne', 'Yaadon Ki Baarat' (1973); 'Teri bindiya re', 'Abhimaan' (1973); and 'Aaj mausam bada beimaan hai', Loafer (1973).
After giving Bollywood a blink-n-miss during the early 1970s, he made a comeback as the leading playback singer in mid-1970s, which conferred him with the Best Singer Award by the Film World magazine for the song 'Teree Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Qadam Aaj Ke Baad' from 'Hawas' (1974). His qawwali 'Pardah hai pardah' picturized on Rishi Kapoor from 'Amar Akbar Anthony' in 1977 was an instant hit. His movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s include 'Laila Majnu' (1976), 'Qurbani' (1980), 'Dostana' (1980), 'Naseeb' (1981), 'Shaan' (1980), and 'The Burning Train' (1980).
Rafi was previously married to his cousin at an early age, but post-independence, the marriage was called off, since his in-laws and wife migrated to Lahore, Pakistan. He had a son from the marriage. Later in Mumbai, Rafi and Abdul Hameed married two sisters in the late 1940s. He married Bilquis and gave birth to three sons and three daughters. He was a very religious and humble person, and kept away from filmy parties, smoking, and drinking. Amongst his leisurely hobbies, he only indulged in carom, badminton, and flying kites.
Mohd. Rafi suffered a major heart attack and died on July 31, 1980. With over 10,000 people attending his funeral, it was one of the biggest funeral processions Mumbai had ever witnessed. He was buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery. Although his tomb was destroyed in 2010 to create space for other bodies, his fans visit his tomb, marked by a coconut tree close to his grave, twice a year, on 24 December and 31 July, to observe his birth and death anniversary.
A two day public holiday was announced on his death by the Government of India to pay him a tribute. His song 'Jaan Pehchan Ho' (Gumnaam) was used for the soundtrack of the movie 'Ghost World' (2001). In 2001, his song 'Aaj Mausam Bada Beiman Hai' was included in the movie 'Monsoon Wedding'. Seven Hindi movies, like 'Allah Rakha', 'Coolie', 'Mard', 'Naseeb', 'Aas-Paas', 'Desh Premee', and 'Heeralal-Pannalal' were dedicated to Rafi.
Awards and Accolades
Filmfare Award for 'Chaudhvin ka chand ho' (Chaudhvin ka Chand), 1960
Filmfare Award for 'Teri pyaari pyaari surat ko' (Sasural), 1961
Filmfare Award for 'Chahunga main tujhe' (Dosti), 1964
Filmfare Award for 'Baharo phool barsao' (Suraj), 1966
Padma Shri by the Government of India, 1967
Filmfare Award for 'Dil ke jharoke mein' (Brahmachari), 1968
National Award for 'Kya hua tera wada' (Hum Kisise Kum Nahi), 1977
Filmfare Award for 'Kya hua tera wada' (Hum Kisise Kum Nahi), 1977
"Best Singer of the Millennium" by Hero Honda and Stardust magazine, 2001
1924: Born in Kotla Sultan Singh, Punjab, British India
1941: Debuted as a playback singer in the Punjabi film 'Gul Baloch'
1944: Came to Mumbai, along with Abdul Hameed
1944: Recorded first Hindi song 'Aji dil ho qaabu mein to dildar ki aisi taisi' for 'Pehle Aap'
1948: Received a silver medal for 'Suno suno ae duniya walo, Bapuji ki amar kahani' from Jawaharlal Nehru
1967: Honored with the Padam Shri Award by the Indian Government
1974: Received the Best Singer Award from Film World magazine for the song 'Teri Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Qadam' (Hawas)
1977: Received Filmfare Award and the National Award for the song 'Kya hua tera wada' (Hum kisise kum nahi)
1980: Died of a heart attack on July 31st in Mumbai.