One of the greatest film playback singers of the subcontinent, Mohammed Rafi (24 December, 1924-31 July, 1980) had spent his childhood in Lahore. He was fond of singing since the beginning, which was considered a taboo in his conservative family. However, Rafi’s craze for singing continued to escalate and eventually he got an opportunity in 1937 to give public performance in a pan-India exhibition held in Lahore.
Among the audience were two of the popular singers of the time, K. L. Saigal and Zohra Bai Ambalewali. When Rafi sang a Punjabi folk song, audiences were mesmerised.
Listening to Rafi on Radio Lahore, music director Shyam Sunder provided him an opportunity to sing in a Punjabi film Gul Baloch in 1941. In 1942, Rafi arrived in Bombay with high hopes. It is ironical that the same composer Shyam Sunder provided Rafi a break to sing for Gaon ki Gori which was his first Hindi film song, sung with G. M. Durrani and others.
Rafi’s meteoric rise to fame came when he sang for two of ace music director Naushad Ali’s musical hits in 1949. He sang ‘Tere kooche mein armaano ki duniya leke aaya hun’ for the film Dillagi. The other was Rafi’s all-time favourite ‘Suhani raat dhal chuki, na jaane tum kab aaoge’ from Dulari.
During Rafi’s singing career of 38 years, the number of his hit film songs is the highest among all the male playback singers. He sang for all the leading music directors of his time, doing full justice to their respective styles of compositions, which were vastly different from each other.
Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, O. P. Nayyar, Madan Mohan, S. D. Burman and his son R. D. Burman, Roshan, Ravi and Salil Chaudhary, all had unique styles of compositions for whom Rafi sang and received their admiration.
July 31 is the 39th death anniversary of the legendary Mohammed Rafi, whose immortal songs provide the same joy to listeners today, which they felt hearing them for the first time many decades ago.
Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2019