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Looking for the next ‘Forever’ voice…

Rafi's vocal magic transcends time,with many of today's reigning voices becoming more of a copy of his voices.

Written by Rajiv Vijayakar | Mumbai |
July 30, 2010 6:07:49 pm

When we see his voice sit ‘pat’ on Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand who started out in the ‘40s through Shammi Kapoor,Dharmendra and Rishi Kapoor and then go perfectly on someone like Govinda in the 1989 Farz Ki Jung,we realise that Mohammed Rafi and his effortless vocal magic transcends time. But there is more to Rafi than just his huge musical treasury – he is as relevant today as he was in his lifetime,and has been so for 30 years since he passed away on July 31,1980

Rafi lives on…

Why is Mohammed Rafi relevant today? To understand that,we must study and analyse exactly what happened after Rafi passed away,when right at the top. Not only did he deliver multiple chartbusters in 1980 (Karz,Aap To Aise Na The) itself,he also dominated several big-ticket scores in that year (Aasha,Dostana,Ram Balram,The Burning Train,Shaan,Swayamwar,Kali Ghata,Do Premee and Aap Ke Deewane) with or without his good buddy,ardent fan,professional colleague and media-declared “rival” Kishore Kumar.

After this,his songs in big films were a regular till late 1982,and he had major chartbusters and popular numbers after his death (Shaan,Dostana,Ram Balram,Do Premee,Kaatilon Ke Kaatil,Professor Pyarelal,Naseeb,Kranti,Hum Paanch,Aas Paas,Ladies Tailor,Kudrat,Rajput,Desh Premee,Insaan,Poonam,Zamaane Ko Dikhaana Hai).

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More songs in delayed films kept coming for almost a decade with Farz Ki Jung,where Bappi Lahiri’s song Phool ka shabab kya in the late ’70s for another film,was filmed on Govinda in 1989.

As late as this year,Madan Mohan’s unreleased Tere baghair was included in a Yash Raj Music album of that name,while Universal released an entire unreleased and Rafi-based film score composed by Chitragupta. A Naushad-composed devotional track or two and a song that Rafi had recorded for his Habba Khatoon,a film that was never made,were also released at various points in the last decade,and Rafi – bhakts await the day when J.P. Dutta agrees to release the title song of his first film Sarhad,a Sahir-Laxmikant-Pyarelal number that Rafi had raved about on record in his interviews in the late 1970s.

And last but not the least,let us not forget that 30 years after his death,dozens of Rafi-based orchestras still play to packed houses in India and outside.

Filling a vacuum

So intense was the vacuum we saw after Rafi’s death that the immediate consequence was a spurt in Rafi clones. The first to hit limited big-time was Anwar,who had started out in Rafi’s lifetime. Anwar got some popular numbers that made him sound vocally like the legendary original,notably Kahaan jaate ho ruk jaao (Dulha Bikta Hai) and Mohabbat tijarat ban gayi hai (Arpan).

Industry sources hint at Anwar’s decline because of lack of professionalism,but so deep was Rafi entrenched in music lovers’ and composers’ psyches that when Usha Khanna introduced another clone,Gujarat-based Rafi show singer Shabbir Kumar,Laxmikant-Pyarelal,the then “Number One to Ten composers” as termed by Manmohan Desai,took to him like parched fishes to water. And what LP did,others followed in those days.

From 1983 to 1985,Shabbir Kumar,solely on the strength of his ability to do a Rafi,had chartbusting scores of the level of Coolie,Betaab,Ek Jaan Hain Hum,Woh 7 Din and Pyar Jhukta Nahin,the last mentioned album enabling Mithun Chakraborty to break his B-grade disco shackles and also kick-starting T-Series’ spiral to the top.

But while Shabbir had a powerful vocal throw,high-pitched Rafi was not really his forte. Mohammed Aziz,the Anu Malik discovery from Mard,who could sing like the genteel Rafi as well as scale the higher octave,soon overtook him. But if Aziz had the biggest films and actors from Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan (Karma,Amrit,Aakhir Kyon?,Khudgarz,Shahenshah,Ram Lakhan,Saudagar,Khuda Gawah and more),Shabbir also remained around in films like Paap Ki Duniya,Tezaab,Aag Hi Aag,Ilzaam and more,and many films like Mard,Love ’86 and Pyar Kiya Hai Pyar Karenge then share the Rafi spoils. And so we came to the very interesting,almost incredible fact that from ’84 to late 1987 when Kishore Kumar passed away,Shabbir and Aziz between them were actually recording more than Kishore was!

Back to Rafi after a break

But when Kumar Sanu as a Kishore clone proved a sensation in 1990,it was a short reprise of Aradhana,as the two “Rafi-ians” lost ground rapidly. Sanu was sharing the Kishore legacy with Abhijeet,Vinod Rathod and Babul Supriyo. In this phase,none of the assorted new Rafi naqals who tried to make their marks – Debashish Dasgupta,Vipin Sachdeva and Mangal Singh – could make it.

But Rafi was so synonymous with Hindi film music that Udit Narayan,a singer with an original voice and style who emulated Rafi’s approach to playback vis-à-vis singing technique,shot past Sanu in 1995,indicating conclusively that short breaks like these reaffirmed the fact that the staple diet could only be Rafi!

Udit’s refined style revived the Rafi culture again in a fresh,original packaging,and the singer reigned till the early millennium when Sonu Niigaam,also a Rafi follower and (out of compulsion) an early clone of Rafi who had done cover version albums of Rafi’s songs for T-Series,overtook Udit! And by the time this happened,all the Kishore followers were on the fadeout run!

Though very choosy today,Sonu is the most respected of the existing big names in playback. Trained classically like Udit,he is still the first choice for the song with depth,come Paheli,Jaan-E-Mann or Parineeta. But even others like Roopkumar Rathod,Sukhwinder Singh and Javed Ali are also treading the Rafi path.

The voice for all time

Sonu Niigaam and Udit Narayan,rightly enough,can be considered the principal beacons of what can be termed the Mohammed Rafi School Of Playback Singing. These trained singers have walked the tightrope between following Rafi’s versatile and unaffected style of singing without imitating the master singer.

Till the mid-millennium,composers as varied as Rajesh Roshan,Anu Malik,Nadeem-Shravan,Anand-Milind and Jatin-Lalit and many more music makers gave us innumerable delights that suggested Rafi,recalled Rafi or craved for Rafi in the sense that they seemed to be made for him. What else were scores like Rajesh Roshan’s Koi…Mil Gaya,Anu Malik’s Border and Refugee,Jatin-Lalit’s Sangharsh,Nadeem-Shravan’s Tumse Accha Kaun Hai and Anand-Milind’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and even Ismail Darbar’s Deewangee,Sajid-Wajid’s Kya Yehi Pyaar Hai and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and Sandesh Shandilya’s Socha Na Tha? And who other than Rafi could be conceived as inspiration for hit songs like Rajesh Roshan’s Ghar se nikalti hi (Papa Kehte Hain),Anu Malik’s title-track from Main Hoon Na or Pritam’s Falak dekhoon (Garam Masala)?

And that is why Rafi is supremely relevant even today. If ever some technology is developed whereby the exact voice of a past artiste can be put on a modern tune,the voice of Mohammed Rafi will dominate as much as it did from the late ’40s to the early ’80s!

And the ground reality is strong enough to motivate thought in that direction. In the last few years alone,dozens of songs across various composers seem tailor-made for Rafi,or give reasonable,if not certain,grounds to suggest that Rafi seems to loom large even in the psyche of the current generation of composers.

So it is a subconscious desire to work with Rafi that makes a Pritam,as late as in fusion-infested 2010,compose the intense Phir mujhe dil beqaraar (Toh Baat Pakki)? What was A.R.Rahman thinking of when he made the almost Naushad-ian Qismat se tum humse mile ho in Pukar and the haunting Do qadam in Meenaxi – A Tale Of Four Cities besides the songs of Jodhaa Akbar like Kehne ko jashn-e-bahaaraa hai? Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Tanhayee (Dil Chahta Hai) and Kal Ho Naa Ho’s title-track and even Himesh Reshammiya’s Apne to apne hote hain (Apne) all seem in Rafi terrain,whether by intent or default does not matter.

Clearly,Rafi remains perennial in more than just the musical legacy he has left behind. As KK puts it succinctly,“I loved the Mohammed Rafi-like vibe of Dil kyun yeh mera in Kites!”

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