31 July 2010 marked the 30th death anniversary of one of the all time greats – one of the giants of Hindi film music – matchless Mohammad Rafi. I must have been in KG class, but I do still have a recollection of that day 30 years ago, when Mohammed Rafi passed away – I was doing a day spend with my best friend /cousin at the time and some news over the radio suddenly had her mother, my Bua in floods of tears. She was quickly on the phone with her brother – my youngest kaka and they both proceeded to commiserate with one another about the passing of a legend.
My Bua, kaka and large sections of my extended family were far from the only people who personally and profoundly mourned the passing of Mohammad Rafi, arguably one of the finest, most versatile and most gifted male singers ever. To this day he is enshrined as a minor deity in my extended family and no Sangeet preceding a family wedding is ever complete without a lusty belting out of Khoya Khoya Chand and a more somnolent rendition of the duet raat ke humsafar.
The entire country mourned the end of a musical era on that day. If there was someone who could equal Lata Mangeshkar in terms of pitch, voice modulation, and sheer singing ability, it was him. Even the more classically inclined Manna Dey’s songs paled in comparison to Rafi’s magical ability and sheer prodigious output.
Rafi was well known for altering and modulating his style of singing to suit the actor that he sang playback for. Witness how some of this most energetic, even manic songs were sung for Shammi Kapoor, how he infused other songs with a gut wrenching pathos and how he invested bhajans with the kind of soulful piety that could easily bring tears to the eyes.
I am going to attempt a difficult and challenging task to narrow down and pick my top 10 Mohammad Rafi songs here:
- Baar Baar Dekho (China Town)– a swinging, melodious, beautifully rendered track
- Kar Chale Hum Fida (Haqeekat) – the song never fails to bring up the tears (it is the male equivalent of Aye mere watan ke logon in my view)
- Yeh chand sa Raushan Chehra (Kashmir ki kali) his vocal acrobatic acrobatics, match, move for move, Shammi Kapoor gyrating all over and finally falling out of his Shikara.
- Na kisi ki aankh ka nor(Lal Qila) the sound of his voice matches the desolation of the words
- Khoya Khoya Chand (Kala Bazaar) a happy lighthearted song of yearning matching Dev Anand and his ragdoll impersonation
- Chhoo le ne do naazuk hoton ko (Kaajal) An innocent eroticism – superbly melodious rendition
- Any song from Junglee (I could not choose) from the frenzied Chahi koi mujhe jungle kahe to the heartfelt Ehesaan tera hoga mujhpar
- Kaun hai jo sapno mein aya (Jhuk gaya asmaan) for once it is the original Marguerita by Elvis Presley that seems the weak imitation.
- Dekhi Zamaney Ki Yaari (Kagaz Ke Phool) – Disillusionment and resignation on Guru Dutt's face matched by the pathos in Rafi’s voice
- Man tadapat (Hari Om Bhajan from Baiju Bawra) – classical perfection in Raag Malkauns – one of the best bhajans ever to be composed for a Hindi film