Rafi sang many duets with Lata Mangeshkar, but he has also sung a large number of songs with Geeta Dutt and Lata's sister Asha Bhosle as well. His songs ranged from classical numbers to patriotic songs, sad lamentations to highly romantic numbers, qawaalis to ghazals and bhajans, and from slow melancholic tunes to fast fun-filled songs. He sung for Rajendra Kumar and Jeetendra, the tragedy heroes Dilip Kumar and Bharat Bhushan, comedian Johnny Walker, and many more. His voice personified the rebellious image of the star Shammi Kapoor and also gave expression to smaller and younger heroes like Biswajit and Joy Mukherjee. Rafi has also sung for singer-actor Kishore Kumar in a few movies like Raagini, Baaghi Shehzaada, and Shararat.
Rafi was born at Kotla Sultan Singh Village near Amritsar in Punjab, to a middle class Muslim family. His family shifted to Lahore when he was still a baby. Every day, a "fakir" used to come to their locality in Lahore and sing. The young Rafi was so fascinated by him, that he used to follow him around. His elder brother Hameed was aware of Rafi's love for music and encouraged it. In Lahore, Rafi started taking music lessons from Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan and he also learned Indian classical music from Ghulam Ali Khan. One day Rafi and his brother Hameed went to attend a performance by K. L. Saigal. But the legendary singer refused to sing because there was a power failure at the venue. Hamed went up to the organiser to ask whether his brother could sing to keep the audience quiet. That was Rafi's first public performnce at the age of 13. Among the audience sat noted composer Shyam Sunder, who invited Rafi to Bombay.
Rafi's first song was in Punjabi for the film Gul Baloch - it was a duet with the singer Zeenat Begum. The song was Soniye nee, Heeriye nee, composed by Shyam Sunder. Shyam Sunder was impressed with his voice and gave Rafi seven songs in another film Bazaar. Also, in 1944, Rafi decided to move to Bombay, where Naushad gave him a break in Pehle Aap (1944). Rafi made his mark with Tera Khilona Toota Balakin Anmol Ghadi (1946). Rafi's first hit song was Yahan Badla Wafa Ka with legendary songstress Noor Jehan, composed by Feroz Nizami. It earned Rafi fame. Producer of film Amar Raj, J B Wadia went looking for him because he wanted only Rafi to sing songs for his film.
Rafi also had brief roles in movies like Laila-Majnu (1945) and Jugnu (1947). In Laila-Majnu, he was seen singing Tera Jalwa as a part of the chorus. Most famous film being Neel Kamal 1968. He has sung over 26000 songs . He sang in hindi, english, bhangra, bhajan and more styles.
Rise to Fame:
Rafi's big time came when he met the composer Naushad in Bombay. Rafi's first song for Naushad was Hindustan ke hum hain for the film Pehle Aap in 1944. Rafi and Naushad struck a chord. The first hit for the duo was the soundtrack of the superhit movie Anmol Ghadi (1946). Before Rafi, Naushad's favorite singer was Talat Mahmood. Once Naushad found Talat smoking during a recording. He was annoyed and hired Rafi to sing all the songs of the movie Baiju Bawra. After the Partition of India, Rafi and Naushad decided to remain in India. Whenever Naushad required a male voice in the songs composed by him, he would approach Rafi and nobody else. This attitude of Naushad was criticized by many people, but he continued his patronage of Rafi. Naushad used Rafi's voice for almost all actors of that time including Bharat Bhushan and Dilip Kumar.
Soon, Rafi became the favorite singer of other composers too, notably O. P. Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan and Sachin Dev Burman. Rafi became the voice of Dev Anand with soul-stirring songs composed by S. D. Burman. Rafi sang songs of all moods for S. D. Burman, picturized on Dev Anand - the romantic dil ka bhanwar, the drunk hum bekhudi mein, the free-spirited khoya khoya chaand. Rafi and S. D. Burman teamed up with Dev Anand's Navketan production house to produce hit tracks in many movies - Kala Bazar, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Guide among others. S. D. Burman also got Rafi to sing for Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana and Amitabh Bachchan in Abhimaan. Rafi and S. D. Burman also produced soulful songs for Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, C.I.D. and Kaagaz ke Phool.
O. P. Nayyar used Rafi and Asha Bhosle for most of his songs. Together they created music in the 1950s and 1960s. O. P. Nayyar was once quoted as saying "If there had been no Mohd. Rafi, there would have been no O P Nayyar". He and Rafi created many songs together including the famous Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan. O P Nayyar was so impressed with Rafi that he got Rafi to sing for singer-actor Kishore Kumar - Man mora baawara for the movie Raagini. The team will be particularly remembered for the songs picturized on Shammi Kapoor. The song Jawaaniyan yeh mast mastand the title song Yun to humne lakh hansee dekhe hain, tumsa nahin dekhaof the film Tumsa Nahin Dekha became instant hits. They were followed by hits like Taareef karoon kya uski jisne tumhe banaya from Kashmir ki Kali.
Shammi Kapoor himself gives a large credit for his success to Rafi. Shammi's image of the young, rebellious, carefree man can be attributed to the famous song Yahoo! Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe, kehne do jisung by Rafi and composed by Shankar Jaikishan. Shanker-Jaikishan also created beautiful songs with Rafi. The team will be remembered for the ones picturized on Rajendra Kumar - Baharon phool barsaao and others.
Rafi was also composer Ravi's first choice for playback singing. He got Rafi to sing the famous Rock-n-Roll number from the movie China Town Baar Baar Dekho, picturized on Shammi Kapoor. Madan Mohan was another composer whose favorite singer was Rafi. They teamed up to produce many ghazals including Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakha kya hai, the sad Yeh duniya yeh mehfil mere kaam ki nahinand the romantic Tum jo mil gaye ho. Madan Mohan used Rafi's voice in many films like Chirag and Laila Majnu.
The famous composer duo Laxmikant Pyarelal ("L-P") also used Rafi as their male voice in 1960s and 70s. When L-P were new in the industry, Rafi sang for them, although he was the numero uno singer in Bollywood at that time. They got Rafi to sing for their first hit film Paarasmani. Both Rafi and L-P won the Filmfare Awards for the song Chahoonga main tujhe shaam savere from the superhit movie Dosti. The song was to be sung by L-P's favorite singer Lata Mangeshkar, but then producer of the film decided to hand over the song to Rafi. L-P weren't amused with the idea. But when the recording was finished, Rafi also became their favorite singer.
In 1965, Rafi was honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Sri award. In the year 1969, Bollywood witnessed the rise of a new superstar, Rajesh Khanna in the movie Aradhana. Aradhana was the beginning of the era of another great singer Kishore Kumar. Few claim that Rafi was overshadowed by Kishore. But Rafi delivered many hit songs during that time like Aaj Mausam bada Beimaan he(Loafer 1973) and many more. He came back with a bang with memorable songs from Sargam, Hum Kisise Kam Nahin and Amar, Akbar, Anthony which put Rafi right back on the top.
His song Kya hua tera waada from the movie Hum Kisise Kum Nahin fetched him the National Film Award and Filmfare Award for the year 1977. His songs from the films sung towards the late 1970's Laila Majnu, Amar Akbar Anthony and Sargam, became hits. Laxmikant-Pyarelal the famous music director began to churn out hit after hit from Rafi during the late 1970s. His dard-e-dil, dard-e-jigar, composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and filmed on Rishi Kapoor, in the movie Karz, became a rage amongst the youngsters.
On July 31, 1980 after composing a song for the movie Aas Paas, Shaam phir kyun udaas hai dost with L-P, Rafi asked "Should I leave?". L-P were surprised because Rafi had never said anything like this before. While leaving, Rafi said once again "OK. I will leave." Rafi died at 7.30 p.m. on the same day due to a massive heart attack.
Rafi married Bilquis and had four sons and three daughters. He was a teetotaller, a religious and extremely humble person. He was a devout Muslim. Once, when a lesser-known composer, Nisar Bazmi (who migrated to Pakistan in early 1960s), didn't have enough money to pay him, Rafi charged a fee of one rupee and sang for him. He even helped producers financially. As Laxmikant (of the Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo) once observed - "He always gave without thinking of the returns".
Rafi was also famous for his various humanitarian efforts. Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar had a major debate over the issue of royalties in 1960s. Rafi believed that once a recording was over and a singer has been paid, he or she should not ask for more. Lata, on the other hand said that singers should be paid royalties for their works, over and above the amount given for the singing. This led to a fall out between them. They refused to sing songs together. At the insistence of Nargis they finally made up at a stage concert and sang Dil Pukare from the film Jewel thief, composed by S D Burman.
Filmfare Nominations and Awards
N T Ramarao (for Telugu films Bhale Thammudu, Aradhana), Akkineni Nageswara Rao(for Hindi Suvarna Sundari)