Mohammed Rafi-Naushad: Heady, Classy Melody

Mohammed Rafi, born Dec. 24, shared a special bond with Naushad, born Dec. 25. Photo: Publicity Photo

Mohammed Rafi, Hindi cinema’s greatest male playback singer, was born December 24, 1924. Naushad, one of our greatest composers, was born on Christmas Day 1919. Together, they are mainly known for their multiple creations from 1948 to 1970 for Dilip Kumar, another December-born giant, whose centenary was recently celebrated on December 11.

However, by themselves, they were a lethally hit-and-heady composer and singer combination, with stars as varied as old-timer Shyam, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Sanjeev Kumar and even Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra enacting their songs across decades.

If their first-ever collaboration was in 1944’s Pehle Aap with Hindustani ke hum hain (sung by Rafi with G.M. Durrani and Shyam Kumar), Rafi’s first solo for Naushad was the playful Tera khilona toota balak in the 1946 Anmol Ghadi, written by Tanvir Naqvi for a supporting artiste.

Naushad was always captivated by Rafi’s versatility. Photo: Publicity Photo

The Naushad and Rafi combo was last heard together in seven songs in the long-delayed Love And God, which was released in 1986, six years after Rafi had passed away. However, their last recorded song, Jis raat ke khwab aaye, was for the unreleased film Habba Khatoon with lyrics by Ali Sardar Jafri. The audio was released by Saregama in 1980. It is said that Rafi was so moved that he refused to take fees after recording it, and Naushad later used the same tune in his Malayalam film, Dhwani, with Yesudas, a huge Rafi-bhakt, as singer. And anyone who hears the Habba Khatoon song will realize that, despite weak songs in interim films like Tangewala (1972) and Dharam Kanta (1982), the Rafi-Naushad team finished on a mammoth high!

A remarkable song in that phase came in the 1974 K. Balachander film, Aaina, featuring Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz, in which Dharmendra and Neetu Singh, featuring in cameos, enacted Jaane kya ho jaaye, written by Jan Nissar Akhtar. This Rafi-Lata duet replicated the metre of Mere jeevan saathi, Naushad’s hit 1968 title-track from the film Saathi.

Rafi and Naushad were more than just a singer-composer team: they were close friends personally. Living in the same suburb of Bandra, they would meet every morning for badminton with a group of friends. The otherwise private and reclusive souls would even regularly visit each other’s households and reportedly even went on picnics together. They both shared a deep affinity for classical music and folk and this showed to sublime effect in their work together.

And while Rafi sang more solos than duets for this music director, his other co-singers (besides those mentioned above) in songs under Naushad (in duets and ensemble numbers) included Asha Bhosle, Suman Kalyanpur, Shamshad Begum, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Bhupinder Singh and Balbir.

Rafi was also Naushad’s choice for the high-pitched line, Roohi Roohi Roohi, even in the 1946 K.L. Saigal song, Mere sapnon ki rani, from the latter’s swan song, Shah Jehan. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to state that Naushad was rightfully obsessed with Rafi’s texture and all-encompassing brilliance. Whether in films featuring Dilip Kumar or otherwise, the majority of Naushad scores from the 1950s were Rafi-dominated (Aan, Baiju Bawra, Deedar, Mother India, Gunga Jumna, Kohinoor, Mere Mehboob, Leader, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Palki, Ram Aur Shyam, Aadmi, Sunghursh and Ganwaar).

So much so that when he attempted his comeback in 1990 with the film, Awaaz De Kahan Hai—a title inspired by his hit song from Anmol Ghadi—his voice of choice was Mohammed Aziz, the foremost Rafi clone in those times!

The composer utilized Rafi at his melodious, soothing best. It was a rare Nain lad jaihen (Gunga Jumna) or Mere pairon mein ghunghroo (Sunghursh) that saw a near-boisterous Rafi in this composer’s world. Yes, we did have a playful Rafi in Yoon to aapas mein bigadte hain (Andaz), in Aayi hain baharen mite zulm-o-situm ( Ram Aur Shyam) or in Humse to acchi teri payal gori (Ganwaar), but Naushad always preferred Rafi dignified, and in a few cases, even lachrymose (Suhani raat dhal chuki from Dulari), which invited some criticism.

A special forte of Naushad with Rafi was their songs in the Hindu ethos. Madhuban mein Radhika from Kohinoor persuaded a third Muslim, Dilip Kumar, to learn the sitar to enact the splendid raag-based number, while Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj and O duniya ke rakhwale (Baiju Bawra) and also Insaaf ka mandir hai yeh from Amar were steeply soulful and pious.

Needless to add, all these songs, just like Mohe panghat pe Nandlal from Mughal-E-Azam, were penned by yet another Naushad protégé, lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, whose maulana (Muslim priest) father, as per the composer, had made his son study every religion in depth!

Obviously, raag-suffused, semi-classical numbers also abounded in their musical universe, come Do sitaron ka zameen par hai (Kohinoor/with Lata) or Saawan aaye ya na aaye (Dil Diya Dard Liya / with Asha). And their Yaad mein teri jaag jaagke hum (Mere Mehboob / with Lata) even inspired Anu Malik to create one of his classiest melodies, Band honthon se from Sir in 1993.

And if not classical,most of the Rafi-Naushad songs were definite classics! Meri kahani bhoonewale (Deedar), Aaj purani raahon se (Aadmi), Ae mohabbat zindabad (Mughal-E-Azam) or the  Palki qawwali, Main idhar jaaon ya udhar jaaon (with Manna Dey and Asha Bhosle) also illustrate tellingly that the Naushad-Rafi bond is forever. And so are their songs.



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