Date: July 31, 1980. Time: 4 p.m. Mohammed Rafi recorded a song for
Laxmikant Pyarelal for the Dharmendra - Hema Malini film Aas Paas. At
7.30 p.m. tragedy struck. A massive heart attack silenced the peerless
singer forever. Born on December 4, 1924, Mohammed Rafi had started
singing at the age of 18. In a career spanning almost 40 years, he
sang 26,000 songs. Compilations of his songs-in a romantic mood, In
a soulful mood-are released to this day. For his fans are legion. Says
music director laxmikant, "The demand for Mohammed Rafi's songs is
phenomenal. No other singer, not even Lata Mangeshkar, has been able
to attract such a tremendous following. It's almost as if he were
Wife 'Bilquis'& 2 daughters..
With 'Lata Mangeshkar' ..
Son 'Shahid' & grandson 'Fuzail'
The Rafis were also proud parents of three daughters - Parveen (49),
Nasreen (44) and Yasmin (36). Nasreen looks after her mother's zari
business while the other two are housewives. There were 19
grandchildren before Parveen's 18-year-old son died in a car accident.
Of Rafi's four sons, Shahid, the youngest, is in Mumbai. And he's the
only one who has shown an inclination to follow his father's profession.
He has sung at several shows but in the sphere of playback singing,
so for it has been no go.
"I have my self-respect," Shahid defends himself "I'm not the sort who'll knock at the doors of producers' homes and offices. There's so much hypocrisy in the film industry today. Since they didn't even bother to hear me out, i gave up. I'm quite happy running my garment factories an dabbling in read estate.
"Its the same industry to which my father gave so much of himself," recalls the son with a touch of bitterness. "if a producer was in a tight spot, abba wouldn't accept any money from him. Abba was a God-fearing man, he felt he was, just an instrument through whom God was singing."
Shahid recounts how his father would serve meals Personally to the fakirs, beggars and other poor people who would assemble outside 'Rafi Mansion' during the month of Ramzan "Abba taught us not to distinguish between the rich and the poor. He taught us to be humble. I still remember him telling us, 'Look down as you walk, if you look up you'll trip and fall,'" says Shahid emotionally.
Rewinds Laxmikant, "Rafi would never ask what he was going to be paid for a song. Apart from waiving off payments, he even helped some producers financially. He'd help out the needy when there were marriages ages. He always gave without ever thinking of the returns. "Abba's right hand never knew what his left hand was doing," adds the Rafi family. "Whenever he was extra busy, he'd ask the producer to give the song to another singer."
Yet, when Rafi passed away his widow Bilquis needed people to stand by her. But there was little or no support from the industrwallahs. Moreover, three of their sons and a daughter were abroad at the time. After the funeral, the denizens of the show world had forgotten Rafi.
But Rafi's widow holds no grudges. "The producers and music directors would drop in to meet Rafisaab," she sighs. "When he was no more, they'stopped... no one come to ask us how we were coping with life. If anyone wants to visit us even today, they're most welcome. Our house has always been open for guests. I know he helped many producers but he never talked about this. So why should we?"
Reminisces the upright widow, "He was a man of few words. He was a farishta. Though he was very busy, he always found time for his wife and children. He was extremely protective about me. I never attended a recording, I never posed for photographs with him. I would accompany him to shows abroad only to meet our children who had settled in London."
Looking at the July drizzle outside the window her eyes turn moist: "Rafisaab was only particular about his food. When it was raining outside, he would be in the mood for kheema rotis and bhajias. "A couple of years after Rafi's death, reports in a section of the press claimed that his family was in dire financial straits. It was said that the family had shifted to a dingy tenement on Mira Road. Mrs Biiquis Rafi was making ends meet by stitching clothes... and was seen traveling in an autorickshaw.
Shahid bristles at the memory of the reports: "My father left my mother well provided for. She has a zari embroidery business. And by the way, she had four sons. We are quite capable of looking after her thank you. She has never travelled in an autorickshaw and never will. Abba never expected anything from his friends or those whom he'd helped out. Neither do we. God has given us enough."
Mohammed Rafi had stood firm in his decision that there should be no demands for royalty from the music companies. He had reasoned that once a piayback singer had been paid his fee by the producer, the matter ended there. This stand made him unpopular among other singers who believed that a song"s success hinged on the singer's voice, sparking a professional rift between Rafi and lata Mangeshkar in the late'60s. For about six years, the two didn't sing any duets with each other. "There were no exchanges of angry words or anything quite as dramatic as that," Shahid smiles. "Abba and lata just stopped talking to each other and so naturally, stopped singing duets together." Sanjeev Kohili has put together several compilations of Rafi's vintage hits for HMV. On being asked about the royalty which could have accrued to the singer's family, he responds, "Everyone has the right to their opinion. Perhaps Rafisaab didn't foresee the magnitude of the music business today. Or perhaps he was satisfied with what he was getting and didn't hanker for more.
"Normally a singer is entitled to 1.25 per cent of the producer's share of the royalty. That is if he has signed an assignment letter to this effect with the producer. Since Rofisaab's songs belonged to the Golden era of music, the amount would have been substantial."
All the royalty that the Rafi family is entitled to today is the money made from the non-film albums which the singer had recorded. Sanjeev Kohli, son of the late Madan Mohan, who was with Music India for a while was responsible for three of these-Bengali songs, ghazals and marriage songs.
Kohli remembers Mohammed Rafi as a gentleman with an unwaveringly pleasant disposition. "When HMV was about to release an album of his sad, sentimental songs I just couldn't find a photograph to go on the cover. He's beaming and smiling in every frame that was ever clicked," remarks Kohli.
Rafi's family recalls a traumatic phase in Mohammed Rafi's life. After a Haj pilgrimage, he was told by some people that singing was a sin. So he started curtailing his assignments and went off to London. Producers couldn't wait for him endlessly. But Rafi reversed his decision about quitting when his sons cajoled him to return to the recording studios. It was around this time that Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar became a team, although Rafi had sung for Rajesh Khanno in The Train and Aradhana (Baaghon mein bahar hai and Gunguna rahen hain bhanwaren). However the immense popularity of such numbers as Roop tera mastana and Mere sapnon ki rani from Aradhana associated Rajesh Khanna with Kishore Kumar in the public mind.
Kohli feels R.D. Burman was in a way responsible for the ascent of Kishore Kumar and the partial eclipse of Mohammed Rafi in the early '70s. "Since S,D. Burman was ill, R.D. took over the reins of Aradhana. R.D. had already worked with Kishore Kumar in Pyar Ko Mausam, perhaps he was fonder of Kishore Kumar. When the songs clicked, Rajesh Khanna insisted that all his songs would be sung by Kishore Kumar. Perhaps he wanted to prove a point to the seniors like Rajendra Kumar and Dharmendra that he was different. The other heroes then also asked for Kishore Kumar. "My father however refused to give in when he composed the music for Laila Mainu. Although Kishore Kumar had sung for Rishi Kapoor in several films, dad knew that only Rafisaab's voice would suit the character of Majnu. This film gave Rafisacb a new self-confidence. And was on top once again for the last five years of his life."
Currently, innumerable cover versions of Mohammed Rafi's hits have glutted the market. Though these 'covers' are legal, the use of Rafi's photograph on the cassette sleeves is illegal. If the family wants to, they can object to the use of Mohammed Rafi's photograph.
But the family has chosen to ignore the cover versions, "Litigation is a waste of time. So many people benefited from my father... so why should we mind if a few more make profits by using his name?" asks Shahid "They are being supported by my father. I'm sure he'll be glad to know that even after his death he's still helping people. They are dependent on my father, we are not dependent on them."
As a result of the Lata-Rafi rift, Suman Kalyanpur teamed with Rafi for several duets. But when the two legendary singers patched up, Suman Kalyanpur faded into the background once again.
Kohli remembers the S.D. Burman concert that reunited the two estranged singers. Recalling that evening, he says, "Nargis was the compere for the show. First she called on them to sing solos. When they buried the hatchet to sin, Dil pukare together from Jewel Thief, there was a standing ovation. There was jubilation in the entire film industry that day,"
To an extent, the Rafi-lata divide did have negative repercussions. Laxmikont admits that when it came to making a choice between the two, they would opt for Lata Mangeshkar, "Since she'd got us breaks in the beginning of our careers, our loyalties were naturally with her," he admits.
In the same breath, the music director assigns the credit for their first Film Fare Award to Mohammed Rafi. "We were competing with Raj Kapoor's Sangam. We wouldn't have won the award for Dosti but for Rofisaab. When we first tuned the lyrics, we had a female singer in mind. When we were informed that Rafisaab would be singinq the songs we were alarmed.
"We were too raw, we didn't know that a slight change in lyrics could make it into a male song. We were on the verge of scrapping the song. But Rafisaab reacted so positively to Chahunga main tujhe at the rehearsal that we were not only altered but floored."
Laxmikant reveals that Rafi would get a bit upset when other singers were given more importance. "if we didn't care him for a recording for two weeks at a stretch," the composer rewinds. "We'd get the rough treatment from his brother-in-law-cum-confidante, Zahir. Zahir, would take a tough stand and tell us that Rafi had no spare dates. Then within ten minutes, Rafi would be on the line to say that he'd be able to make adjustments for us even though he had four other songs to record that day.
"Once Rafi recorded six songs in a day for us-two for Anjaam, one for Maa Aur Mamta, two for Man Ki Ankhen and one for Pyasi Shyam. Imagine, he could memorise six songs in a day! And he could do this at live recordings and not through the easy dubbing method that's on today. If any singer claims that he has recorded 25-30 songs in a day, he's talking nonsense. There's only one singer in India who can even attempt that and that's S.P.Balasubramaniam, not anyone else."
Mohammed Rafi passed away 18 years ago but his songs are alive. Several clones have aspired to model themselves after him, in vain. It seems just like yesterday that the kilometre-long crowd followed the truck carrying his body to its final resting place. Surely, every film music lover would like to hum that memorable Rafi number, Abhi no jaao chhod kar ke dil abhi bhara nahin ...