Remembering Rafi on his 35th death anniversary
It is Mohammed Rafi’s 35th death anniversary today and The Wire’s editors have selected 10 great songs from his vast repertoire. It is a difficult task and opens us to questioning about exclusions, but we decided to show the master in different moods. He could mould his voice to suit any actor and any situation, from seduction to rousing patriotism. Instead of picking from his better known songs, this playlist contains some long forgotten gems.
Rafi could do soft romance and exuberant declarations of love. He could be direct or subtle, shy or super-confident. Here’s one in which he woos from afar. Even though Rafi sang regularly for Shammi Kapoor, this one is atypical, since the actor was not his usual energetic and high-spirited self. Usha Khanna, in her very first film, composed many hit numbers but this is perhaps her best.
No dearth of songs in this category. Swaying on the streets, slurring his words, the drunk hero has been a regular on Hindi film screens and Rafi has given voice to many of them. More often than not, the tone is maudlin, but this one is different – Dev Anand is a happy drunk. The over two minute opening without any instrumentation is unique in Hindi films and Rafi carries it off with great aplomb, showing, once and for all, what a great singer he was.
The Hindi film industry goes into patriotic mood every now and then. Songs about love for the motherland often tend to be loud and melodramatic, but here, Kaifi Azmi did not go the obvious route. Instead, he gave voice to the dying soldier, who, having done his duty, is passing on the baton to others.
Rafi was a great favourite with Johnny Walker, who, during his heyday, usually got a song sequence in his films. Guru Dutt always found a role for Johnny Walker and in Pyaasa, he played a street smart champiwalla (masseur). Sahir’s words, S D Burman’s music and Rafi’s voice – a song for the ages
Rock and roll
The 1960s saw a burst of western-inspired rock and roll songs, often shot in a party, club or picnic setting. Naturally, as the leading male singer of the decade, Rafi was out there, belting it out, as the younger crowd twisted and jived away. This is just one of his songs, but with its worldwide fame, it would be a shame not to include it. The music directors, Shankar Jaikishen, were the undisputed masters of this genre. On screen, the song was mimed by the great choreographer Herman Benjamin
It seems unfair to include so many Dev Anand songs, but Rafi gave voice to some of his best numbers. In this superb song from Guide, the hero’s deep sadness comes through. He is alone, while his lady love tries to sleep upstairs. The distance between the two seems small, but yet is unbridgeable
Thinking about one’s love and dreaming of how it will be when they meet—Rafi has done it in many films, right from Suhani sham dhal chuki. But this relatively lesser known song scores over the others, for the sweetly plaintive way he sang it.
Rafi sang many devotional songs. He was as home at bhajans as he was at naats. It is not easy to pick one out of a long list, but this song from Baiju Bawra has a sublime quality that puts it above the ordinary devotional.
Dev Anand played the flaneur in many films. He loved singing on the move. Here, however, he is not a footloose vagabond but an army officer, fully aware that anything can happen at any minute. When life is so fragile, why worry about tomorrow? This optimistic spirit guides this marvelous song.
Even in the 1970s, Rafi was sounding as youthful as ever, singing for young actors who were not born when he began his career in the 1940s. Here, the on screen hero is reminding the girl before him that she had once loved him; what happened to all those promises they had made? R D Burman’s pop vibe enhances the charm of this evergreen song.