Mohammed Rafi born on December 24, 1924 – July 31, 1980 was an Indian playback singer. He has sung in many Indian languages like Hindi, Merathi and Telugu, but he is chiefly remembered for his songs from Hindi cinema . His songs are widely popular in the Indian subcontinent.
Mohammed Rafi was born at Kotla Sultan Singh (or Kotla Sultanpur), a town near
Amritsar in undivided Punjab. His father was Hajji Ali Mohammad, and he had five
older brothers. Rafi, whose pet name was Pheeko, started singing by imitating
chants of a fakir in his village. In 1935-36, Rafi's father shifted to
Lahore, and the rest of the family followed later. Rafi's family managed a men's
salon in Lahore's Noor Mohalla. His elder brother-in-law Mohammed Hameed was
aware of Rafi's love for music and encouraged it. Rafi learnt Hindustani
classical music from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit
Jiwanlal Matto and Firoze Nizami.
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. Hameed went up to the organizer to ask whether his
brother-in-law could sing to keep the audience quiet. That was Rafi's first
public performance, at the age of 13.
Rafi was noted by the composer Shyam Sunder, who gave him a chance to sing a
duet Soniye nee, Heeriye nee with Zeenat Begum, in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch
in 1942 (the film was released in 1944). Rafi was also invited by the Lahore
radio station to be a permanent singer with them.
Initial days in Bombay
In 1944, Rafi decided to move to Bombay (now Mumbai). He was introduced to some
leading film producers such as Abdul Rashid Kardar, Mehboob Khan and
actor-director Nazeer by Tanvir Naqvi.He contacted the famous music director
Naushad with a letter of recommendation from someone. Initially, Naushad used
Rafi as part of a chorus. Rafi's first song with Naushad was Hindustan ke hum
hain with Shyam Kumar, Alauddin and others, from A. R. Kardar's Pehle Aap
(1944). Around the same time, Rafi recorded another song for the film Gaon ki
Gori (1944) for the composer Shyam Sunder, Aji dil ho kaaboo mein with G. M.
Durrani and chorus. He considered this song as his first Hindi language song.
In 1945, Rafi got married to his cousin Bashira, nicknamed "Majhi", in his
In 1945, Rafi also appeared on the screen for the song "Tera Jalwa Jis Ne Dekha"
in the film Laila Majnu.He sang a number of songs for Naushad as part of a
chorus, including "Mere sapnon ki rani, Roohi Roohi" with K. L. Saigal from the
film Shahjahan (1946). Rafi was first noted for the song Tera Khilona Toota
Balak from Mehboob Khan's Anmol Ghadi (1946). His duet with Noor Jehan in the
film Jugnu 1947, Yahan Badla Wafa Ka became a hit song.
In 1948, Rafi was also noted for the song Suno Suno Aye Duniya Walon Bapuji Ki
Amar Kahani, written by Rajendra Krishan. He was invited by the Indian Prime
Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to sing at the latter's house. In 1948, Rafi
received a silver medal from Nehru on the Indian Independence Day. In 1949, Rafi
was given solo songs by music directors such as Naushad (Chandni Raat, Dillagi
and Dulari), Shyam Sunder (Bazaar) and Husnalal Bhagatram (Meena Bazaar).
Rise to fame
Rafi established himself as the number one playback singer in Bollywood with the
songs of Baiju Bawra (1952).The songs from Baiju Bawra, O duniya ke rakhwale
and Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj established Rafi's credentials. The
newly-started radio program Binaca Geetmala also played the songs, leading to an
increase in their popularity. It is said that Talat Mahmood used to be Naushad's
favorite singer. Once Naushad found Talat smoking during a recording. Annoyed,
he hired Rafi to sing for Baiju Bawra. Rafi was a devout Muslim refrained from
smoking and drinking alcohol. Later, Naushad started using Rafi as the male
voice in almost every song composed by him. Rafi sang a total of 149 songs (81
of them solo) for Naushad.
In 1950s and 1960s, Rafi became the favorite singer of other composers too,
notably O. P. Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan and Sachin Dev Burman. S D Burman
patronized Rafi as the singing voice of Dev Anand in 1950s and 1960s. Rafi's
notable songs with S. D. Burman included songs from the movies Tere Ghar ke
Saamne (1957), Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Guide (1965), Aradhana
(1969) and Abhimaan (1973). O P Nayyar was so impressed with Rafi that he got
Rafi to sing a song Man mora baawara for singer-actor Kishore Kumar, in the
movie Raagini. Rafi sang for Kishore Kumar in many other movies such as Baaghi,
Shehzaada and Shararat. O. P. Nayyar used Rafi and Asha Bhosle for most of
his songs. The team created many hit songs in early 1950s and 1960s for movies
such as Naya Daur (1957), Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) and Kashmir Ki Kali (1964).
Rafi sang a total of 197 numbers (56 solo) for O P Nayyar. The team of
Shankar Jaikishan and Rafi is noted for the songs picturized on Rajendra Kumar.
Rafi sang a total of 341 numbers (216 solo) for Shankar-Jaikishan.
Rafi got his first Filmfare Award for the title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand
(1960), composed by Ravi. He got his first National Award for the song Babul Ki
Duaen Leti Ja from the film Neel Kamal (1968), also composed by Ravi. Ravi and
Rafi produced several other hit songs, in the films such as China Town (1962),
Kaajal (1965), and Do Badan (1966). Madan Mohan was another composer whose
favorite singer was Rafi. Rafi's first solo with Madan Mohan in Ankhen (1950)
"Hum ishq mein barbad hain barbad rahenge" was a great hit.They teamed up to
produce many hit songs including Teri Aankhon ke Siva, Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil and
Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho. The composer duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal ("L-P") also patronized
Rafi as one of their leading singers since their first released film, Parasmani
(1963). Both Rafi and L-P won the Filmfare Awards for the song Chahoonga main
tujhe saanjh savere from Dosti. Rafi sang a total of 369 numbers (186 solo) for
LP. Rafi sang for many lesser-known composers as well. Once, when a minor
composer, Nisar Bazmi (who migrated to Pakistan in early 1960s), did not have
enough money to pay him, Rafi charged a fee of one rupee and sang for him.
In the 1960s, Rafi was not on good terms with Lata Mangeshkar, the most
sought-after female playback singer in Bollywood, over royalty issues. Lata
wanted Rafi to back her in demanding a half-share from the five percent song
royalty that the film's producer conceded to select composers.But Rafi took
a diametrically opposite view, and believed that a playback singer's claim on
the filmmaker ended with the payment of agreed fee for the song. During the
recording of Tasveer Teri Dil Mein (Maya, 1961), Lata lost her cool with Rafi in
a certain passage of the song. Rafi felt belittled, as music director Salil
Chowdhury sided with Lata.The situation worsened when Lata Mangeshkar
declared that she would no longer sing with Rafi. Rafi stated that he was only
so keen to sing with Lata as she was with him. Later, at the insistence of
S.D.Burman, the two decided to make up and sing duets, but on a personal level,
they were not on good terms.
Between 1950 and 1970, Rafi was the most sought after singer in Bollywood, some
say, at the expense of the careers of contemporaries like Manna Dey, Talat
Mahmood, and Hemant Kumar.In 1965, he was honoured by the Government of
India with the Padma Sri award.
Rafi recorded two hindi songs in English on 7" release in 1968
He also sang a song in Creole language, while his visit to Mauritius in the late
Rafi recorded two english albums. One of them is "Pop Hits". "Yodelling" is
generally associated with kishore kumar. But Rafi used yodelling in some of old
songs like "Hello sweety seventeen" with Asha Bhoshle, "O Chale ho kaha","Dilke
Aine main", "Unse Rippy Tippy Ho gayee" with Geeta Dutt.
Kishore Kumar overshadowed Rafi as the most sought-after singer in Bollywood in
1970s, starting with the film Aradhana (1969).The music for Aradhana
was composed by S. D. Burman, and he had used Rafi as the male playback voice
for the first two recorded duets, Baaghon Mein Bahaar Hai and Gunguna Rahen Hain
Bhanwre.After these two recordings, S D Burman fell ill and his son and
assistant, R D Burman, took over the recordings. R D Burman got Kishore Kumar to
sing the solos Roop Tera Mastana and Mere Sapnon Ki Rani, which led to Kishore
Kumar's popularity. Kishore Kumar's rise and R D Burman's patronage to him
sidelined Rafi's career in early 1970s. Some also say that Rafi was advised
against singing at the Hajj Pilgrimage, so he deliberately spent the next few
months away from the recording studios by living in London.
From 1970-1976, Rafi's output was less, but he sang several hit songs during
this period. Some of his hit songs in early 1970s were with music directors
like L-P, Madan Mohan, R. D. Burman and S. D. Burman. Some of Rafi's popular
songs from this period include Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil from Heer Ranjha (1970),
Chura Liya Hain Tumne from Yaadon Ki Baarat, Yeh Jo Chilman Hain and Itna to
Yaad Hain Mujhe from Mehboob Ki Mehndi, Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho from Hanste Zakhm
(1973), Gulabi Aankhen from The Train, Aaj Mausam bada Beimaan hai from Loafer
(1973), and Jhilmil Sitaron ka from Jeevan Mrityu (1974).
Rafi made a comeback as a leading playback singer in mid-1970s. In 1974, he won
the Film World magazine Best Singer Award for the song Teree Galiyon Mein Na
Rakhenge Qadam Aaj Ke Baad (Hawas) composed by Usha Khanna.In 1977, he won
both Filmfare Award and the National Award for the song Kya Hua Tera Wada from
the movie Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin, composed by R. D. Burman. Rafi did playback
for Rishi Kapoor in films like Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Sargam (1979) and Karz
(1980). The qawwali Pardah Hai Pardah from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) was a
superhit. Rafi gave many other hit songs in late 1970s, notably for the films
Laila Majnu (1976), Apnapan (1978), Qurbani, Dostana (1980) and The Burning
On Thursday, July 31, 1980 after composing the song Shaam phir kyun udaas hai
dost for the movie Aas Paas with Laxmikant-Pyarelal (L-P), Rafi asked if he
could leave for home. L-P were surprised because Rafi would be the last person
to leave the recording session.While leaving, Rafi said once again "OK. I
will leave." Rafi died at 10.50 p.m. on the same day due to a massive heart
attack. His funeral procession was one of the largest Mumbai ever witnessed.
Shammi Kapoor rushed back from abroad to attend his funeral in Mumbai. Later,
the Padma Shri Mohammed Rafi Chowk in the Bandra suburb of Mumbai was named
In his last years, Rafi was involved in controversy over Lata Mangeshkar's entry
in the Guinness Book of World Records. In a letter dated June 11, 1977 to the
Guinness Book of World Records, Rafi had challenged the claim that Lata
Mangeshkar has recorded the maximum number of songs ("not less than 25,000"
according to Guinness). After receiving a rather escapist reply from Guinness,
in a letter dated November 20, 1979, he wrote: "I am disappointed that my
request for a reassessment vis-a-vis Ms Mangeshkar's reported world record has
gone unheeded.". After Rafi's death, in its 1984 edition, the Guinness Book
of Word Records stated Lata Mangeshkar's name for the "Most Recordings" but also
stated: "Mohammad Rafi (d 1 Aug 1980) [sic] claimed to have recorded 28,000
songs in 11 Indian languages between 1944 and April 1980.". Many fans of
Rafi state that he has sung over 28,000 songs. However, according to the
available figures, Rafi has sung 4,516 Hindi film songs, 112 non-Hindi film
songs, and 328 private (non-film) songs from 1945 to 1980. The Guinness Book
entries for both Rafi and Lata were later removed in 1991.
Rafi's song from the film Gumnaam (1966), Jaan Pehechaan Ho, was used on the
soundtrack of Ghost World (2001). The film opens with the lead character dancing
around in her bedroom to a video of Gumnaam. Several of Rafi's unreleased
songs will be used for an upcoming film titled Sorry Madam.
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra will be releasing a CD entitled "Rafi
Resurrected" in July 2007 comprising symphonic renditions of 18 songs by Rafi.
Sonu Nigam will provide the vocals for this project.
One of Rafi's son, Ibrahim Rafi, is a playback singer in Pakistan.
In 1948, Rafi received a silver medal from the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal
Nehru, on the first anniversary of the Indian Independence Day.
Rafi won the Filmfare Best Male Playback Award six times:
1960 - Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho (Chaudhvin Ka Chand)
1961 - Teri Pyaari Pyaari Surat Ko (Sasural)
1964 - Chahunga Mein Tujhe (Dosti)
1966 - Baharon Phool Barasao (Suraj)
1968 - Dil Ke Jharoke Mein (Brahmachari)
1977 - Kya Hua Tera Vaada (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin)
He was also nominated for Filmfare Award several times:
1961 - Husnwale Tera Jawaab Nahin (Gharana)
1962 - Aye Gulbadan Aye Gulbadan Professor
1963 - Mere Mehboob Tujhe (Mere Mehboob)
1965 - Choo Lene Do Nazuk Hothon Ko (Kaajal)
1968 - Mein Gaaon Tum Sojaao (Brahmachari)
1968 - Babul Ki Duayein Leti Ja (Neel Kamal)
1969 - Badi Mastani Hai (Jeene Ki Raah)
1970 - Khilona Jaan Kar (Khilona)
1973 - Hum Ko To Jaan Se Pyaari (Naina)
1974 - Achha Hi Huva Dil Toot Gaya (Maa Behen Aur Biwi)
1977 - Pardah Hai Pardah (Amar Akbar Anthony)
1978 - Aadmi Musaafir Hai (Apnapan)
1979 - Chalo Re Doli Uthao Kahaar (Jani Dushman)
1980 - Mere Dost Kissa Yeh (Dostana)
1980 - Dard-e-dil Dard-e-jigar (Karz)
1980 - Maine Poocha Chand Se (Abdullah)
Rafi also won the National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer two times:
1968 Babul Ki Duayein Leti Ja (Film: Neel Kamal), composed by Ravi, lyrics by
1977 Kya Hua Tera Wada (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin), composed by RD Burman, lyrics
by Majrooh Sultanpuri.