MOHAMMAD RAFI’S DOMINATION IN FILM SINGING AND THE PARTITION OF INDIA By the middle of 1947, Mohamad Rafi had become a household name in Hindi speaking North India . His flexible, sweet and velvety voice suited most young actors including the brilliant rising star Dilip Kumar. Most of the finest music directors, spearheaded by the duo of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, were showing interest in grooming his raw talent further into the art of film playback singing. In his ancestral province of Punjab , the communal divide was on the rise. In March of 1947 some five hundred Sikhs and some Hindus were gruesomely murdered in Rawalpindi area, which was not too far away from his ancestral home in Amritsar district and his recent professional home Lahore . Even during those days such gruesome news was difficult to hide. Those ugly news slowly trickled into his new home city of Bombay . Mohammad Rafi had seen excellent communal relations in his ancestral village in rural Amritsar , this barbaric news came as an unbelievable shock to this God fearing and sensitive young-man. By August the matters had taken a turn for the worst in his home province. Entire Lahore division had exploded into communal frenzy of the worst kind. There were massacres of Sikhs and Hindus in Gujjranwala, Sheikhupura, Nankana Sahib, Sialkot , Lahore and Kasur. Soon afterwards, the Sikh frenzy erupted in Amritsar , Gurdaspur and Ferozepore. There was complete anarchy on both sides of the Radcliffe line and all districts of Punjab were engulfed in bitter communal riots. Sardul Kwatra - Amarjit Chandans collection- Date unknown Renowned film producer Roop K. Shori and music director Vinod had arrived in Indian Punjab bereft of all their belongings from Lahore soon after the outbreak of communal riots. On arrival in Bombay , they were narrating many heart rending stories of cold blooded tyranny. The Shoris had not only lost their film studio in Lahore , they lost all their wealth and property. Vinod came to Amritsar in a penniless condition. Vinod had become a good friend of Mohammad Rafi. In a futile attempt to see the return of better days in Lahore , another music director Sardul Singh Kwatra had spent some days after partition in Lahore . He narrated to Mohamad Rafi some first hand accounts of uncontrolled massacres in Lahore and its vicinity. Sardul was very fair-minded in his description of the communal riots. He had seen tyranny on both sides of the communal divide. He narrated “Things were extremely bad in Gujjranwala, Sheikupura, Sialkot and Lahore , but the retribution seen in Amritsar was a lot more horrifying”. Sardul Kwatra, knew Mohammad Rafi since his days in Lahore . Later on Sardul became a collection agent and business representative of Mohammad Rafi. Mohammad Rafi had all along been a God fearing and righteous gentleman. He always bowed before the will of the most benevolent “Khuda”. At every available opportunity, he lent his sweet silken voice to every song composed for fostering communal harmony and brotherhood amongst the Hindus, Sikhs and the Muslims in all parts of India . Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram had composed several tunes for the lyrics penned to depict the horrors of the partition and the resultant bloodbath. One such song was “Is dil ke tukde hazaaar huye, koi yahan gira koi wahan gira, behte huye aansoo ruk na sake koi yahan gira koi wahan gira”. The literal meaning of this is that a heart was broken into thousands of pieces and the pieces were scattered all over the place, some here and some there. A truly hurt Mohammad Rafi gave his emotion filled voice to this song. This song became an instant hit on both sides of the border. The sad assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was also caused as a result of the bitterness generated between the Hindus and Muslims. Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram composed an emotional tune for a song describing the life story of Mahatma Gandhi. The wording was “Suno suno aye duniya walo baapu ki yeh amar kahani”. This song also became very popular in Northern India . From early 1948 Pandit Husnalal decided to groom two young voices for the film industry. Mohammad Rafi was his choice among the male singers and Lahore born actress singer Suraiya was his choice as a female singer. Pandit Husnalal used to call Mohammad Rafi, sometimes as early as at 4am , to his home along with his Tanpura. He used to give lessons in different “Raagas” and asked him to rehearse those “Raagas” in “Khayal” format. This basic training in classical music continued for several years and it went on to make Mohammad Rafi a high-class versatile singer. It was difficult for a young beautiful lady like Suraiya to come to a music director’s place at odd hours to learn the basics of music. So Suraiya unfortunately did not learn classical music, but she was very persevering on light music and she always rehearsed her assignments in the studios to perfection. . By late 1948 Lata Mangeshkar came in contact with Pandit Husnalal. She was a very versatile singer. Her grasp and learning ability of classical music was very quick. Pandit Husnalal discovered that training of Lata Mangeshkar could be a lot more rewarding. So he slowly started preferring Lata Mangeshkar over a more emotional and sorrow filled voice of Suraiya. As far as the male artists were concerned, Mohammad Rafi has always been Pandit Huisnalal’s first preference. A lot of times, on the specific recommendations of the top lyricists of the day, Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram gave the best “Ghazals” to Talat Mahmood to render in his unmatched linguistic sophistication. Most of the “Ghazals” sung by Talat Mahmood also became very popular. Mohammad Rafi never entertained any jealousies with any singer whatsoever. He invariably admired Mukesh, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood and Hemant Kumar for the uniqueness of their voices. Music Director Vinod Mother language is a great bond that binds human-beings. This was more true In the case of Mohammad Rafi. His first ever film song was composed by a Punjabi music director Shyam Sunder and his first nationwide film hit was composed by another Punjabi music director Feroze Nizami. Since 1948, in Bombay , his voice was initially used by Punjabi music directors such as Master Ghulam Haider, Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, Vinod, Shyam Sunder, Allah Rakha Quraishi, Hans Raj Behl, S. Mohinder and Sardul Kwatra. After his songs became hits regularly, most other music directors including Naushad also started patronizing him. Master Ghulam Haider’s brilliant tune composed for film “Shaheed”, rendered by Mohammad Rafi for the patriotic song “Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujwan shaheed ho”, which became the signature tune for the movie, became overnight a nationwide hit. Even now on India ’s national days such as the independence- day and the republic day, this particular song is proudly played by All India Radio. Maverick music director Shyam Sunder’s tunes rendered by Mohammad Rafi for film “Bazaar” (1949) including a duet with Lata Mangeshkar entitled “Apni nazar se door voh, unki nazar se door hum, tum hi batao kya Karen, majboor tum majboor hum” caught the imagination of entire Hindi knowing India. Allah Rakha Qureishi used Mohammad Rafi’s and Surinder Kaurs’s voices in film “Sabak” with a fairly good response from the public. Vinod’s music for his 1949 film “Ek thi ladki” was a super-hit. Most of its songs were rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, but the Lata Rafi duet “Khamosh nigahein” reserved a proud place on the popularity charts. Hans Raj Behl’s song “Jugg wala mela yaaro thohri der daa, hassdiyan raat langhe pata nahin saver da” rendered by Mohammad Rafi for his Punjabi block-buster film “Lachhi” (1949) had appeal which transcended the boundaries of Punjab . On popular demand the same tune was used later on for a Hindi song too. Mohammad Rafi’s Punjabi duet with Lata Mangeshkar entitled “Kaali kanghi naal kale waal payi vaahuniyan, aa mil dhol janiyan” for film “Lachhi” also created waves among the lovers of Punjabi music in Northern India . Sardul Singh Kwatra composed soul inspiring music for a humorous Punjabi film “Posti”. Its music was recorded in 1949, but the film was released in 1950. One of its masterpiece duet songs rendered by Mohammad Rafi with debutant playback singer Asha Bhonsle entitled “Too peengh te mein parchhawan, tere naal hulare khawan, laalay dosti”, achieved a lot of popularity in Punjabi knowing India. Mohammad Rafi’s utmost devotion to his profession and hard work under the music direction of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram paid great dividends and he became India ’s leading duet singer in the company of Lata Mangeshkar. Some of his pre-1950 duets with Lata Mangeshkar are acclaimed as some of the finest in the history of film singing. I shall mention two of these. One was “Khushi kaa zamaaana gaya rone se ab kaam hai, pyaar jiskaa naam tha judayi uska naam hai” recorded for film “Chhoti Bhabi”, based on an old Punjabi folk tune, was the personal favourite of music director Sardul Kwatra. Sardul even used this tune for one of his later songs in Punjabi. Another Husnalal Bhagatram masterpiece duet was “Paas aake huye hum door, yehi tha qismat kaa dastoor” recorded for film “Meena Bazaar”, it became Mohammad Rafi’s favourite song. This film did not do too well in the cinema halls, but its music became the proud possession of the most discriminating collectors of music including Allahdad Khan of Peshawar . After 1950 most of the great music directors of India considered Mohammad Rafi a force in film music. When Naushad composed his masterly tunes for films like “Dulari” (1949) and “Deedar” (1951), Mohammad Rafi became the star that no one could afford to ignore. Film “Deedar” song entitled “Huye hum jin ke liye barbad” became an all time hit. Later on his high pitched numbers sung for films “Amar” and “Baiju Bawra” put him up at a very high pedestal. Mohammad Rafi was honest to the core, never greedy and success did not make him arrogant. When, after initial setbacks, O.P. Nayyar, as a music director, attained a place of prominence in the film world in 1953, Mohammad Rafi became his first choice as a male singer and the duets sung by Mohammad Rafi with Asha Bhansale as well as with Shamshad Begum became extraordinarily popular. Mohammad Rafi never charged a penny from music director Sardul Singh Kwatra for any song rendered on Sardul’s music. He did the same favour for several years to most of the music directors, who migrated from what is now Pakistan . He also helped a fellow Amritsari singer Mohinder Kapoor in becoming a playback singer. In his religious life Mohammad Rafi was always a true five-time “Namazi” and a strict “Momen”. But in his professional life he has been a liberal secularist. He visited the “Gurdwaras” like a Sikh used to during his younger days. Even while living in Bombay he visited the “Gurdwaras” on special festive occasions and during the visits to Bombay of iconic Sikh “Raagis” like Bhai Santa Singh ji and Bhai Samund Singh ji. He missed no opportunity to visit Bombay ’s famous annual Baisakhi Mela. Throughout his singing career Mohammad Rafi sang several memorable “Naats”, but he lent his voice equally well to extremely soulful “Bhajans” (on the tunes composed by icons like Naushad) and some melodious “Shabads” (on the tunes mostly composed by music director S. Mohinder). What Mohammad Rafi did and achieved after 1952-53 has been recorded by several other historians and writers on film music and I shall not dwell on that period. My desire was to unfold his impressionist younger years and the years of his grim struggle to reach the pinnacle of success. My head will always bow in admiration before Mohammad Rafi the Great. May his soul, rest in piece for ever in his heavenly abode. Such pious individuals are rarely born on this earth.
Posted on: Wed, 13 Nov 2013 10:44:57 +0000

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