Mohammed Rafi, whose voice brought to life hundreds of melodies, Mohammed Rafi was born in a village Kotla Sultan Singh near Amritsar long before India attained its independence. But music training beckoned him to Lahore where he cut his musical teeth under the hawk-like eye of Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan. He made his singing debut in the Punjabi film Gul baloch by rendering a duet with Zeenat Begum, ‘Soniye Ni Heeriye Ni’ composed by Shyamsunder.
Wadia Movietone was a prominent film company and it was Homi Wadia who saw the talent in Mohammed Rafi and insisted that he sing for his forthcoming film Sharbati Ankhen under the Music directorship of Feroz Nizami. The voice of Mohammed Rafi encompassed a tremendous range, which is unparalleled. The peculiar trait that separates a playback singer from a classical vocalist is not the range or ability as a singer but the voice quality. With Mohammed Rafi it was the ultimate combination that helped him reign supreme in the field of playback singing. His voice quality combined with his unsurpassed range made him stand apart from his contemporaries.
His voice suited any genre of music be it a moving ghazal like Aap Ke Pehloo Main Aakar Ro Diye, a plaintive bhajan like O Duniya Ke Rakhawale, or a wild and whacky Shanker-Jaikishan composition like Chahe Koi Mujhe Jungle Kahe. Mohammed Rafi added his delectable nuances to the melody and made it immortal. His voice had this unique feature of screen adaptability and when it merged with his intelligence as a singer it helped him to tailor his voice across an array of faces that remain entrenched in our memory books. Comedian Johnny Walker had a voice that was queerly rounded. Mohammed Rafi’s take on him was phenomenal in songs like Sar Jo Tera Chakraye under S D Burman in Pyasa and Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yaha from CID. Mohammed Rafi managed to sound exactly like Johnny Walker would if he sang the song himself. Rafi summoned Johnny Walker a day or two prior to the song picturization and then contributed his bit to add to the character Johnny Walker played on screen.
Honestly speaking it would not be in any way an overstatement to say that heroes like Biswajit (Pukarta chala hoon main), Bharat Bhushan (Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhoolegi Woh Barsaat Ki Raat), Joy Mukherjee (Bade Miyan Deewane) are remembered more for the songs that were picturised on them with Rafi lending his golden voice to their average acting abilities.
Mohammed Rafi was known for his altruistic behavior, which was exhibited on several occasions. He has been known to charge just a token amount as his fees for singing songs of Music Directors who could not afford his regular charges. Many a times Mohammed Rafi has sung songs without charging a single penny to the Music Directors. A case in point is the film Aap ke Deewane with which actor Rakesh Roshan began his phase as a Producer-Director. Rafi sang the title song of the film but did not charge any money because he felt that he liked the song a lot and after all it was only a line, which he had to render. Very few singers were known to be so good at heart. This innate goodness in him came to the fore when he sang most of his songs.
In his glorious career Mohammed Rafi won the coveted Filmfare Award of best playback singer no less than six times. He was also decorated with the Padmashri by the Government of India. With the advent of Kishore Kumar as a major singing sensation Rafi sahab’s career received a slight jolt in the late 60s and the early 70s but he bounced back with verve in films like Sargam, Karz, Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, Poonam and his last song under the baton of Laxmikant-Pyarelal for the film Aas Paas. He succumbed to the dreaded heart-attack on the 31st of July 1980 -ironically the man was a teetotaler and a non- smoker. He was in his mid fifties.