This post commemorates the birth anniversaries of two stalwarts – Mohammed Rafi (December 24) and Naushad (December 25) – each a great artist in his own right while being an important part of the other’s career. Mohammed Rafi dominated the music charts in the 1950s and 1960s, singing for all the leading music directors and actors of the time and making the careers of the new ones. It was Naushad who have him his first big break in “Mela” (1948) and shaped and nurtured his voice to it full potential. Naushad is counted as one of the most influential music directors in Hindi films who defined the sound of Hindi film music in the 1950s. He is credited with drawing classical music into Hindi films. It was using Rafi’s voice in “Baiju Bawra” (1952), that Naushad brought classical music into the mainstream.
Here are my top 10 picks of this legendary duo.
After debuting in a Punjabi film “Gul Baloch” (1944), Rafi got his first break in Hindi films for music director Shyam Sunder’s “Gaon Ki Gori”. However, “Gaon Ki Gori” was released only in 1945. His first Hindi film release was for Naushad’s “Pehle Aap” (1944). A few collaborations including a Rafi cameo in a Saigal song followed before Rafi got his first hit – the title song of “Mela” (1948). Rafi’s voice was unlike any other and he had the conviction to stay true to it. Unlike his peers, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar, Rafi refused to adopt K.L. Saigal’s singing style despite being a big fan.
Despite the success of “Yeh Zindagi Ke Mele”, Naushad continued to be tentative about Rafi, using him sparingly. With each song, Rafi got better at his art and his stature as a singer grew. If there was one song that signaled Rafi’s transformation from raw talent to leading playback singer, it was “Suhaani Raat Dhal Chuki” from “Dulari”. Even today, this Raag Pahadi song retains its appeal and sounds as fresh as it must have in 1949.
Naushad himself was experimenting with his music and was yet to find the sound that came to define him. It is from this period that one can find songs that sound nothing like what we have come to expect a Naushad song to sound like. One of my favorites of such songs is “Taara Ri Yaara Ri” from “Dastan” (1949). This waltzy Rafi-Suraiya duet is utterly charming and Raj Kapoor and Suraiya cavorting onscreen is a sight for sore eyes.
In “Baiju Bawra”, Naushad found the perfect subject for using a base of classical music for his songs. Ustad Amir Khan became the voice of Tansen and Rafi, the voice of Bharat Bhushan’s Baiju Bawra, except for “Aaj Gawat Man Mero” where the two face-off. Another esteemed classical singer D.V. Paluskar was brought in to make the loss of Ustad Amir Khan’s Tansen palatable, even credible!. In the six songs Rafi sang, he demonstrated impressive range across scales and genres. My favorite Rafi song from the film is the lovely Raag Maulkauns based bhajan “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj”. The spectacular success of the film and its music proved skeptics wrong and ushered in a wave of films seeped in classical music.
With several successes under his belt, Rafi became the most sought playback singer of the Hindi film industry. All the stars of the time wanted him to be their voice. This adulation never went to his head and he remained a genial and humble being. It did make him a more self-assured singer. Even in a relatively mellow song like “Maan Mera Ehsaan Arey Naadan”, the vitality of his voice is discernible.
One might wonder why seven years separate this pick from the previous one. The answer lies in the rate at which Naushad signed films. He was considerably less profilic than his peers. In these seven years, Naushad worked in just five films – less than a film per year. He was very picky about the films he worked on and when he did work, he took his time recording songs. Which brings us to “Kohinoor” (1960) and my pick from it – “Madhuban Mein Radhika Naache Re”. For this brilliant Raag Hameer based song, Rafi does a fantastic job that includes a well-executed tarana. The icing in the cake is Ustad Amir Khan’s rapid-fire taan (unfortunately portrayed on Mukri’s onscreen antics) and an energetic sitar solo by Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan wrapping up the song. If we could determine the greatness per note of Hindi films songs and rank them, “Madhuban Mein Radhika” would appear very near the top.
With new music directors gaining foothold and changing trends in film music, the 1960s saw a decline in Naushad’s career. His music tended to be heard in films in which one of his close associates was involved – Dilip Kumar and Mehboob Khan. Additionally, a new partnership with the rising star, Rajendra “Jubilee” Kumar, emerged. Unfortunately for Naushad, even huge hits like “Mere Mehboob” didn’t do much for his career. This was a travesty because its musical score was evidence of how much more Naushad had to offer. Keeping with the film’s “Muslim social” theme, the film was replete with ghazals and qawwalis. With three superb solos, Rafi demonstrated the towering form he was in. My pick from the film is “Mere Meboob Tujhe Meri Mohabbat Ki Kasam” with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma on the santoor.
While Rafi’s songs for other music directors grew louder and, to put it mildly, more exuberant, he always had sweet melodies to sing for Naushad. “Leader” might have had Naushad working with Sahir Ludhianvi for the first time but an ego clash of the two veterans resulted in Sahir’s exit and the entry of Naushad’s staple lyricist, Shakeel Badayuni. My pick, “Tere Husn Ki Kya Tareef Karoon”, is a melodious song enhanced by an elegant Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala onscreen.
The 1960s also saw a decline in Dilip Kumar’s career. Film after film made little impact on the box-office. “Dil Diya Dard Liya” was another such film. That the film had some very good music did nothing to salvage Naushad’s declining reputation as a saleable music director.
By the late 1960s, the writing was on the wall for both Dilip Kumar – despite a comeback of sorts with “Ram Aur Shyam” (1967) – and Naushad. They continued to work in a limited capacity but their releases in 1968, “Sunghursh” and “Aadmi” were there last together. Even Rafi had started sounding a little laboured, as in the most popular song of “Aadmi”, “Aaj Purani Raahon Se”. His position as Bollywood’s leading male playback singer was about to be usurped by Kishore Kumar with the release of “Aradhana” the next year. He recorded a handful of songs with Naushad in the 1970s before his untimely death in 1980. My pick from “Aadmi” is the lesser heard Rafi duet with Mahendra Kapoor “Kaisi Haseen Aaj Baharon Ki Raat Hai”. The original recording of the song had Rafi singing with Talat Mahmood. Talat’s replacement with Mahendra Kapoor was an indication of the changing times.
A longer list of the Naushad and Rafi’s best collaborations can be found here.
[This post originally appeared here.]