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Monday, 28 November 2016

A Posthumous Insult To India’s Soulful Voice – Mohammad Rafi

A SNFS Feature on special arrangement courtesy - Ravi Menon, music research head of Mathrubhumi group

Chal ud jaa re panchi
Ke ab yeh
Desh huaa begaanaa

Fly away, winged angel,
This land is yours no more

Celebrities’ receiving bouquets and brickbats when alive or posthumously is an everyday occurrence. Eternal crooner Mohamed Rafi – considered the soulful voice of the nation fared no different. 

Karan Johar, one of Bollywood’s richest and best connected movie-moguls “insulted” the memory of the legendary singer. A dialogue from the October 2o16 release, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil apparently ridicules Rafi. The dialogue has Anushka Sharma telling a character played by Ranbir Kapoor, “Mohd. Rafi gaate nahi rotey thhey” [Rafi didn’t sing, he cried].

Having authored over 10 books on entertainment side’s aural waves, Ravi Menon, Head of Mathrubhumi Music Research tried to find out whether Johar had any justification for the diatribe against Rafi.

The year was 1958.

Silent sadness hung heavily in the Bombay recording studio’s console. Rafi was lending his voice to Shailendra’s lyrics and Salil Chowdhury’s tune for the classic Madhumati – starring Bollywood tragedian Dilip Kumar a.k.a. Mohammad Yusuf Khan and those days’ southern siren Vyjayantimala.

Broken dreams have taught us 
Visible realities cause 
Hearts’ achievements’ losses

Paying close attention were the above personalities and also the famous director – Bimal Roy and recordist Badri Nath Sharma.

Rafi emerged from the voice room of the recording studio and noticed the sad expressions on the faces of those who were meant to approve the song.

“Should I do one more take? Your faces are depicting disapprovingly sad expressions,” he said.

“We are sad, alright, Rafi Saab. You sang so emotionally that the song took us to the brink of tears,” Shailendra said.

Rafi smiled disarmingly.

“Probably, the lyrics’ plaintive numbers and the tune’s inherent sadness helped me render it this way,” he whispered. All singers speak in very low voices – saving their vocal chords’ strain for the microphone.

None of those present could have imagined that the song would be hummed for decades.

The ironical twist followed an hour later.

Salil Chowdhury had composed the tune for another song in the same movie – a comedy piece featuring teetotaller funster Johnny Walker doing a drunken scene on screen.

None noticed the peacock dancing in the forest
But the world noticed my having quaffed a small drink!

“We wouldn’t mind recording this song another day, Rafi Saab. After the heavily emotional stuff a little while ago, you may find it difficult to do a light-hearted number,” offered Sharma.

Rafi had none of it. 

He rendered the song in a single take.

“It is part of my job. We are part of the film industry that needs to survive. I am contributing only in a small way, as a professional. Every singer must be prepared to switch styles and emotions to suit the song-situation,” Rafi informed the awe-struck movie-bigwigs and walked away.

“I had seen a hundred per cent true professional that day,” recordist Sharma commented later.

That was an era of mono-recording done on tape, in the linear method.

The modern day methods of ‘punching-in’ special lines, ‘cut-paste’ tricks etc were unheard of in the fifties. For that matter, none even dared to splice and edit the audio tape, which was technically possible at that time. Reason: half a second’s missed beat could ruin a song.

Released in 1958, Madhumati won that year’s national award for best Hindi feature film, completed a silver jubilee, and succeeded in helping Roy haul himself out of financial holes created by earlier tear-jerkers. It was India’s second Oscar entry and went on to bag 6 Filmfare Awards.

Karan was born in 1972 – 14 years later to Yash Johar. Johar senior’s film career started in right earnest in 1963 when he was made production manager of veteran actor Sunil Dutt’s classics Mujhe jeene do [let me live] and Yeh raaste hain pyar ke [these are paths of love].

Rafi sang “Ab koyee Gulshan na ujde ab watan azaad hai” for Mujhe jeene do – played on every Independence Day in many parts of India. The lyrics mean, “From now on no Eden shall be ruined as the nation is free!”

A couple of years later, Yash joined evergreen star Devanand’s production company Navketan to assist in the making of all time classics Guide and Jewel Thief, Prem Pujari [love worshipper] and Hare Rama Hare Krishna. While Guide had 3 songs by Rafi, Jewel Thief had one number by the singer.

Yash launched his own outfit Dharma Productions in 1979. The first movie was Dostana [friendship] starring Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Pran and Zeenat Aman.

It is a cruel irony life that Rafi was “insulted”, as never before, in the recent film 2016 Diwali release  – “Ae dil hei mushkil” [life is difficult, dear heart] made by Karan Johar starring Anushka Sharma, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor.

The dialogues of ADHM were penned by Niranjan Iyengar – a Tamil speaking Brahmin born in Anand, Gujarat.

While the movie had its fair share of controversies due to its Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, it received tepid reception at the Box Office.

Cutting across language and geographical barriers, the controversial lines mouthed by Anushka Sharma in ADHM– Rafi gaate nahin rotey thhey [Rafi did not sing, he wept] raised the hackles of Indian music lovers throughout the nation.

Music director and singer Bappi Lahiri told a radio station in faraway Calicut thus: “How can one remain quiet if one’s father’s reputation is besmirched?”

Lahiri was justified in saying so, for Rafi is indeed considered the father of modern-day playback singing in India.

Rafi’s record speaks for itself.

He sang several thousand songs in multiple languages – viz. Hindi, Assamese, Konkani, Bhojpuri, Odia, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Sindhi, Kannada, Gujarati, Telugu, Magadhi, Maithili, Urdu, English, Farsi, Arabic, Sinhalese, Creole, and Dutch, says Wikipedia.

Naturally, Rafi’s son Shahid was enraged.

Rafi’s son, Shahid said, “This dialogue doesn’t take the movie forward or backwards and if that is the case, what was the need to include this dialogue? And while writing this dialogue, didn’t they realise who they were talking about? Mohammed Rafi is a versatile legendary singer and I am not saying this just because he is my father. Even after 36 years of his passing away, my father’s fan following is far more than many other singers of our industry. My father was an institution. He was a very down-to-earth person. He was like a saint. People still worship him. Nobody in the industry says anything bad about my father. This dialogue is an insult. It is stupid. The man who wrote this dialogue is stupid. My father sang for Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Joy Mukherjee and Biswajeet. From love songs to qawwali, he has sung it all. It is ridiculous to say whatever has been said in the film,” Shahid told the Indian Express. 

Sonu Nigam, a currently popular singer took umbrage.

“Rafi is the king of singers. Using frivolous words for someone of his stature is unacceptable and offensive,” Nigam was quoted as saying.

Incidentally, it is amusing that the ADHM title was borrowed from a six decade old super hit Rafi number from CID (1956) picturised on Johnny Walker.

“O heart, life is difficult in Bombay, manoeuvre a little and take care, for this is that kind of city,” it is English meaning.

The song was tuned by OP Nayyar and penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri [the pen name means wounded soul of Sultanpur].

Rafi was eloquent in every emotional aspect of songs sung for the screen – pathos, romance, devotion, comedy, anger, you name it.

Here are a few links of his songs - that provide insights of the singer’s versatility and range:

May be the spirit of Rafi, sitting in a far off land, would be humming this song from the 1957 classic from AVM studious – “Bhabi.”

Fly away, winged angel,
This land is yours no more

Appending the opening lines of lyrics from a song in the film Dostana [friendship] – one of the first movies made by Yash Johar would prove to be the supreme ironical icing on the cake to round off this tale about the behaviour of Karan Johar and the tasteless remark on the great singer Rafi.

O friend, what an ironical incident this is
I hear that you have become an ingrate


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  1. Dear Sir,

    It is indeed a pity to note that such an uncalled for comment was reserved for the immortal voice of Rafi Saheb. Could not Karan Johar ensured that the actress Anushka sharma used a worthwhile dialogue than nahi gathethe rothethe". What an uncharitable comment for the genius, who had, from Classical to Ghazal, had everything in his stride. Even Lata Mangeskar said that nobody possessed his octave capacity and even today, we can claim that he was the only singer in those days, who possessed the all-round capability. Once he told Lakshmikant of Lakshmikant-Pyarelal duo that he could sing for any music. His repertoire and voice quality was exemplary. The immensely talented singer could sing both sad and happy songs with immaculate ease. He was the most sought after singer in 1950s and 1960s, except for Raj Kapoor. Even in 1970s, though it was Kishore Kumar era initially, he could make up in mid-1970s with hits like Sargam, Amar Akbar Antony, Dharam Veer, Laila Majnu, Hum Kisese kam nahin' and what not. He got received the All India award for the song 'Kya hua thera wada' for Pancham's Hum Kise se kam nahin. Even Pandit Nehru cried after hearing 'Suno Papoo ki amar kahani' and can we forget unforgettable songs like 'Suhani raat dalchuki, 'Eh duniya ko rakwale, mere mehbood, madhubanki radhika nache. Even Lata wanted to sing that song that emanated from the protruded neck of Dilip Kumar. We can go on with Rafi Saheb. Once Tamil Vanan, the late editor of Kalkandu Tamil weekly wrote, "I do not take tablets when I suffer from headache. I only listen to the silken voice of Mohammed Rafi'. Raju Bhartan, a renowne movie and sports critic, acclaimed him as "Banian Tree'. There is no end to such acclolades. We do not need appreciation from Karan Johar and Anuska Sharma,as even the Central Government did not bother to confer him with Bharat Ratna award posthmusly. Many singers will come and many will go, but Rafi Saheb will remain etched in our memory forever with songs like 'Kyonmiliye aise logon se' and 'eh boj agar dil se uthr jayatho accha' and ending with 'Itni na dukh na bano' for irrelevant comments from good for nothing people, who do not know abcd of Rafi Saheb's virtue.

    Thanks and regards,

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