A man called Pheeko …

Today July 31, is the 33rd death anniversary of Padmashree Mohammad Rafi. Rafisaab is, in my opinion, the finest playback singer our country has produced.

We were devastated when we got the news on the morning of August 1, 1980. It was the first day of my 2nd year BPharm, and my classmate came in rushing to tell us that Rafi had died of a massive heart attack the previous night. I didn’t attend classes that day, and sat instead in the canteen all day long, crooning Rafi’s songs.

Thirty six years later, I still find it hard to believe that Rafi is gone. Indeed, his fan following seems to growing as the years pass by. I am constantly surprised at the number of youngsters who find Rafi more interesting than modern-day specimens (like that Himesh fellow…there ought to be a law banning him from singing in public.)

Rafi first sang on stage at the age of 13, at a concert in Lahore. KL Saigal was supposed to sing at that event, but the story goes that he refused since he was unhappy with the sound system. Rafi was hurriedly asked to sing instead, without the sound system, and received a standing ovation.

There are innumerable unknown facts about this great son of India.

Did you know that Rafi was an actor? He appeared on screen in two movies, Laila Majnu and Jalwa, in 1945-46. He was also a chorus singer in Naushad’s orchestra. In 1948, Rafi sang a non-movie song after Gandhi’s assassination, as a tribute to the Mahatma. He received a special medal from Nehru for this song, “Suno suno ae duniyawallo, Bapuji ki amar kahaani.”

When Nehru died, Rafi sang a deeply moving tribute for him as well, in the movie Naunihaal. The song, “Meri awaaz suno, pyaar ka raag suno.” was picturised on Nehru’s funeral procession.

Rafi modelled his singing style after GM Durrani, the first male playback singer in India, and a famous singer during the 40’s and 50’s.

It is generally believed that Mohammad Rafi introduced yodelling to Indian films, although Kishore Kumar fans may not agree. Whatever be the case, Rafi yodelled in many songs in the 1950’s. In fact, Rafi sang playback for Kishore Kumar several times. Two shining examples are, “Ajab hai dastaan teri ae zindagee”, from the film Shararat (1958) and “Man mora baawra”, from Ragini (1957). Kishore himself admitted that he could not have rendered these difficult songs as well as Rafi did.

Throughout his singing career, Rafi practised for four hours every day. He was a strict teetotaller and non-smoker. It is said that he never attended any filmi parties in his life, except for award ceremonies. Rafi won so many awards in his life, and after his death, that listing them here is simply not possible.

Mohammad Rafi sang in almost every major Indian language. He also recorded songs in English, Persian, Spanish, Dutch and Creole.

By the way, Rafi’s childhood nickname was Pheeko.

Rafi’s powerful rendition, “O duniya ke rakhwale”, from Baiju Bawra (1952) remains unmatched by any other playback singer in India. Very few people know that Rafi’s daughter died the day before he was supposed to record the song. Rafi turned up at the studio on the dot, and gave the best performance of his career as he poured his grief into the song. Naushad pushed Rafi to his vocal limits for this particular song, so much so, that Rafi lost his voice after the recording and was unable to sing for several days after. ‘O duniya ke…’ became a legend by itself, after a condemned man asked for this song to be played as his last earthly wish, before being hanged.

No wonder then, that during Mohammad Rafis’s only live performance on Bombay Doordarshan in 1979, Naushad had this to say, “Sangeet ki duniya ko jis par naaz hai, Mohammad Rafi ki woh awaaz hai.”

Enjoy this rare song from Agra Road (1957), with Rafi yodelling merrily!

Cheers … Srini.


6 thoughts on “A man called Pheeko …

  1. thanks for more information about our beloved rafi saab he is not only a great singer but a good person also. Allah unhein zannat-e-firdaus mein sakoon ata farmaye AAMEEN
    Unke liye satchi shradhanjali yehi hai ki “JEEWAN BHAR UNKI YAAD MEIN HUM GAYE JAYENGE “

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very nice article but one thing I would like to make you clear that Kishore da first started yodelling in movie Kaneez(1948), He was inspired by James rogers . Duniya Mein Ameeron Ko Aaram Nahin Milta ‘ (Kaneez -1949)…his first yodelling was in the film ‘ Muqaddar ‘ whose songs were recorded in late 1948 and released in 1950…


  3. Very well written shrini. What you have written about him is hardly anybody would be aware of. Your love for music and great singers shows.


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