Mohammed Rafi was a musician with a soul: Son, biographer

July 31st, 2011 - 12:01 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 31 (IANS) The badshah of Bollywood playback singing, Mohammed Rafi, who gave Indian cinema 40 golden years of haunting melodies, was one of the few survivors in the industry who lived through its hard glitter with his soul in place, says his son and biographer Shahid Rafi.

Shahid, who is penning a book about his father with writer Sujata Dev, says he wants to explore the human side of his father.

“The book goes much beyond a conventional biography. It explores Mohammed Rafi the persona behind the musician, besides his musical legacy,” Shahid Rafi told IANS.

“My father was a family man who did not socialise. He spent time with his family after work. He was very soft-spoken, down-to-earth, kind and charitable. He was a great father,” he said.

The book, which is a tribute to Rafi on his 31st death anniversary, will be published by Om Books International in December.

“My father gave everything to the industry because as a human being, he was very different. He had a compassionate soul. It was difficult to be in the industry. As an impartial observer of the movie music, I think there cannot be another Rafi in the world. We are going to talk about my father as a human being and as a man in the book,” he added.

Rafi Jr. was in the capital with co-author Sujata Dev to promote the book and rally support for a music institution in memory of his father, the Mohammed Rafi Academy.

Shahid set up the academy last year to teach Indian classical and contemporary music to youngsters and groom talent, mostly from the economically marginalised groups, who wanted to make music their livelihood, he said.

Shahid, who is hunting for talent to groom in his music academy, said he was looking for young musicians of promise from poor families who could not afford professional training.

“They don’t have to pay. I will teach them everything — from music to how to handle a
microphone and body language on stage,” Shahid said.

Co-author of the biography Sujata Dev, who is also supporting Shahid in his mission to promote budding talent, said “the biography would be interview-based”.

“We have avoided the internet completely. There are several biographies about Rafi’s music. We met several people associated with the musician, like Shammi Kapoor, Usha Khanna, composer Pyarelal, Rishi Kapoor and even his instrumentalists to recreate Rafi’s persona. It will be a little more than a biography spanning his whole life between 1930 to 1980,” Dev said.

“He began his career as a playback at a time when Bollywood was in transition from the silent era to the talkies,” Dev told IANS.

Recalling an anecdote, Dev said in course of her interviews she chanced upon the wife of one of the musician’s old associates, who “emptied her jewellery box to Rafi and told him to build a music academy”.

“Rafi returned the jewels to her with a token gift of Rs.1. His percussionist remembers him as a ‘farishta’ (angel), not a musician,” Dev said.

Born on Dec 24, 1924, in Punjab, Mohammed Rafi began singing by chanting the notes that a “fakir” (Muslim saint) sung in his village. The family later moved to Lahore.

Rafi trained under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pundit Jiwanlal Matto and Firoze Nizami. He sang with K.L. Saigal at a concert for the first time at the age of 13. It opened the stage for Rafi.

The musician was awarded the Padma Shri in 1967. He died of a heart attack in Mumbai July 31, 1981, at the age of 56.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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