Rafi Never Wanted to become a Playback Singer!!

It may sound bizarre, nay blasphemous, to the legions of fans of the great Muhammad Rafi whose 35th death anniversary falls on July 31. But it's a fact that he accidentally came into the world of playback singing and his first choice was to become a classical singer like his first ustad, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who always resented Rafi's entry into the infra-dig world of Hindi film music. 'Ye gaana-bajana maia'ar se khaarij logon ka kaam hai. Ismein zara bhi shaistagi nahin hai' (singing is meant for lowly people. It has no refinement), Bade Ghulam Ali Khan would often say without mincing words.

Even Firoz Nizami and Jawahar Lal Mattoo, who later trained Rafi in classical singing, felt in the same manner and never encouraged anyone, much less their favourite disciple Muhammad Rafi, to opt for film music. Rafi told film critic Bunny Reuben in 1963 that he badly needed money and singing for films got him that instant money. Somewhere Rafi knew that despite his amazing voice and god-gifted talent, his voice was not suitable for typical classical singing because he'd an orotund and was not blessed with a booming baritone like that of his master Bade Ghulam Ali Khan or Firoz Nizami. His Kashmiri pandit ustaad Jawahar Lal Mattoo wanted that his extraordinary protege (Rafi) should focus on ghazals (not filmi types) as ghazal falls in the semi-classical genre. But there also Rafi didn't have a husky voice like that of his Pakistani contemporary, the great Mehdi Hasan.
Rafi's tonal quality was matchless but voice quality was too good and soft for constantly high-pitched classical thumris, despite his immortal high-pitched renditions of O duniya ke rakhwale, sun dard bhare mere naale (Baiju-Bawra, 1952), and that haunting alapi 'chali aasssss' in the evergreen 'Muhabbat zinda rahti hai, muhabbat mar nahin sakti' (Changez Khan, 1956). Rafi had an extremely pliable voice but it was still not the very best in terms of mastery in classical music.

To a layman, his 'Madhuban mein Radhika naache re' (Kohinoor, 1960) was a quintessence of a perfect classical number, but to an expert, it was a humdrum effort by a magnificent singer. Rafi himself didn't like his rendition of ' Madhuban mein Radhika...' and admitted that the song left a lot to be desired. Being a very magnanimous man, he knew it very well that Manna Dey was a far superior classical singer than him. Moreover, he (Rafi) too wasn't very keen on singing for films because his bent of mind was very religious and singing is mildly prohibited in Islam except for hamd-o-sana (hymns and devotional songs). Thrice he thought of giving up singing for films (courtesy, Baburao Patel in Filmcity).

 In 1966, when he was at the meridian of his popularity as the one and only male voice in Bombay, he decided to leave and focus on singing naat and qawwali (forms of devotional Islamic music). A religious scholar from Pakistan advised him not to sing for films any more when he went for Haj. Thankfully, Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and Joy Mukherjee persuaded him back to singing for Hindi films. To a very perceptive listener with a solid base in music, the legendary Rafi somewhere wasted his stupendous musical gift for singing lowly Hindi songs. He deserved much more and he too was aware of that. 
                                                               ----Sumit Paul