Mohammed Rafi – Golden Voice of the Silver Screen by Sujata Dev
Who does not love the voice of Mohammed Rafi? For last few generations, every emotion had a melody in the voice of Mohammed Rafi. Our notions of romance may not have been the same without the music that we grew up with. And that more often than not had the voice of this great singer. So, when his authorized biography came, there was no reason for not picking it up. There was an urge to know the man behind that golden voice. There was a curiosity to know his journey to superstardom.
The book begins well as the author travels to Rafi’s village in Punjab. He manages to speak to some people who grew up with him. It was nice to learn about his inclination to sing with the wandering Fakeers. And how he first got attracted to singing. His initial simple life that really had no ambition and probably no big aspiration. Then the playback singing was not such a big career option. Though he still travels to Mumbai with his assistant for life to try his luck. Now the author has not really emphasized on this – but he did make a sincere effort to establish himself as a singer in Mumbai. Traveling all the way to Lucknow to get a recommendation note to get your first break was not a small effort in those days of limited connectivity.
Throughout the book, he comes across as a simple, large-hearted human being. He put his singing before everything and money, though he earned in abundance was never the key criteria. It seems he also liked to promote new talent as many music directors and singers give him credit for giving their first break or sometimes lending his voice to their work without really charging any fee. I guess this happens only when an artist is extremely secure in his career and becomes an umbrella under which the new artists can grow. Another interesting fact mentioned about him is taking a rock star avatar during his live shows quite contrary to his simpleton image otherwise.
There is not much that you learn about his personal life beyond the basics. Like you never know what happened to his first wife once Rafi moved to Mumbai. There is no mention of divorce. He was married and had kids at a very young age and how did he connect with his family is only mentioned as small quotes from his surviving family members. You gather he loved food, especially Punjabi food but you hardly learn anything else about him. His portrayal as a human being has many gaps though I understand there may be a lack of resources to create the complete sketch of him.
Even in his professional career authors brings out few incidents like Rafi-Lata rift for few years. But you never get to the crux of the issue. She brings out the camaraderie with Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey but misses out on the relationship with say Asha Bhosle with whom he sang the maximum number of duets. And who is thankfully alive to talk about the relationship. She just touched the Guinness record controversy and leaves it there.
The author has, I assume, used excel sheet in writing this book. It seems the author created a spreadsheet with all the author’s songs and added the columns of music directors, actors, co singers, lyricists etc. And then gave you the analytics of all this. Do I really want to know how many songs he did with each of the heroes or music directors? I found it very distracting that there were too many numbers and too less contextual stories. Almost everyone she spoke to had the exact same words for Rafi. That sounds like too much of clichéd statements that we give for people we do not really know too well. There are quite a few living legends who could have given an in-depth insight into the Rafi – the man.
Nonetheless, it is good to know something about the man whose voice continues to accompany us in our joys and sorrows. A voice that continues to surround us even after it left this world many years ago.
If you are a Mohammed Rafi fan, you cannot resist picking up this book.