Did Rafi at all face any competition in the golden age of bollywood films?
Whenever the golden age of Indian films are revisited, one of the most notable personalities, Mohammad Rafi, comes into our mind automatically. Much had been written about the maestro and yet not everything has been written. If Rafi had sung around 26,000 songs within a span of 35 years, then the obvious question hovers in the mind of music lovers is that did Rafi at all face any competition during the golden age.
Before answering the question, the other singing personalities should be referred, among female singers Lata Mangeshkar, Samshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle, Suman Kalyanpur, Sudha Malhotra, were the dominating figures, while Manna Dey, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor, were the male singers contributing to playback singing in Indian films. Mukesh mainly contributed to films of Raj Kapoor and Manoj Kumar, although he had sung hit songs for Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt, specially when they were composed by Shankar Jaikishan or Salil Chowdhury. Talat Mehmood was mainly associated with Dilip Kumar, Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar were associated with Dev Anand, Manna Dey was associated with Raj Kapoor, Mahendra Kapoor contributed to Manoj Kumar’s films and BR Chopra’s films.
In respect of female singers Shamshad Begum faded away in the 60s and Geeta Dutt, after the death of Guru Dutt, did not make major contribution to Indian films. Asha Bhosle initially was associated with compositions of OP Nayyar and Ravi, but sang under most of the big banners from the 70s. That leaves us with the nightingale of India that is Lata Mangeshkar. If Rafi had faced true competition from any singer then it was Lata all the way. The statistics of around 440 duets being sung by Rafi and Lata, provides the picture that the film industry was equally dependant on Lata Mangeshkar as they were dependant on Mohammad Rafi.
Very significantly those composers who were obsessed about Rafi, the same composers had liking for Lata. Shankar Jaikishan had provided immortal duet songs for Rafi and Lata and Asha like “itna hai tujhse pyar mujhe”, “ kaise samjhayun bari nasamajh ho” in the film Suraj, in 1966. Naushad’s composition “do sitaron ka zamee par hai milan aaj ki raat” for Rafi and Lata, in the film Kohinoor, in 1960, bolsters his liking towards both the singers. Roshan had experimented with the title song in Barsaat ki raat, in 1960, with both Rafi and Lata. He also asked Rafi and Lata to sing the song “dil jo na keh saka” in the film Bheegi Raat, in 1965, separately at different times in the same film. Laxmikant Pyarellal had composed the duet song of Rafi and Lata titled “woh jab yaad aye bahut yaad aye” from the film Parasmani, in 1963.
Besides Kalyanji Anandji, composed the song “akele hai chale ayo” for both Rafi and Lata who had sung it at different times in the film Raaz in 1968. Besides if Madan Mohan had tremendous liking for Rafi with songs like “tum jo mil gaye ho”, “tumhari zulfoke saye me sham karlunga”, he had equal love for Lata with songs like “tu jaha jaha chalega”, “zarahsi aahat hoti hai”, etc. Besides he composed the same song “teri aankho ke siva duniya me rakha kya hai” for both Rafi and Lata in the film Chirag, 1968. Ghulam Mohammad had provided immortal duet for Rafi and Lata titled “chalo dildar chalo” in the film Pakiza in 1971.
Excepting mid-70s, when Kishore Kumar had sung for leading actors like Amitabh Bachhan, Vinod Mehra, etc., Rafi never faced any competition from any male contemporary singers. Even in that age, Rafi was preferred by those composers like Madan Mohan, Naushad, who had classical affiliation and never compromised with class. Manna Dey faced Rafi in musical competitions with his versatile classical orientation in songs like “yeh isq isq”, from the film Barsaat ki raat, composed by Roshan. The debate relating to Rafi’s competitors can go on, and some of the music lovers highlight the song in Amar Akbar Anthony, in 1977, “humko tumse ho gaya hai pyar”, where Rafi sung for Rishi Kapoor, Kishore Kumar for Amitabh Bacchan and Mukesh sung for Vinod Khanna, to emphasis the fact of equal popularity of Mukesh and Kishore Kumar with Rafi. But if the interviews of leading composers, lyricists, producers and directors are studied, there is no second opinion that Rafi was given separate consideration and given added honour without disrespecting any of the other singers who also had made significant contribution to the world of playback singing in bollywood films.
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