There is an inexplicable serenity I feel at the very first sound of Rafi Saab’s voice.   His voice calms my mind and soothes my soul as nothing else can.  It is as if God himself lent his voice to Rafi Saab to deliver the message of love and peace to this world and gave him a personality to match.  A man who performs his actions without any attachment to the fruits of his deeds is spiritually evolved.  He is free of greed, anger and egotism.  For me, that person is the singing genius, worthy of praise, admiration and worship, Mohammed Rafi Saab.

Hai bas-ki har ek un ke ishāre meiñ nishāñ aur

Karte haiñ mohabbat to guzartā hai gumāñ aur

FILM:  Mirza Ghalib

YEAR:  1954

LYRICS: Mirza Ghalib

MUSIC:  Ghulam Mohammed

SINGER:  Mohammed Rafi


Here is greatest voice of the 20th century singing the verses of the greatest poet of the 18th century!  A wandering fakir who visited the hometown of Rafi Saab was his inspiration to pursue a singing career just like this unknown actor, a fakir, who is singing the praises of Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib.

Rafi Saab’s exemplary lifestyle and work ethics have made him a legend among peers and patrons alike.  He who never touched a drop of alcohol, who never told a lie, who never had a harsh word for anyone, who gave of his wealth silently and who worshipped his work, remains forever an inspiration and role model for singers and listeners.  He was a gentleman, a Yug Purush, whose magical singing voice could portray a myriad of emotions.  Rafi Saab’s voice had every possible emotion – the masoomiyat of childhood, the shararat of youth, the khanak of romance, the jhanak of playfulness, the chamak of hope, the kasak of pain, the ibaadat of true love, the taaqat of patriotism, the mehak of a prayer, and so much more..

Jai Raghunandan, Jai Siyaram
FILM:  Gharana
YEAR:  1961
MUSIC:  Ravi
LYRICS:  Shakeel Badayuni

SINGERS:  Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle


When Rafi Saab sang in the name of the Lord, his shraddha transformed the song into an aradhana and a prarthana…  The spiritual quality in his voice sends us into a trance.  In his private life, Rafi Saab was a pious, God-fearing and compassionate man.  The same quality of sincere worship spilled on to his professional life.

One aspect of Rafi Saab’s singing that has always fascinated me is the fact that he has sung melodious songs for many actors whose names and faces we have forgotten or barely remember, or it may be just the one song that actor is remembered by.  Rafi Saab was a Master Singer who gave his voice to the biggest and most famous heroes of the Hindi Film Industry and then lent his voice with the same dedication to small time, vague and obscure actors.  No matter which actor was on screen, whether he was big or small, well known or hardly known, every song that flowed from his lips had the same Rafi Quality of delivery, which was nothing less than the best.!!

Abhi toh raat baaki hai

FILM:  Bandish
YEAR:  1969
MUSIC:  Usha Khanna

LYRICS:  Akmal Hyderabadi

SINGER:  Mohammed Rafi


The actor in this song is wrestler, actor Dara Singh’s son from his first marriage, Parduman.  Usha Khanna, the only lady music director to have a long successful innings in the male-dominated Hindi Film Industry, was a music director to reckon with during the 1960s.  She has also sung a few duets with Rafi Saab, notably, Phir Aane Lagaa Yaad Wohi Pyaar Ka Aalam and Dost Banke Aaye Ho Dost Banke Hee Rehna.

Rafi Saab always gave his 100% to each and every song he sang and he did this naturally and unconsciously.  His unwavering belief that his voice was a God-given gift kept him true to his singing, irrespective of the scene, actor, lyrics, music director, producer, director etc.  Be it any music director, well known or less known, Rafi Saab’s voice belonged as much to the celebrated as it did to the rejected.   Humble to the core, he was completely at ease singing for struggling actors and upcoming music directors, ready to be a student even after reaching the peak of popularity.

Unke khayal aaye toh aate chale gaye

FILM:  Lal Patthar
YEAR:  1971
LYRICS:  Hasrat Jaipuri

MUSIC:  Shankar Jaikishan

SINGER:  Mohammed Rafi


This melodious, classical song was picturised on an actor who was an accomplished singer himself, G.M. Durrani.  He was Rafi Saab’s idol and Rafi Saab imitated G.M. Durrani in the initial days.   In fact, Rafi Saab recorded his first song for Gaon Ki Gori ‘Aji dil ho kaboo mein’ with G.M. Durrani.  Lataji was inspired by Noorjehan, Ashaji  by Geeta Dutt, Mukesh Saab and Kishoreda by K L Saigal, and our own Rafi Saab was inspired by G.M. Durrani. 

Rafi Saab had been through a lot of struggle for almost six years before being recognised for his worth and he retained the values of compassion that his struggle taught him.  Rafi Saab extended this kindness to sing for any new MD.  He was a principled man of simple nature.  It is well-known fact that he never even asked what he was going to be paid for a song, sometimes even declined to accept payment for particular compositions that impressed him, going as far as to even return the money if he felt the producer had overpaid him!  He never indulged in self-promotion and never got involved in the politics of the industry.

Hai kali kali ke lab par tere husn ka fasana

FILM:  Lala Rukh
YEAR:  1958
LYRICS:  Kaifi Azmi
MUSIC:  Khayyam

SINGER:  Mohammed Rafi


This catchy song composed in Arabian/Turkish style, sung with an endearing earnestness and exuberance by Rafi Saab, continues to charm listeners even today.  The orchestration, combining fast and slow rhythms with different pieces of orchestra used by music director, Khayyam, for the interludes, makes it a lilting melody.  Supposedly, using Rafi Saab’s voice for Talat Mehmood in this song was contemplated (one can see Talat Saab looking through the gap in the wall) but the song ended up getting picturised on a character actor.

Rafi Saab never gave anyone a cause for a sore feeling or thought.  The permanent charming smile on his face reflected the purity of his heart and his affable nature.  The more fame and recognition his work gave him, the more humble he remained.  The ability of his voice to touch the listener’s innermost feelings reflected the virtuosity of his ideals.  He was so simple and unassuming that his songs became reflections of his innate goodness. That place where Rafi Saab stands and stands with dignity is simply unreachable.  The Ego never touched him.

Tum ek baar mohabbat ka imthihaan toh lo

FILM:  Babar
YEAR: 1960
LYRICS:  Sahir Ludhianvi
MUSIC:  Roshan

SINGER:  Mohammed Rafi


This soothing ghazal is written by my favourite lyricist and composed by my favourite composer.   Azra, the heroine, is obviously in a mesmerising daze listening to the voice crooning to her.  Suffice to say, it hardly mattered who the actor was.  Only the singer is worthy of devotion and admiration!   

An icon to the world, Rafi Saab’s singing career is resplendent with several tales of his quiet generosity.   He helped many poor families in financial difficulty, doing this without any show of charity.  Whenever he was extra busy, Rafi Saab would ask the producer to give the song to another singer.  He would endear himself to any person who came in contact with him even for a short while.  It is therefore no surprise that Rafi Saab commanded respect among his peers for his commitment, compatibility and conscientiousness.

Te ki main jhoot bolayan

FILM:  Jaagte Raho
YEAR:  1956
LYRICS:  Prem Dhawan
MUSIC:  Salil Chowdhury

SINGERS:  Mohammed Rafi, Balbir


In this song you get a sense of how Rafi Saab has enjoyed himself singing in his own mother tongue and one can easily fathom his love and his kinship with the song.  Let us appreciate the uniqueness of this song evergreen song picturised on an unknown actor (a plump Sikh driver) a Rafi Saab song in a Raj Kapoor movie, and music scored by maestro, Salil Chowdhury with lyrics by Prem Dhawan that zone in on a reality that rings true to this day!

Rafi Saab is a towering reference point when it comes to judging good singing and dedication to music.  Few can reach the pinnacles of fame and glory that Rafi Saab attained, but fewer still could have combined it with such benignity and generosity that he demonstrated.  We all have a Rafi Saab in us somewhere.  As singers and listeners we worship him and bring his goodness alive whenever we listen to his songs or sing them.  To top it all, Mohammed Rafi Saab will always be a shining example of pure, refined, unblemished character and unmatched singing qualities and, although, I can never truly present any tribute that is worthy of him, let me simply just aspire to be a little like him each day that I live.


Bina Krishna