Dec 24, 1924 - Jul 31, 1980

Indian Cinema Legends: Mohammed Rafi - The Golden Voice


An insight into the life and career of the legendary playback singer. This exhibit brings together glimpses from the family archives in collaboration with his daughter-in-law Yasmin Khalid Rafi.                                                     

Mohammed Rafi was one of the most popular playback singers of Hindi cinema. In a career that spanned over four decades and thousands of melodies, Rafi lent his voice to a range of actors, music directors and genres.

He brought radical change to the Hindi film music industry by introducing the concept of singing to one and a half “saptaks” (scales) rather than the usual one saptak.

With a plethora of awards and accolades including six Filmfare awards, a National Film Award and being honoured with the Padma Shri (third highest civilian award) by the Government of India in 1967, Rafi remained a very humble and a modest man. Despite his God-gifted voice, he was a man of few words.

Rafi’s singing career was not limited to the recording studio. He spent much of his time touring around the world and performed in live concerts at over 30 venues across the globe.

The seventh of eight children, Mohammed Rafi was born on 24th December 1924 to parents Haji Mohammed Ali (father) and Allahrakhi (mother) in a small village by the name of Kotla Sultan Singh, Punjab, India.

Rafi grew up in a very orthodox household where music and singing was frowned upon. Despite this, he took a very keen interest in singing and would often imitate the chants of a local fakir who would roam the streets of Rafi’s hometown, Lahore.

However, Rafi’s talent was first recognised on a grander scale in 1937, at the age of thirteen, where he unexpectedly performed at the Pan-India Exhibition due to a power failure. Here, he was heard by renowned singer K.L. Segal who predicted that Rafi would one day become a big singer.

On 8th February 1941, a seventeen year old Rafi completed recording on his first playback duet with Zeenat Begum for the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (released 1944) in Lahore under the direction of composer, Shyam Sundar. One didn't think the shy young boy would rise to the very pinnacle of the Hindi film industry and become one of the biggest names in the Indian sub-continent – Mohammed Rafi.

Music director Naushad Ali popularly known as Naushad, was one of Hindi cinema's foremost music directors known for using Hindustani classical music in films. Mohammed Rafi and Naushad had a long-standing association. The making of the great duo came into existence when Rafi went to meet the accomplished music director at Karder studios. After auditioning for him, Naushad gave him the opportunity to sing in the chorus for the film Phele Aap (1944).

Mohammed Rafi with music director Jaikishan, lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri and actor Shashi Kapoor during a music recording

Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar sang some of the most popular melodies of Hindi cinema together.

During Rafi's extended stay in London whilst visiting family, Kishore Kumar visited Mohammed Rafi at his son's house in Windsor. Although both legendary singers were working in an extremely competitive film industry they had mutual respect for one another. This popular song from Chupke Chupke (1975) was a testimony of their camaraderie.

The Family Man 

Mohammed Rafi married wife, Bilquis, in Bombay in 1944. He had seven children (four sons and three daughters). With twelve grandchildren during his lifetime and a further five born after his passing, Rafi loved to spend quality time at home with the family. Whether it was a game of carrom, flying a kite or a round of badminton, he always ensured he made time for his loved ones when not in the studio or touring.

Mohammed Rafi photographed with three of his four sons Khalid, Saeed and Hamid during a visit to London.

A typical Sunday in Rafi Villa: his son, Khalid, demonstrating the new TV to his father.

Mohammed Rafi with his grandchildren.

Mohammed Rafi in a family photograph with his wife (Bilquis), son (Khalid), daughter-in-law (Yasmin) and granddaughters Shabana and Farhana

Mohammed Rafi with his daughter-in-law, Yasmin Khalid Rafi.

Mohammed Rafi celebrating his son Khalid's birthday. Rafi had a soft spot for home-made sponge cake.

The Everlasting Voice

In 1946, Rafi was given the opportunity to sing for music director Feroz Nizami in the movie Jugnu starring Noorjehan and Dilip Kumar. The duet song Yahan badla wafaa ka bewafaai ke siva kyaa hai became a superhit even before the movie was released.

After the release of this song, his popularity soared as he continued to scale new heights and charm music lovers all over the world with his majestic voice.

Music directors across the industry were lining up to sign Rafi for their next film. Between 1942 and 1980, Rafi was given the opportunity to sing for most music directors, ranging from the legendary Shyam Sunder and Naushad Ali right up to those of recent generations such as Ravindra Jain, Anu Mallik, Bappi Lahiri and Rajesh Roshan.

He became the voice of almost every screen hero, supporting actor, character actor in Hindi cinema.

Despite reaching the pinnacle of his career, Rafi remained humble about his success.

He reached out with his voice to millions of fans during his world tours which included locations like United States, UK, South America, Canada, Africa, West Indies, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Malaysia, Fiji Islands, New Zealand and Netherlands.

Nearly four decades on since his demise, Rafi’s voice still resonates throughout households around the world. The legacy of a man who took the music industry by storm still lives on in the hearts of millions.

From the personal collection of Yasmin Khaild Rafi
Credits: Story

Photographs courtesy and rights: Yasmin Khalid Rafi's personal collection.

Text & Curation - Yasmin Khalid Rafi

Special Thanks to Raashid Rafi grandson of Mohammed Rafi

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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