Remembering Mohammad Rafi on his death anniversary July 31
Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar were two colossus whose comprehensive domination in the golden era of 1950’s and 60’s made them synonymous with playback singing. They were what is described in marketing jargon as the brand becoming the product. What better way than to write on their best ten duets to pay my tribute to Rafi on his death anniversary, July 31.
The criteria I have followed is not to have more than one duet from any composer. I have also not pre-selected the composers (except one or two towards the end). Rather I have selected my absolute favourite songs in order of priority, and then go down the list skipping repeat composers. So here is my best ten Rafi-Lata duets by ten different composers.
1. Ae mohabbat unse milne ka bahana ban gaya from Bazaar (1949), lyrics Qamar Jalabadi, music Shyam Sundar
1949 was a watershed year marking the change from the vintage era to the golden era with Shankar Jaikishan storming with his debut Barsaat, and Lata Mangeshkar creating a sensation with her everlasting songs with all the leading composers of the time (see Lata Mangeshkar versus Noorjehan). She at barely 20 and Rafi, barely 25 had been around for a couple of years, and not yet the dominant figures they would soon become. Shyam Sundar himself from the vintage era creating this masterpiece at the cusp of transition – this song is steeped in history, and I still find it of eternal quality, and very easily my top choice. It appears to be a stage song performed by Shyam and Nigar Sultana with a bicycle as a prop. While Nigar Sultana looks quite comely, Shyam looks unduly stiff; was it because they made him wear bandgalaa in hot summer in the auditorium which had no AC?
2. Bhigi palke utha meri jaan gham na kar from Do Gunde (1958), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Ghulam Mohammad
How do you describe a song which has such ethereal quality, which puts you in trance and transports you into another world? You do not care if it is picturised on Ajit and Jayshree Gadkar. Such songs make me very hesitant in using the pejorative term B-grade for these films. Ghulam Mohammad was one of the greatest composers, and several of his songs for Talat Mahmood, Suraiya and Shamshd Begum are of unparalleled beauty. Some more of his Rafi-Lata duets are absolute gems, such as Hum tum ye bahaar (Ambar) and Ankhiyan mila ke zara baat karo ji (Pardes). So you can imagine his class if he could create Bhigi palke utha towering over even these songs.
3. Sun mere sajanaa ho from Aansoo (1953), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi, music Husnlal Bhagatram
Again a duet in the same heavenly class. Husnlal Bhagatram were probably the first duo in film music. They were also mentors of Shankar Jaikishan. With such quality of music it is ironic that SJ’s rise in a way directly led to their downfall.
4. Bhula nahi dena jib hula nahi dena from Baradari (1955), lyrics Khumar Barabankvi, music Nashad
Wow, this is Ajit again, now with Geeta Bali! Let me tell you I was not aware before writing this that this was picturised on Ajit. Moreover, the music director is Nashad (not Naushad as some websites have erroneously attributed), so is this what we call a B-grade movie? The song is undoubtedly A-plus and for me this belongs to the category of eternal songs making automatic entry at number 4.
5. Tere bin soone nain hamaare from Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen (1963), lyrics Shailendra, music SD Burman
This duet again I would put in heavenly category and makes automatic entry at my number five. Ashok Kumar is a talented singer, but ugly looking and shunned by the world. Rafi pours the pain of this character in this plaintive melody. Beautiful Asha Parekh is involuntarily drawn towards this enchanting voice, and as she thinks she has come near it, she breaks into Lata Mangeshkar’s equally moving rendition of the last stanza.
6. Tu Ganga ki mauj main Jamuna ki dhara from Baiju Bawra (1952), lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Naushad
This is a landmark film in the career of Naushad when he finally settled on Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar as his lead singers, even after having great success with Mukesh (Mela, Anokhi Ada and Andaaz), Talat Mahmood (Babul) and Shamshad Begum (Mela, Dulari, Babul). The song itself has several landmarks to its credit. The first ever Filmfare award to a music director went to Naushad for this song (those days the award was for a specific song), and unbelievably this remained his only Filmfare trophy (even his Mughal-e-Azam lost to the ‘mighty’ Shankar Jaikishan’s Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayee). As Meena Kumari rows away her canoe alone, Bharat Bhushan comes into view. Rafi’s opening Akeli mat jaiyo Radhe Jamuna ke teer in slow tempo sounds like a caring person’s pleading to her not to venture alone to the bank of river Jamuna, and when you least expect, it breaks into Naushad’s beautiful orchestration, and this duet with a different mukhda. This is pure magic.
7. Teri ankhon mein pyar maine dekh liya from Chand Mere Aa Ja (1960), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Chitragupta
It would be a surprise if the great melody maker Chitragupta did not make it to my list. His Teri duniya se door (Zabak) and Laagi chute na ab to sanam (Kali Topi Lal Rumal) have acquired iconic status. There are some more I like immensely such as Beet gayi hai aadhi raat (Nache Nagin Baje Been) and Chand jane kahan kho gaya (Main Chup Rahungi). I choose Teri ankhon mein pyar maine dekh liya, because it has all the sweetness for which I like Chitragupta so much. Bharat Bhushan – Nanda are childhood buddies and, as grown up lovers, are having a romantic ride on a bullock cart. This rural idyll needed the melody of Chitragupta, who would create a sensation with this genre in Bhojpuri films like Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chhdayibe and Laagi naahi chute Ram.
8. Jeevan mein piya tera saath rahe from Goonj Uthi Shenai (1958), music Vasant Desai
Vasant Desai is known for classical/semi-classical compositions. When Lata Mangeshkar recites in slow tempo Rok sake na raah humari duniya ki deewar, saath jiyenge saath marenge amar humara pyar you least expect it would be followed by a very fast orchestration, and this duet continues in the same gay abandon of exuberance.
9. Kali ghata ghir aye re from Kali Ghata (1951), music Shankar Jaikishan
The first eight duets came to me spontaneously. For the remaining two I have to do some deliberation. Shankar Jaikishan should enter as a matter of right with the kind of domination they had in the golden era. Their music was to a great extent instrumental in the huge success of stars like Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor and one can recall a number of famous duets from their films of 1960s. Some of SJ’s melodious duets are Awaaz de ke humein tum bulaao (Professor), Tujhe jeevan ki dor se baandh liya hai (Asli Naqli) and Dheere dheere chal chand gagan mein (Love Marriage) However, my special favourite is this duet from early 1950s, a period which had a very unique charm in the kind of music produced by the great composers like Naushad and C Ramchandra. The young SJ team was equal to them in quality and commercial success. The voices of the great singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Rafi and Mukesh also had that period feel. Here is this 1951 duet sung so beautifully by the two stalwarts, and picturised equally beautifully on Kishore Sahu and Bina Rai. (The video’s audio quality was poor, therefore I have replaced it with its audio).
10. Baar baar tohe kya samjhaun from Aarti (1962), music Roshan
The one remaining slot I have to give to Roshan whom I put at the top in melody. His soulful, romantic and soft songs have the power to transport you to another world. Aapne yaad dilaya to mujhe yaad aya is more typical of Roshan. A middle of the road and perhaps more famous is Jo vada kiya wo nibhana padega (Tajmahal). Baar baar tohe kya samjhaun is somewhat atypical of Roshan. But its beauty is enhanced by its picturisation. A group of villagers are enjoying this item number (by those days’ standards) performed by an extra dancer. Then the newly weds Pradeep Kumar and Meena Kumari come upon this group. Pradeep Kumar coyly beckons to the wife to join. Meena Kumari in big bindi, a very prominent mangalsutra and huge jhumkas, so very gingerly starts swaying her body and sings the same Baar baar tohe kya samjhaun in a very kosher style appropriate to a virtuous patni. Towards the end of the duet you see the couple, now by themselves under the stars, walking off towards the sea and generally soaking the romantic ambience.
The above list has one important omission, Laxmikant-Pyarelal. In sheer quantity of Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar songs they would probably outnumber any other composer. In the later 1960’s they had become an assembly-line hit producing factory which also included some outstanding songs such as their very first Wo jab yaad aye bahut yaat aye (Parasmani) to their later Jhil mil sitaron ka angan hoga (Jeevan Mrityu). But I find it difficult to squeeze them in at the cost of the above ten. Madan Mohan’s songs for Lata Mangeshkar have acquired iconic status, so have Ravi’s for Mohammad Rafi, but off hand I can not recall their any great Rafi-Lata duet. It is possible there are some hidden gems created by minor composers for obscure movies. Given Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar’s enormous scale and their ardent following, it is quite likely there would be more such compilations on the blogworld. It would be quite interesting to compare each other’s favourites.