How Mohammed Rafi’s Playback Is the Greatest Payback to Naushad’s Mentorship

With Rafi as common denominator, the duo delivered some of the greatest hits that defined Film Music's Golden Era.

5 min read

The recently-concluded FIFA World Cup confirmed the adage that mutual trust, respect, and harmony help attain pinnacles of glory. Psychologists too, emphasise success is a natural corollary of honest collaborations and the Hindi film industry is replete with stories of wonderful partnerships that inspired cinematic creations of rare brilliance. However, Helen Keller’s maxim that “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” was perhaps best vindicated in filmdom by the gifted team of music composer Naushad and the legendary singer Mohammed Rafi.

Weaving seven notes into a melody is no easy job. Many film composers did that splendidly in the Golden Era of Hindi films from 1950 to 1970 by contributing to the fortunes as well as aesthetics of stories, with Rafi being the common denominator.

Although one marvels at the extraordinary output of various composers, it is astounding how the melodies of Naushad-Rafi alliance (in the lyrical company of Shakeel Badayuni) have acquired a reverential halo in the musical sanctum sanctorum. Probably because the classical dexterity of Rafi and Naushad whose birthdays fall on 24 and 25 December respectively, provided “Nirvana” to film scenes, viewers and listeners alike!  

Blessing The Indian Film Music Scene With Magical Hits

What a monumental blessing the duo were to film music and how perfectly they complemented one another was laid out in 1983 by Jaidev over a cup of tea in his flat at Churchgate. The composer of exemplary music for “Hum Dono” and “Mujhe Jeene Do”, Jaidev opined Naushad had gauged the extraordinary depth and range of Rafi’s voice much before others and after polishing it, wove intricate patterns beyond the three-octave scale which “Naushad could compose because Rafi alone could deliver.”

He further disclosed that “Dada Burman, Naushad, O P Nayyar, Ravi and Shankar Jaikishan considered Rafi to be the finest playback singer, male and female included, on account of his versatility, range, impeccable intonations and emotional throw” and that “film industry owed a debt to Naushad in making them aware of Rafi’s exceptional repertoire.”

Jaidev firmly believed that “films like ‘Pyaasa’, ‘Baiju Bawra’, ‘Haqeeqat’, ‘Guide’, ‘Heer Ranjha’ and their ilk would have lost appeal and become croppers without Rafi’s irresistible renditions.” Lauding Rafi’s dedication, Jaidev credited Naushad for enhancing the vocal prowess of Rafi and laying foundations of a formidable musical constant in the world of playback singing.

Of a Harmonising Bond That Brought Out the Best in Hindi Playback Singing

That Mohammed Rafi created magic with his singing is an age-old truth. Whether it was working with eminent stalwarts or with lesser-known Iqbal Qureshi and Sardar Malik, Rafi lent his soul to every musical composition. Irrespective of the remuneration or his personal equations, Rafi’s saintly devotion to his art gave birth to numerous vocal knockouts.

Although the humble Rafi was known to treat every music director as a worthy teacher, nevertheless, Rafi’s singing of Naushad's compositions was akin to “Guru Dakshina” of a devout student. Not many realise that this holy relationship gave a new dimension to the art of playback singing and it isn’t surprising that the accomplished Manna Dey hailed Rafi as “the world’s finest playback singer ever”.

Stating “Rafi was everyone’s favourite” and “transcended to a different level because of the magic in Naushad’s tunes," Dey even expressed “gratitude and respect to Naushad” for the listening pleasure he provided by enhancing Rafi’s golden throat to a divine level.

Living in an era of excessive production, often of dubious quality, it is tough for many to evaluate the genius of Naushad or comprehend why he created just about a thousand songs over a period of six decades! But if the art could tell its own story, it would recount Naushad’s saga of intense labour, reflection and dedication to his craft and if his songs are still adored, it is because he was meticulously devoted to perfection. It was a quality Naushad imparted to his protégé, thus, helping Rafi execute mellifluous renditions with immaculate ease.

Mentor Turned Lifelong Friend, Naushad-Rafi Duo Is One for the Books

The Rafi-Naushad partnership began the day Rafi went forth to the music composer with a recommendation letter from Naushad’s father. Pleased by his unassuming manners, Naushad gave Rafi a place in his chorus for the film “Pehle Aap” but discerning the dedication and potential of his unusually gifted pupil, he got down to catapulting his prowess. Since both were epitomes of humility and decency as also committed to excellence, they soon became close confidantes, loving nothing more than creating exquisite melodies.  

Listen and you’ll find most of Rafi–Naushad songs bestow a serene joy of tranquillity. While Rafi sometimes took liberty with his throw and expression in recordings of other composers, he never treaded beyond the prescribed metre of Naushad’s gentle leash; executing each note to perfection as per the command of his compassionate Guru.

While their blockbuster creations like “O Duniya Ke Rakhwale” and “Man Tadpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj” (both from “Baiju Bawra”), “Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki” (“Dulari”), “Hue Hum Jinke Liye Barbaad” (“Deedar”), “O Door Ke Musafir” (“Udan Khatola”) or “Madhuban Mein Radhika Naache Re” (“Kohinoor”) are milestones etched in gold, yet even a cursory glance at the lesser discussed songs too confirm they are musical gems extraordinaire!


In every Rafi–Naushad composition, there’s a distinct rhythm, colour and feel of the Indian milieu. Not that other composers did not provide such earthy glimpses but their creations exhibited huge strains of western influences while Naushad’s melodies were steeped in sounds of Indian ethos and environment. That’s why “Nain Lad Jayi Hey” (“Gunga Jamuna”), “Nadiya Mein Utha Hai Shor” (“Babul”), “Teri Mehfil Tera Jalwa(Sohni Mahiwal”) and “Ae Husn Zara Jaag” (“Mere Mehboob”) also established the duo’s ability to deliver hits of multifarious genres without compromising on classical traditions.


‘Voiced Sentiments of the Common Man’

According to Ameen Sayani, Naushad could “decipher exact notes of even the falling utensils.” No wonder, his brilliant fusion of rural instruments in group songs like “Gaadi Waale Gadi Dheere Haank Re” or “Dukh Bhare Din Beete Re Bhaiyya” (both “Mother India”) as well as many rural and folk tunes helped Rafi become the voice of the common man in India.

This partnership of “Musical Saints” ended only with Rafi Sahab’s demise and one shudders to think what they might have achieved if they had advanced recording machines at their disposal. Reciting couplets that he had penned in Rafi Sahab’s memory, Naushad once confided that the immortal “O Duniya ke Rakhwale" was recorded with a single microphone for musicians and Rafi Sahab.

“Imagine what magic Rafi would have created on a four-track option, when he mesmerised even with a single-track recording," Naushad uttered wistfully and one couldn’t agree more with the genius whose hundred-piece orchestras, musical notations and recording innovations are part of film folklore.   

However, what resonates within me are the various prayer songs that they have left behind as their immortal legacy. Just one “Insaaf Ka Mandir Hai Ye” (“Amar”) is enough to convince us that the nefarious designs to destroy India’s secular fabric will never fructify because such Rafi-Naushad compositions are there to inspire compassion and sanity within the hearts and minds of all citizens. As long as their songs are alive and playing, the world has hope of a better future since their compositions have the power to bring people together.    

(Deepak Mahaan is a documentary filmmaker and an eminent author. A specialist on Cinema and Sports, he has published numerous pieces in prestigious publications in India and abroad. He tweets at @mahaanmahan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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