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Mohammed Rafi - Sujata Dev - The Sunday Indian
 
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LITERATURE

Mohammed Rafi

 

AN UNPARALLELED WIZARD
SUJATA DEV | Issue Dated: November 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Mohammed Rafi | Sujata Dev |
 

AN UNPARALLELED WIZARD

Mohammed Rafi

Author : Sujata Dev
Om Books International

Edition: Hardcover
ISBN:9789380070971
Pages: 240

Price:Rs 595

For a nation so obsessed with playback singing and its starts, India surprisingly has pretty abysmal record when it comes to penning books on its singing sensations. For years, most of the books written on the likes of Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar have either been a sugary-syrupy odes by their respective fans, or are merely glorified anthologies. When it comes to English language books, the absence of readable books is even starker.

Under the circumstances, Sujata Dev’s ‘Mohammed Rafi: Golden Voice of The Silver Screen’ should be taken in the same stride. However, what makes this book different from some of the other odes is that this one here depends on lots of original research and hours of personal interviews by the author.

Years ago, a general interest magazine did a wide-ranging industry survey to determine who were considered the best male and female playback singers in India ever. While the survey also dealt with best songs, music directors and lyricists; it was on the result of best playback singer that all eyes were set. Since the voters were contemporary singers, lyricists, music directors from the industry, it was expected that the result will be a critical one, and not the one reflecting the view of the general masses. Unsurprisingly, Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar were voted the best male and female playback singers respectively. Rafi’s ‘Mann re! Tu Kahe na Dheer Dhare’ was additionally judged the best song ever. It was a stamp on the man’s talent and charisma.

Sujata Dev’s book tries to find the man behind that phenomenon. What sets Dev’s book apart is its original research on the background of the singer. That is, the boy before he became Mohammed Rafi.

Dev has done quite a bit of leg work on this and this shows. She has gone all the way to the other side of the border to meet the younger sibling of Mohammed Rafi, as well as some of his childhood friends. The book’s initial chapters deal with his days in the village in what is now Indian Punjab, as well as his formative years in Lahore in the Pakistani Punjab. Although Dev moves quickly from these chapters, it does leave us with a peep inside the life of those men who promoted and stood by Rafi in his years of struggle.

One of the person who impresses is Hameed, Rafi’s older brother’s friend who accompanied Rafi to the then Bombay and had more trust in boy’s talent than his own brother and probably himself too. Dev’s dedicate quite a few pages on their initial days of struggle and how Hameed helped Rafi in his thick and thin to achieve the sensational stardom that no singer of his time could have ever imagined.

The book is neatly divided into chapters dealing with formative years of Rafi’s career, music directors and lyricists who helped him make his place in the industry, his stardom years, his fall from pinnacle with the burst of Kishore Kumar-R D Burman era and his rise again before he dies prematurely at the relatively young age of 56.

One aspect that sets this book apart from many others is its focus on music arrangers and instrumentalists who are so important to a song, but have never been given their due. They are always overshadowed by the giant presence of the music directors they work for. The book dedicates several paragraphs on such talents as Sitar player Rais Khan, ace Violinist Anthony Gonsalves, Saxophone player Manohari Singh, Cawas Lord and the likes. I have never come across mainstream books on Hindi Film Music who have dedicated meaningful pages on such gems. This is before Sujata Dev decided to give them their due credit.

In terms of presenting a cohesive story however, the book works only in parts. The narrative breaks regularly and that does not make for a very lucid read. The author’s penchant for breaking the story into lists and sub-heads does not help either on that front. But all said and done, this book is still a marked improvement over what has come in the past.

Another interesting addition in this book is its vast collection of pictures that tells its own story of Rafi’s life and times. It’s a vast collection by any standard and contains some of the hitherto unseen pictures of the legend. Particularly interesting is the ones capturing Rafi’s foreign tours. Rafi was the pioneer of live performances, and made it a point to travel all over the world enthralling the South Asian diaspora wherever they were settled. Unlike many singers of his time, Rafi was so confident of pulling off the toughest of songs in the live performances that he actually looked forward to them.

The book is a number cruncher’s paradise. The annexure at the end of the book neatly describes in numbers how many songs Rafi sang for which music director, in what all languages and with which female singers. There are tables after tables that will attract number junkies to no end.

In totality, the book works in parts and breaks new grounds. However, it is still way sort of the really analytical and critical take that all these great singers deserve. In absence of rich scholarship, such a book is still way into the future. But unless such a book comes, this one here will do just fine.

 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017