Mohammed Rafi was born the youngest of six sons of Hajji Ali Mohammad at Kotla Sultan Singh, a town near Amritsar in Punjab (India) on the 24th of December, 1924. Rafi, whose nickname was 'Pheeko', started singing by imitating chants of a 'fakir' (beggar) in his village. In 1935-36, Rafi's father shifted to Lahore, and the rest of the family followed later. His family managed a men's salon in Lahore's Noor Mohalla. It was his brother-in-law Mohammed Hameed who spotted the talent in Rafi and encouraged him. Rafi learnt Hindustani classical music from maestros like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwanlal Matto and later, Firoze Nizami.
Rafi's first public performance came at the age of 13. That day, Hameed and Rafi had gone to attend a concert by K. L. Saigal. But the legendary singer refused to sing since there was a power failure at the venue. Hameed went up to the organiser and asked if his brother-in-law could sing to keep the audience quiet. As it turned out, the setting was just right for him. Among the audience sat noted composer Shyam Sunder, who was very impressed with what he heard. He invited Rafi to Bombay (now Mumbai) to sing for him.
Rafi, under Shyam Sunder, made his debut in playback singing with the duet 'Soniye nee, Heeriye nee' with Zeenat Begum in a Punjabi film 'Gul Baloch' in 1942 (the film was released in 1944). Soon after, Rafi was invited by the Lahore radio station to sing for them.
In 1944, Rafi moved to Bombay, where he was introduced to some of the leading film producers of the time such as Abdul Rashid Kardar, Mehboob Khan and actor-director Nazeer by Tanvir Naqvi. Rafi contacted the famous music director Naushad, who initially used him as part of the chorus. Rafi's first song with Naushad was 'Hindustan ke hum hain' with Shyam Kumar, Alauddin and others, from A. R. Kardar's 'Pehle Aap' (1944). Around the same time, Rafi recorded another song for the film 'Gaon ki Gori' (1944) for Shyam Sunder, 'Aji dil ho kaaboo mein' with G. M. Durrani and chorus. He considered this song as his first song in Hindi. In 1945, Rafi got married to his cousin Bashira, nicknamed 'Majhi', in his village.
In the same year, Rafi appeared on the screen for the song 'Tera Jalwa Jis Ne Dekha' in the film 'Laila Majnu'. He sang a number of songs for Naushad as part of the chorus, including 'Mere sapnon ki rani, Roohi Roohi' with K. L. Saigal from the film 'Shahjahan' (1946). Rafi was first noted for the song 'Tera Khilona Toota Balak' from Mehboob Khan's 'Anmol Ghadi' (1946). His duet with Noor Jehan in the film 'Jugnu' (1947), 'Yahan Badla Wafa Ka' became a hit (Rafi had also acted in the movie). Following partition, Rafi decided to stay back in India and had his family flown to Bombay.
With a 35 year long career, and some of the biggest hits the music charts have ever seen, Mohammad Rafi remains one of the legends of the Hindi Film Industry. His voice continues to haunt us even today. Rafi's voice, ranging from the melancholic to the boisterous, suited every actor, mood or occasion in the film perfectly. His is the one voice that has been imitated the most; to be called a Rafi clone is actually regarded as a compliment!
Geeta and Rafi had a lot in common. Two voices which could express a hundred emotions, be it pathos, love or romance, despair, frustration, patriotism, devotion, courage, determination, mischief, comedy, mock, philosophy or preaching. Two of the most revered singers in the history of cine music; they continue to rule the hearts of genuine music lovers, till date.
It should not come as a surprise, then, that Geeta Dutt had the maximum number of duets with this legendary singer; not less than 150 in number. They combined with each other so well that their collaboration has given us some of the most memorable duets we have ever heard.
Music Directors, OP Nayyar, Chitragupta, SD Burman, Hansraj Behl and N Datta account for a half of these Rafi-Geeta duets.
As one music critic had said, Geeta Dutt was 'Thandi Hawa and Kali Ghata rolled into one'. She was completely and equally at ease with heavy, tear-jerking numbers, on the one hand, and naughty, seductive teasers on the other.
People first took note of the effectiveness of Rafi-Geeta combination, in a group song of Geeta, Rafi, S.D.Batish and others in the film 'Hamari Manzil' (1949), 'Katen Banenege Kaliyan Katon Se Khelta Jaa', composed by the MD duo Husnlal-Bhagatram.
But, speaking of Geeta-Rafi duets, somehow one automatically thinks of OP Nayyar first, for the trinity boasts of some of the most mesmerizingly beautiful songs. It was OP Nayyar's film 'Aar Paar' (1954) that had delivered the first big-ticket duets of this duo. 'Sun Sun Sun Sun Zalima', 'Are Na Na Na Na Aisa Tauba Tauba' and 'Mohabbat Kar Le Jee Bhar Le' became huge hits. This great, lively and peppy association of these three greats went on for many films, 'Mr. & Mrs. 55' , 'Musafirkhana' (1955); 'Bhagambhagh', 'C.I.D.', 'Choomantar', 'Mr.Lambu', 'Shrimati 420' (1956); 'Bade Sarkar', 'Johnny Walker', 'Main Baap', 'Ustad' (1957) and '12'O Clock' (1958).
'Achha Ji Maaf Kar Do, Thoda Insaaf Kar Do', from Musafirkhana was a great Rafi-Geeta duet. ''Jaao Ji Maaf Kiya, Ham Ne Insaaf Kiya'' had distinct shades of Lata's 'Jiya Beqarar Hai'. 'Jahan Jahan Khayal Jaata Hai' from 'Bade Sarkar', was another great composition by OPN, rendered beautifully by the singers. However, 'Dekho Ji Dekho Meethi Ada Se' from 'Mai Baap' remains one of their biggest hits.
After 1958, OP Nayyar, for reasons musical and not-so-musical, had gravitated towards the equally talented, but more aggressive, Asha Bhosle.
Geeta-Rafi duets under SD Burman are much fewer in number. But, one gets the feeling of a far inflated number because of their extraordinary, sublime quality, such as in 'Ham Aap Ki Aankhon Mein' from 'Pyasa' (1957), 'Rimjhim Ke Taraane Leke Aayi Barsaat' from 'Kala Bazaar' (1960), 'Chupke Se Mile Pyaase Pyaase' from 'Manzil' (1960), 'Bataavo Kya Karungi Main Jo Gham Ki Raat Aayegi', from 'Ek Ke Baad Ek' (1960), 'Tu Ne Le Liya Hai Dil, Ab Kya Hoga' from 'Miya Biwi Raazi' (1960), etc.
'Lag Gayi Aankhiyan Tum Se Mori', from 'Jeevan Jyoti' (1953) was one great composition by SDB, to which both Geeta and Rafi did full justice. 'Raham Kabhi To Farmaavo, Maaavo Maavo Meri Laila' from 'Society' (1955) picturised on Johny Walker and Kumkum, though not as popular as some other duets of theirs, was indeed one of the finest. 'Ho Lakh Museebat Rasten Mein Par Saath Apna Na Choote' from 'Pyasa' (1957) is a collector's gem! This less than two minute long song offers so much to the listener, in terms of music and singing, that any account of their duets for SDB will be incomplete without its mention.
With Chitragupta, one is bound to be surprised that it was he who had created the highest number (25) of Rafi-Geeta duets. And some real good ones too, such as 'Ho Chat Mangni To Pat Shadi' from 'Chaal Baaz' (1958), 'Kabhi Toh Haan Haan Kaho Na' from 'Son Of Sindbad' (1958), 'Jawaab Nahin Gore Mukhde Par Til Kaale Ka' from 'Kangan' (1959), 'Teri Nazar Mein Main Rahun' from 'Band Master' (1962), etc.
'Chup Ke Chup Ke Dil Mein Mere Aane Wale', from 'Hamara Ghar' (1950) is one of the earliest Geeta-Rafi duets for him. A real old-world melody sung magnificently by the duo.
'Suniye Suniye Hamara Fasaana' from 'Son of Sindbad' was a romantic tune, another great from the 50's. The song was one of the biggest hits of the year. 'Dil Phanse Deke Jhanse Haay Teri Nazar Mastani' from 'Daaka' (1959) stood in stark contrast with the two mentioned above. Removed from the simple, rather traditional tune, this one was a very pleasant, peppy and relatively stylish number. 'Zalim Kehna Maan, Lachkti Chal Na Kha Kar Paan' from 'Baraat' (1960) was yet another peppy, Punjabi folk tune which became a big hit.
Chitragupta's Rafi-Geeta duets used to be of the traditional semi-classical or folk type, until around 1957. Thereafter, it appears Chitragupta was inspired by OP Nayyar's successful and fast-paced Rafi-Geeta duets, and thus he too went on composing fast, peppy, slightly westernized duets with Rafi and Geeta.
Coming to N.Datta, who can forget his 'Tum Mile Woh Din Dhale' from 'Dr. Shaitan' (1960) and 'Awara Abdullah Yeh Pyaar Ka Halla Gulla' from 'Awara Abdullah' (1962)?
'Bachna Zara Zamana Hai Bura' from 'Milaap' (1955), a nice duet picturised on Johny Walker had its mukhdaa inspired by another Lata solo from the same year, 'Tara Rara Ram Mere Dil Mein Sanam' from the movie 'Hoor-e-Arab'. Another very nice song picturised on Johny Walker was 'Pandit Ho Ya Lala, Ya Gandhi Topi Wala' from the movie 'Rikshawala' (1960).
Johnny Walker had the highest number of songs for any comedian-hero, a large proportion of which were even duets! No other comedian had this distinction. And as one is well aware, Rafi had a total monopoly over songs/duets featuring Johnny Walker. Geeta Dutt, in turn, had the distinction of partnering Rafi in almost all the duets featuring Johnny Walker! Most of these songs became very popular.
Hansraj Behl recorded some of his finest compositions with Geeta and Rafi. 'Phool Ko Bhool Ke Le Baitha Thha', from the 1948 movie 'Chunariya' was one of the earliest duets recorded by the pair. The dew freshness of the two voices instantly appeals to the listener in this vintage number.
Apart from these, other music directors also gave some of their best compositions to the pair, including maestro SN Tripathi whose composition 'Nadi Kinaare Koyi Pukaare' for the movie 'Chandramukhi' (1960) still remains a favorite. Vasant Desai made ample use of their illimitable talent in movies like 'Sheesh Mahal' (1950), 'School Master' (1959) and 'Ardhangini' (1959) and delivered all-time hits. However, one composition of Roshan Lal still remains unique, for it contains rare attempts at yodeling by Rafi. The song in question is the irresistibly sweet 'Un Se Rippi Tippi Ho Gayi' from the 1957 movie, 'Agra Road'.
Even some less prolific Muisc Directors contributed their own memorable duets with this great duo. A case in point was the pathos-laden duet by Music Director, Jimmy from film 'Payaar Ki Baazi', 'Humein Pyaar Karne Na Dega Zamaana' even as late as 1966!
Partnering Rafi in duets was very challenging a task for other singers, for he would frequently be deploying his 'adaayen' and 'harkatein', at will. It was required of the other singer to sing with a straight face in the midst of these, trademark Rafi 'harkatein'.
Take for the example of the beautiful Geeta-Rafi duet 'Legaya Dekho Dekho Dil Bhi Hamara' from 'Samundar' (1957), composed by Madan Mohan. In the duet, what immediately struck one as endearing was the way Geeta Dutt kept singing her lines in right earnest, while Rafi kept saying his drunken lines, which could have easily unsettled the co-singer! Another example of this kind was seen in 'Shrimati 420' (1956). The peppy duet 'Ham Ko Chod Ke Kahan Jaavoge' had Rafi intermittently intervening with exclamations like 'Achha', 'Ahha' and 'Ohho'. It took Geeta's spontaneity and genius to match the technically perfect Rafi, note by note while not falling prey to his ingenuity.
It's unfortunate that not much is known about what their personal equation was like. Rafi was known to be a shy, austere man who did not have many 'close' friends in the industry. But, it is safe to surmise that they both shared an excellent working relationship.
All in all, Rafi and Geeta made a great duet pair who had given to music lovers, some wonderful and unforgettable songs. No amount of praise can ever be sufficient to express our gratitude towards the most melodious singer pair ever, for their stupendous contribution to the Hindi music industry. They have managed to enthrall, enliven, mystify, sadden, gladden, depress and cheer fans with their songs for no less than twenty years, and continue to do so with the unreproducible legacy they have left behind.