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An era changes with Aradhana (1969)

Rafi_Kishore Kumar When Aradhana unfolded in 1969 with the heroine sitting by the window of the hill train, tentatively browsing a book, and the hero being driven in a jonga by his friend on the hilly road alongside the toy train, with an innocent smile, a wink in his eyes and the harmonica on his friend’s lips, singing , a phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna was born. Also born was another and perhaps more startling phenomenon – a new Kishore Kumar who with this one film swept aside Rafi to emerge as the No.1 male singer. Rafi did have two duets in the film (with Lata) and (with Asha Bhosle), but Kishore Kumar with Lata surpassed him with , and Rafi had nothing to counter his two solos Mere sapno ki rani kab ayegi tu and .

This was no flash in the pan. Aradhana became a clear watershed film which marked the change between the old and the new, and the end of the Golden Era of fifties and sixties. What is most interesting is how Rafi started sliding behind, and Kishore Kumar became the new Rafi, singing not only for Rajesh Khanna, but later becoming Amitabh Bachchan’s voice, and then singing for virtually everyone. This was in some ways similar to the earlier great watershed year of 1949, when with her immortal songs of that year with all the great composers such as Ayega Aanewala (Khemchand Prakash, Mahal), Hawa mein udata jaye mera lal dupatta malmal, Meri ankhon mein bas gaya koi re, Jiya beqaraar hai (Shankar Jaikishan, Barsaat), Uthaye ja unke sitam, Koi mere dil mein khushi ban ke aya (Naushad, Andaaz), Dil se bhula do tum mujhe (C Ramchandra, Patanga), Tumhare bulane ko ji chahta hai (Anil Biswas, Ladli), Sajan ki galiyan chhod chale, Baharein phir bhi ayengi (Shyam Sundar, Bazaar/ Lahore), La re lappa la re lappa ayee lakhda (Vinod, Ek Thi Ladki), Chale jana nahin (Husnlal Bhagatram, Badi Bahan) etc. swept aside the stalwarts of the earlier era such as Shamshad Begum and Suraiya.

But here the comparison ends. There are several contrasts. Lata had been around for about two years and barely twenty then. Kishore Kumar in 1969 had been around for over twenty years, almost as long as Rafi, and only a few years younger than him. Yet Aradhana seemed to make him twenty years younger. Then Lata’s rise can be explained by musical reasons; some have tried to attribute it to Noorjehan’s migration to Pakistan (to which I do not subscribe, see my article ). But there are no such apparent reasons for Rafi’s slide. It was not as if one morning in 1969 all of a sudden he became an inferior singer. His voice retained its timbre and he still sounded Rafi-ish. This has given rise to a whole ‘Who is greater- Rafi vs Kishore Kumar’ industry on the internet, some of the debate becoming downright abusive to one or the other.

One story I have read is that when SD Burman took ill after composing the two Rafi duets of Aradhana, RD Burman took charge, and while Rafi was away on a tour abroad, instead of waiting for his return, he got his favourite buddy Kishore Kumar record the solos. As if to answer this charge, RD Burman got both Kishore Kumar and Rafi sing the same solo in a film – in Pyar Ka Mausam, and even an inveterate Rafi fan would have to admit is far superior. Later, RD Burman used the two in conjunction to sing the in Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973), Kishore Kumar singing for one brother and Rafi for another. By this time there was no doubt who was the leader and who the follower. RD Burman-Kishore Kumar became a byword for the musical style of the seventies.

Laxmikant Pyarelal had achieved spectacular success with Dosti (1963) riding on Rafi’s voice. Post-Aradhana they continued with Rafi and you have a large number of peasant Rafi solos and duets in films like Khilona, Jeevan Mrityu, Humjoli, Anjana, Jigri Dost, Jeene Ki Raah, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Aap Aye Bahar Ayee, Pratigya, Sargam etc. However, they were too smart to miss the winds of change. So you have Kishore Kumar’s to Rafi’s in Do Raaste. In Aan Milo Sajna Rafi-Lata is countered by Kishore Kumar-Lata duet , and Rafi solo is now forgotten before Kishore Kumar solo . And you have several more Kishore Kumar super hits, such as (Banphool, 1971), (Dushman, 1971), (Anokhi Ada, 1973), (Daag, 1973) etc. The coup de grace was Karz (1980), in which they gave Rafi , but Oops! Kishore Kumar sang the rock star song . The message was clear; he was the voice of the new generation.

Kalyanji Anandji did not have much Rafi baggage, their main singer was Mukesh. While they continued to create songs for Mukesh, their adoption of Kishore Kumar as the lead singer was breathtaking. Theirs was a most amazing transformation in style – it is difficult to believe that it is the same composers that composed Kishore Kumar’s Khaike paan Banaraswala who in the 60’s had created , , etc for Mukesh. And what stupendous success they achieved with Kishore Kumar’s voice in Sachcha Jhoota, Safar, Kahani Kismat Ki, Haath Ki Safai, Victoria No. 203, Apradh, Kora Kagaz, Don, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Lawaris and Vidhata, catapulting themselves to the top league with RD Burman and Laxmikant Pyarelal.

Other stalwarts of the Golden Era had already faded or were on the decline. Shankar Jaikishan owed their supremacy in the 60s to Rafi. In the new era they had a major success with Rajesh Khanna starrer Andaaz (1971). While Rafi sang a largely forgotten , Kishore Kumar had a winner  singing for Rajesh Khanna Incidentally there is also a Rafi for Shammi Kapur, but again the Kishore Kumar version stood out.

Madan Mohan valiantly continued with Rafi in songs like (Chirag), (Heer Ranjha), (Hanste Zakhm) etc, which all sounded the same. Coming to Mausam (1975), the main song was in Bhupinder’s voice. Rafi sang . The song hardly enhances the prestige of Rafi. There was a time when Rafi could sing a chhadi (stick) song , which would make the song and Shammi Kapoor a cult figure (Jaanwar, 1965).

For over the next 10 years that Rafi continued singing, the same story repeated. Whatever Rafi did, Kishore Kumar did one better. He would sing for Rajesh Khanna, and later he would become the voice of Amitabh Bachchan. He would sing for Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Jackie Shroff, Rishi Kapoor, Anil Kapoor and everyone.  And as the ultimate irony, he also sang for Dilip Kumar – in the film Sagina Mahto.  Lest you thought this was an aberration, Kalyanji Anandji used Mahendra Kapur to sing for Dilip Kumar in Gopi – . 

Kishore Kumar would sing the iconic paan song Khaike paan Banaraswala, and he would sing the bhang song He would sing from ghazal to drunken song . He would sing for the street performer, to the night club to a five star hotel party to a rock concert, , and . He could sing of the life’s ebullient and carefree journey Zindagi ek safar hai suhana, and he would be the voice to express sombre uncertainty of life Zindagi ka safar hai ye kaisa safar. In his voice the evening could be passionate and intoxicating , but at times it could also be melancholy . He would sing the holi song , and he would sing the wedding song . Kishore Kumar was the new Rafi, and more. He would define the popular music of 1970’s through mid 80’s.

Rafi won the Flmfare and National Award for from Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin (1977). But this could not be much of a consolation. It would be difficult to put this song among his greats or anywhere near Kishore Kumar’s iconic songs of the period. Rafi’s sudden fall from the pedestal must have been bewildering to him, as it was to his fans. Incidentally Manna Dey and Mukesh would not have suffered the same agony. Their strength was never in numbers but in quality, they were not as prolific as Rafi. In the new era too their well known songs can easily be placed among their greatest – Manna Dey’s , , , ; or Mukesh’s , , , , , etc.

Rewind the clock back to pre-1969 and the contrast could not be sharper. Rafi was the master of all he surveyed. He had his first major success with Naushad’s (Dulari, 1949). Naushad juggled between Talat Mehmood and Mukesh as Dilip Kumar’s voice. But he soon settled on Rafi as his lead singer, and what immortal music they gave in Aan, Amar, Deedar, Baiju Bawra, Kohinoor, Mere Mehboob, Palki, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Ganga Jamuna, Leader etc.

Shankar Jaikishan had a clear distinction – Mukesh for Raj Kapoor and Rafi for everyone else. SJ-Rafi combination made Shammi Kapoor into a cult figure. SJ owed their dominance in the 1960’s to Rafi. OP Nayyar, Roshan and Ravi were also on Rafi bandwagon and created countless unforgettable melodies of the Golden Era.

Among great composers only SD Burman used Kishore Kumar in some significant manner for Dev Anand. But he used several other singers, and Rafi was no less important for him than Kishore Kumar. In Jewel Thief (1967) if he had for Kishore Kumar-Lata, he had in Rafi-Lata’s voice. In Teen Deviyan (1965), for Kishore Kumar’s or his duet with Asha Bhosle , Rafi’s and was more than adequate reply. In Guide (1965), if he gave Kishore Kumar a duet with Lata, , all the beautiful solos, , and , were in Rafi’s voice. If in Paying Guest, Fantoosh and Nau Do Gyarah SD Burman tilts towards Kishore Kumar, it is Rafi all the way in Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Kala Bazaar, Kala Pani and Bambai Ka Babu, and what unforgettable songs SD Burman-Dev Anand-Rafi combination gave such as, , , , in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Outside of Dev Anand, SD Burman hardly used Kishore Kumar for any other major hero. On the other hand you have SD Burman-Rafi’s immortal songs in Kagaz Ke Phool, Pyasa, Insan Jaag Utha and Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen. A survey of SD Burman’s music for Rafi and Kishore Kumar pre-1969seems to indicate his clear preference for Rafi.

Kishore Kumar was nowhere a competitor to Rafi. None was, though Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Manna Dey and Hemant Kumar commanded huge respect and following. Kishore Kumar was reckoned after them. And as if to make the position clear, many composers also used Rafi’s voice as playback for Kishore Kumar. In Shararat (1959) Kishore Kumar sang a beautiful song , yet Shankar Raikishan used Rafi’s voice for to go on Kishore Kumar. OP Nayyar used Rafi to sing in Ragini (1958) for Kishore Kumar.

This hardly means Kishore Kumar was an inferior singer. As a matter of fact his best songs are from this era. Besides SD Burman, Kishore Kumar’s own compositions in Jhumroo, Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein and Door Ka Rahi are among all time greatest songs. And many of Kishore Kumar’s gems are composed by other music directors such as, Hawaon pe likh do hawaon ke naam by Hemant Kumar in Do Dooni Chaar (1968), by Laxmikant Pyarelal in Mr X in Bombay (1964), (with Lata Mangeshkar) by Chitragupta in Ek Raaz (1963), by Shankar Jaikishan in Rangoli (1962), (with Asha Bhosle) by Ravi in Dilli Ka Thug (1958), by Salil Chaudhry in Naukri (1954), (with Lata Mangeshkar) by Anil Biswas in Fareb (1953) and his very first songs for Hindi films composed by Khemchand Prakash in the late 1940s (Ziddi) and (Rim Jhim). He also sang some evergreen Bengali songs such as in Charulata by Satyajit Ray. And if you add his talents as a comic actor, writer, producer, director and composer, Kishore Kumar was a rare genius.

If you consider Rafi’s songs ranging from ghazals to bhajans to qawwalis to romantic to serious to comic to rock and roll, for Dilip Kumar to Rajendra Kumar to Shammi Kapoor to Pradeep Kumar to Bharat Bhushan to Guru Dutt to Johnny Walker to Mehmood, for Naushad to Shankar Jaikishan to SD Burman to OP Nayyar to Roshan to Ravi, he was one of the most amazing singers we were fortunate to have.

No wonder Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar spawned the largest number of ‘version’ singers and followers belonging to one or the other ‘school’. So if you have Anwar, Shabbir Kumar and Sonu Nigam from Rafi school, you have Kumar Shanu and Babul Supriyo from Kishore Kumar school.

So who is greater – Rafi or Kishore Kumar? Having seen the kind of Rafi-Kishore Kumar debate on the internet, if I proclaim anyone as No.1, it would be like stepping on a landmine. However, I can say one thing. If I am exiled to a desolate island and asked to choose either Rafi or Kishore Kumar’s music as company, I would choose Rafi. And, as my tribute to this great singer, I choose a relatively less heard Roshan composition, but incredibly beautiful and my personal favourite –Aaj ki raat badi shokh badi natkhat hai from the film Nayi Umar Ki Nayi Fasal (1965). It is one of the few songs in which the singer, composer and the lyricist (Neeraj) each surpasses himself and it is difficult to determine who should be given more credit for this wonderful creation.

Aaj ki raat badi shokh badi natkhat hai
Aaj to tere bina neend nahi ayegi
Ab to tere hi yahan aane ka ye mausam hai
Ab tabiyat na khayalon se bahal payegi

Dekh wo chhat pe utar aye jo sawan ki ghata
De rahi dwar pe awaaz khadi purwayee
Bijli rah rah ke pahadon pe chamak uthati hai
Sooni ankhon mein koi khwab le jo angrayee
Kaise samjhaun, kaise samjhaun ki is waqt ka matlab kya hai
Dil ki hai baat, ho dil ki hai baat na hothon se kahi jayegi
Aaj ki raat

Ye bhatakate huye jugnu ye diye awara
Bheegate ped par bujh bujh ke chamak uthate hain
Tere aanchal mein takay salme sitarey jaise
Mujhse milne ko bina baat damak uthate hain
Sara aalam, sara aalam hai giraftar tere husn mein jab
Mujhse hi kaise, hae mujhse hi kaise ye barsaat sahee jayegi
Aaj ki raat

Raat rani ki ye bheeni si nashilee khushboo
Aa rahi hai ki jo chhan chhan ke ghani daalon se
Aisa lagta hai kisi dheeth jhakore se lipat
Khel ayee hai tere uljhe huye baalon se
Aur bezaar, aur bezaar na kar mere tadapate dil ko
Aisi rangeen, ho aisi rangeen ghazal raat na phir gayegi
Aaj to tere bina neend nahi ayegi
Aaj ki raat badi shokh badi natkhat hai

And here is my English translation:

The night tonight is playful and naughty
Tonight without you the sleep will elude me
Now is the time for you to come here
No longer can I be comforted by mere fantasy

Look there, the monsoon clouds have come down on the roof
As if the easterly wind is knocking at the door
The lightning dazzles now and then on the mountains tops
Some dream as though is aroused in my desolate eyes
How do I explain the meaning of this moment
It is a matter of heart that can not be expressed by lips

These wandering fireflies are like vagabond lamps
Shutting and then shining bright on the drenched trees
As though the mirrors and stars embroidered on your stole
Yearn to meet with me for no apparent reason
When the entire nature is entranced in your beauty
How can I alone survive this monsoon without you

The delicate heady fragrance of the night jasmine
Is filtering through the dense shrubs and branches
As though entwined with some wanton breeze
It has played with your ruffled hair
Please do not torment any more my restless heart
The night would never sing such beautiful melody again
Tonight without you the sleep will elude me
The night tonight is playful and naughty

Rafi sings Aaj ki raat badi shokh badi natkhat hai