An Octave Higher

Dec 08 2012, 03:11 IST
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SummaryA music icon’s life in playback

Book: Mohammed Rafi-- My Abba-- A Memoir

Author: Yasmin Khalid Rafi

Publisher: Tranquebar

Price: Rs 250

Pages: 204

No meaningful assessment of the 100 years of the Hindi film industry is possible without recognising the role that music has played. After the talkie was inaugurated in 1931, on-screen stars sang and serenaded in their own voices. Until 1935, when the unique idea of “playback” made an appearance in India. In this hall of playback singers, the place that the shy and slightly reclusive Mohammed Rafi occupies cannot be overstated. It, therefore, is perhaps too much to expect from Mohammed Rafi, My Abba - A Memoir – written by Yasmin Khalid Rafi his daughter-in-law, who also happens to be Salman Khan’s cousin – that it will deliver the definitive study to satisfy the curiosity of all his fans.

But the book does provide some interesting facts and valuable trivia about the Lahore emigre, a Punjabi Muslim who found himself in Mumbai as Partition took place and decided to stay back in India, separated from his parents. We know that he loved boxing, even met Muhammad Ali, didn’t care much for Hindi cinema, preferred Western films and was partial to The Party, which he saw many times. He was a car aficionado, especially loved brightly coloured cars, and at one time, drove a parrot-green Fiat. He liked being involved in household chores, was pious but enlightened and treated his music like a form of prayer. But he did not encourage his own sons and daughters to take to singing. It may have had something to do with his own background.

Rafi was not allowed to initially take up singing. His parents thought that music was for “wandering minstrels.” His older brother’s effort to teach him hairdressing at his salon failed abysmally. He was therefore taken to train with Ustad Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and subsequently, Jivan Lal Mutto and Jawahar Lal Mutto and Abdul Waheed Khan of the kirana gharana.

He eventually landed in Mumbai, and with the help of someone known to his landlord on Mohammed Ali Road, got his big break in the Hindi film industry with a letter of recommendation from Naushad’s father to Naushad. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Breaking into a world dominated by KL Saigal, Talat Mahmood and Pankaj Mullick was difficult. Rafi succeeded in pushing the envelope and breaking the monotony of the time.

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