There are two little-known widely- separated anecdotes about the celebrated Hindi film playback singer, Mohammad Rafi, which I try to connect here to reveal some thing about the man’s faith and beliefs.
I remember reading in about 1957 or earlier in a Hindi film magazine ( Filmi Dunia, Filmi Kaliyan or the like) a short piece on Nastik , made in 1954. The film is well known for its song “ Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat kya ho gayi Bhagwaan , ki kitna badal gaya insaan”, sung by the lyricist Pradeep. According to the write-up the song was first offered to Mohammad Rafi who declined. It was then sung by the poet himself. The way the magazine presented the story, it was as if Rafi failed to recognize a hit song in the offing;
In the mid 1990s, I met the well-known music director Ravi in Bangalore. Ravi gave the music for Baldev Raj Chopra’s film 1963 Gumrah, which included a fine poem by Sahir: “ Chalo ik baar phir se ajnabi ban jaayen hum dono”. Was Mahendra Kapur Ravi’s own choice as the voice for the poem? No. Ravi wanted Mohammad Rafi to sing the song , but Chopra suggested Mahendra Kapur. Why not Rafi? Ravi had asked the question and got the answer.
In 1962 Chopra made a “patriotic” movie Dharmaputra which contained a Qawwali “ Yeh Masjid hai who But-khana, maqsad to hai dil ko samjhaana, chahey yey maano ya who maano”. Chopra wanted this to be sung jointly by Rafi and Mahendra Kapur. But Rafi excused himself with the rather lame excuse that since Mahendra Kapur’s voice resembled Rafi’s , Chopra should pair somebody else with Kapur. Chopra no doubt felt that two similar-sounding singers will go well with the theme of the song. A cut-up Chopra then decided to keep Rafi out of Gumrah.
Rafi was a God-fearing person. He had no problem singing “Hindu bhajans” like “O Duniya ke rakhwaaley , sun dard bharey mere naale” , because they show man in an obedient position with respect to the Almighty. But he probably baulked at putting God on the defensive as in “ Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat”. Rafi was a devout Muslim. Although he no doubt respected other religions, he could not bring himself to equating a mosque with a but-khana.