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Mohammed Rafi & the Nineteen Forties

Mohammed Rafi & the Nineteen Forties



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Published by Nasir Ali
Mohammed Rafi and the Nineteen Forties.
Mohammed Rafi and the Nineteen Forties.

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Published by: Nasir Ali on Oct 11, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – byNasir.In order to appreciate the genius of the Indian Legendary Singer,Mohammed Rafi, a very brief survey of the Indian Cinema during theNineteen Forties becomes imperative. Regional cinema is out of thepurview.Dada Saheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra (1913) was the first silentmovie in India, with no synchronised sounds or dialogues. Some of the well-known actors of the time were Patience Cooper, Ruby Myers(Sulochna), and Renee Smith (Sita Devi), Zubeida, Fatima Begum,Master Vithal, Master Nisar, and Prithviraj Kapoor. Improvements intechnology and the synchronisation of the sound with the pictures,heralded the end of the silent-movie era. Alam Ara, the first “talkie”film in India, was released in Mumbai’s Majestic Cinema in 1931. Itsproducer, Ardeshir M. Irani is therefore considered to be the father of the “talkie” film. Zubeida was the leading lady. It had the first songof the Indian cinema, DE DE KHUDA KE NAAM PAR, by W.M. Khan
who acted as a faqir. It was recorded live, accompanied with a Tablaand a Harmonium. The arrival of sound had serious implications forthe entire generation of film-makers, technicians and artists whocould not adapt themselves to the new system. Many studios closeddown. Now only those actors or actresses could be employed in filmswho, besides their acting talent, could also deliver dialogues and singmany songs. The Anglo-Indians were the worst hit as they could notspeak fluent Urdu or Hindi. Many actors of the silent era lost their jobsince they could not sing.There was no playback system. Direct recording meant that theactors had to act as well as sing. The many retakes would leave themdead tired to do either the singing or the acting as desired, with themircrophones being hidden with great imagination from the camera.Not to speak of the perspiration and the repeated dabbing of themake-up on the singing artiste who had to even sing louder to reachthe overhead mike without being able to hear the orchestra fully. Attimes, the microphone, the instrumentalists and the camera had tofollow the walking singer.During the silvern age of the Nineteen Thirties, the Bombay Talkies,Prabhat, Wadia Movietone, and New Theatres ruled supreme. TheseHouses employed the artistes mainly on a monthly salary. Some of the reputed names of the talkie-films were Devika Rani, ShobhanaSamarth, Leela Chitnis, Durga Khote, Shanta Apte, Sadhna Bose,Padma Devi and Kananbala, as well as Ashok Kumar, P.C. Barua,
Prithviraj Kapoor and others. It was also the era of the “Fearless”Nadia who performed daring stunts in Homi Wadia’s movie. Hername became synonymous with her role in Hunterwali which isremembered to this day.With the dawn of Saigal era (1932-1947) new techniques evolvedthat could allow the actors to just mimic the off-camera song thathad already been recorded in the voice of the playback singer. Evenhere, the songs used to be played on the loudspeakers for the actorsto mimic the songs. These songs could also be broadcast on the radioand also made into flat discs called “records” whose production, by1931, was in the hands of a a single record company, EMI.It was R.C. Boral (d.1981), a stalwart of the New Theatres atCalcutta, who had introduced the first playback singing for a moviecalled Dhoop Chhaaon (Bhagyachakra in Bengali version) in 1935.Punkaj Mallick, his colleague and an all-round figure, had earliermade his debut as Music Director in Yahudi ki Ladki (1933) andintroduced the use of western instruments such as piano andaccordion in songs and also introduced the background musical scoreto enhance the action, the mood and the tempo of the film scenes, just as Naushad was to mix the clarinet, the flute and other musicalinstruments and improve the background music. The Thirties couldboast of many fine movies that included Shantaram’s Amrit Manthan(1934), Bombay Talkies’ Achhut Kanya (1936), Mehboob Khan’s EkHi Rasta and Aurat (1939), and Minerva Movietone’s Pukar (1939). Itwas also the time when there were many gramophone stars. A 1938-movie was even named Gramophone Singer (Music Anil Biswas)which had K.L. Saigal.By 1940, many gramophone stars who could not make it to the filmmusic as playback singers soon lost their standing in the musicworld. In the Forties, some memorable films were made such asShantaram’s Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani, K.A. Abbas’s Dharti Ke Lal,Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar, Uday Shankar’s Kalpana, MehboobKhan’s Roti, Wadia’s Court Dancer, Sohrab Modi’s Sikandar andPrithvi Vallabh, Raj Kapoor’s Aag and Barsaat, and Vijay Bhatt’s RamRajya and Bharat Milap.

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