The last we saw of the quartet together was in the 1968 movie ‘Sanghursh’. The movie was about thugs in Varanasi. The story was based on Jnanpith Award winner Mahasweta Devi. It starred Dilip Kumar and Vyjantimala. Muhammad Rafi’s song “Jab dil sei dil takrata hai” was a melodious number. So was “Ishq diwana, husn bhi ghaail”. Dilip’s rustic dance was mesmerising in “Mere pairon mein ghungroo”. Biman Baruah in his submission on Rafi and Naushad Ali’s relations observed that in 1952, the songs of the movie ‘Baiju Bawra’ established Rafi as the number one playback singer of Indian cinema. It is said that Talat Mahmood used to be Naushad Ali’s favourite singer until then and once he found Talat Mahmood smoking in recording room. Naudhad Ali got irritated and hired Rafi to sing for ‘Baiju Bawra’. Later on, Naushad started using Rafi as a male voice in almost every song composed by him. In fact, Naushad found a singer in Rafi, who was capable of singing all type of songs of his compositions almost perfectly.
It has been reported in the media that cracks appeared in the Dilip-Naushad-Rafi team when Rafi felt demoralised when Dilip Kumar once invited only Naushad to travel in his car to a function where Rafi was due to perform, with Dilip and Naushad presiding over it. This offended Rafi, who stopped singing for Dilip Kumar, who then used the vocals of Mohinder Kapoor and Kishore Kumar in his subsequent movies.
Association with SD Burman: Versatility has been a common factor between Rafi as a singer and music composer SD Burman as a composer. The latter however gave equal share to both Kishore Kumar and Rafi as singers. In his later movies SD tilted more towards Kishore Kumar. Though SD used Rafi in the movie ‘Do Bhai’ in 1947 (“Duniya mein meri aj andhera hi andhera”, lyrics Raja Mehdi Ali Khan) this song has gone into oblivion. The best debut of Rafi by SD, I would reckon however is a decade later in Guru Dutt’s movie ‘Pyasa’. Rafi’s softness of expression and climax rendering in higher notes was best used in the song ‘Ye mehlon yei takhton”. In the song the redeeming feature is that one finds a rare use of a film song with tilt towards poetics. Sahir’s poetry has been blunt, forceful and hard-hitting in this song. SD Burman’s craftsmanship is at its top as music composer in this song. Despite very few instruments used in this song Rafi has proved that none other than him could have done justice to this composition. The critics say that in the climax of the movie, Guru Dutt (poet Vijay) walks in the auditorium where the cynical publisher Rahman, who had trashed his poetry (posing it to be his) and also married his beloved, Mala Sinha, is presiding over his (poet Vijay) Barsi (first death anniversary), eulogising him as his collection of poems has become a roaring success for his publishing house. The so-called ‘dead’ poet standing under the door frame with the director Guru Dutt’s signature play with light and shade and his singing/reciting this nazm, which makes the audience turn their heads, and the ‘dignitaries’ on the dais, including Rahman and Mala Sinha, stare in stunned disbelief, is a piece of art in many respects. All this impact is enhanced by Rafi-SD-Sahir Ludhyanvi troika. For this movie Rafi’s romantic tone is best used with Geeta Dutt in the duet “Hum aap ki aankhon main is dil ko”, satire in his voice in the song “Jinhain naaz hei hind par”, comedy at its peak in the song “Sir jo tera chakraei ya dil dooba jaye” picturised on Johnny Walker. These songs enhance the versatility factor of the pair. The other songs from this movie by Rafi are “Yei hanste huey phool” and “Jab hum chalain tau saath hamara saaya”. All these songs were penned by Sahir Ludhyanvi.
From 1947 to 1957 SD used Hement Kumar, Talat Mahmood, Kishore Kumar and even Mukesh sporadically. In the initial phase of his career, the question of SD’s preference of Rafi over Kishore Kumar could best be answered by SD himself had he been alive today but the statistics given by Arun Kumar Deshmukh on Atul Site are to the contrary; 44 solo song by Rafi and 52 solo songs in Kishore Kumar’s favour. However the analysis of music lovers is that if a sculptor SD had crafted these songs with great concern, Rafi put soul into them with equal feelings. SD Burman’s craftsmanship knew the film situations where he could use Rafi’s tenor to his advantage. After 1957, SD extracted gems after gems for the movies ‘Kala Pani (1958), ‘Insan Jaag Utha’, ‘Kagaz Ke Phool’ (1959), ‘Bambai Ka Babu’ (“Diwana Mastana Hua Dil, Jane Kahan Ho Kei Bahar Aai), Kala Bazar (1960), Meri Surat Teri Ankhen, Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), Guide, Teen Deviyan (1965) and so on.