I have been a listener all my life, rarely joining in an argument no matter how provocative the subject. The rare exceptions being when I am drunk and when I have an audience that is polite enough to nod in agreement. That's when I am able to hold forth. But I need no alcohol to join a discussion on Kishore Kumar, especially when it comes to comparing him with Mohammed Rafi.
There is no comparison, actually. Kishore Kumar, even though he himself was a great admirer of Rafi, wins hands down when it comes to range. You only have to listen to the songs of Aap Ke Deewane or the title song of Yaadon Ki Baraat to decide who is more listenable. For that matter, Sa Re Ga Ma from Chupke Chupke: what is the song without Kishore?
The purpose of this post is not to belittle Rafi, or Rafi saab. He was undoubtedly a great singer. He had a melodious voice. But Kishore Kumar's voice had a life of its own, which was not constricted by any era: what he sang in the 1950's remains as fresh as what he sang in the 1980's -- as if he had sung them only yesterday.
Rafi's voice might have the fragrance of the Indian soil, but Kishore's voice is that of the man next-door. Rafi was soft and sweet, but Kishore was direct and effective. If I were a woman, I would like to be seduced by Roop Tera Mastaana. If I have a bad day, I can lift my spirits with one of the many energising Kishore Kumar songs, such as "Ruk jaana nahin tu kahin haar ke.." If I feel sad, I have Kishore Kumar for company in Zindagi ka safar or Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo mukaam. No other singer could have sung these songs: try imagining Rafi or Mukesh singing them.
Like it or not, Kishore's genius is illustrated not by his landmark songs which have become so cliched that you don't want to listen to them one more time, such as Mere naina saawan bhaadon, but by the songs in films that did not do very well. In my opinion, movies like Satte Pe Satta showcase his true talent: any other singer's voice would have cracked in the low-scale Pyaar tumhe kis mod par le aaya. And to sing the same words, in the very next minute, in extreme high pitch -- only Kishore Kumar could have done that. Not to mention Dukki pe dukki ho -- I always get goose-pimples whenever I listen to a song where Kishore Kumar's voice makes a dashing entry mid-way.
Having said that, let me admit that I am also a selective Rafi fan. Selective means I would not shop for Rafi songs with the zeal that I show for Kishore Kumar songs or even those of Talat Mehmood or Bhupinder or Yesudas, but there are certain Rafi songs I cannot do without. I shall list five of them:
1. Suhaani raat dhal chuki, by Naushad. No one else could have sung this song better. Naushad himself believed that melody was murdered by the noise induced by the R.D.-Kishore combo, but his own daughter was hooked to the songs created by the duo. Ditto with Neil Mukesh: he prefers Kishore Kumar over his grandfather -- or so he said in an interview.
2. Dil ka bhanwar kare pukaar, by S.D. Burman. Kishore's voice did not have the softness that this song required. Obviously, the senior Burman knew better.
3. Khoya khoya chaand, khula aasman, by S.D. Burman. Once again, a song only Rafi saab could have done justice to.
4. Koi sone ke dil waala, koi chaandi ke dil waala, by Salil Choudhury. Ah, my all-time Rafi favourite. Nothing to beat this song -- the voice, the music, the lyrics -- sung, on the screen, by the debonair Dev Anand in the film called Maya. A journalist friend of mine happened to meet Salilda shortly before he died in the mid-1990s. According to my friend, the meeting took place in a modest Delhi hotel in the evening, when Salilda was drinking, from a steel glass. When Rafi and this particular song came up for discussion, Salilda apparently had tears in his eyes. He began narrating anecdotes related to the recording of this song. Now, since my journalist friend also happens to be a drunkard who is prone to inventing stories, I cannot vouch for Salilda's tears. I can only hope that he was not lying.
5. Well, have you ever been in love? If you have been, only then you can appreciate this song. Even if not, do me a favour: tonight, pour yourself a drink and listen to this song. Promise me you will only use earphones while listening to this song. Because if you listen to it on normal speakers, you might miss out on the craftsmanship of Laxmikant and Pyarelal. I am yet to come across a song that is so richly embellished with the chorus and the orchestra. Chances are very high that you will end up falling in love -- if not with anyone, at least with the song.
And the song is, Dard-e-dil, dard-e-jigar, from Karz. The song could have been sung by Kishore Kumar, who sang other -- and highly popular -- songs in the movie. But Laxmi-Pyare were sagacious enough to use Rafi saab for this number. They were, after all, proteges of S.D. Burman once upon a time. They knew very well that you can't fit a song into a voice, but only the vice-versa. Oh, how much this song has been tormenting me of late. In my opinion, this is the most complete song ever created in the Hindi film industry.