The first time Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar shared the microphone together was in 1949, both in their twenties and yet to achieve superstardom. The song was by and large a duet of Rafi and S D Batish-“Duniya mein ameeron ko aaraam nahi milta”, where Kishore gave some fillers with yodelling and gabbles.
The first proper duet these two legends sang together was in 1953- two duets in the movie Mallkin, music directed by Roshan Lal Nagrath or Roshan. Both fun filled duets- “Kahin se oonchi kahin se neechi” and “ Dhoti aur patloon mein” are not remembered much these days. Composition wise, there is nothing great in them, just occasional peppy numbers.
Throughout the fifties, Kishore and Rafi came together for male duets in quite a few movies like Mastana(1954, Madan Mohan), Paisa Hi Paisa(1956, Anil Biswas), Fifty Fifty(1956, Madan Mohan), Bhagam Bhag(1956, O P Nayyar), Naya Andaz(1956, O P Nayyar), however barring those of Naya Andaz, the rest all can safely be forgotten. It is important to note that, post-Baiju Bawara(1952), as Rafi grew stronger and stronger as a playback singer throughout the fifties, Kishore gained ground more in acting with his singing taking a clear backseat. So, in most of the cases, the duets were either picturized on Kishore for funny songs (obviously) or on some other comic actors to whom Kishore gave playback.
Sixties belonged to Rafi. Mere figures cannot explain the mammoth like impact he had on the industry. In the sixties, in Hindi playback singing, 1 to 10 were Mohammed Rafi and it remains an achievement of its own! Even if some competitions were there for the top spot in the fifties with Talat and Mukesh, Rafi ensured there was none in the sixties. With rock and roll and rhythm getting more importance, Rafi proved to be the only true blue versatile singer out of the lot, and the rest remained in their niche as specialists. Hemant Kumar slowly moved out of Hindi music fraternity, Talat was into hibernation by mid-60s and Mukesh was called for special sad numbers only. Mahendra Kapoor, even though his lifetime collection would consist of mainly 60s songs, in terms of impact, he was nowhere close. And Kishore Kumar was virtually jobless by mid-60s. His movies were not doing well, his problem with income tax and Madhubala shattered him further and he had far too distanced himself from playback singing by then.
Sixties had hardly any significant Rafi-Kishore duet to talk of. They came together in some sporadic instances like Krorepati (Shankar Jaikishen, 1961) and Akalmand(1966, O P Nayyar)- both Kishore Kumar starrers.
With the advent of seventies, Kishore Kumar as a playback singer grew large, very large. And this marked the decade where Kishore and Rafi sang significantly remarkable male duets.
My all time favourite remains “Yaadon ki baarat” title song-1973. While Kishore sang in his inimitable full open throated singing style, Rafi gave his signature soft touch and made this duet very memorable indeed.
Both Kishore and Rafi had been the mainstay of the compositions of legendary Sachin Dev Burman. But, somehow, SD could never make a Kishore-Rafi duet before, until in 1975- in one of his last released movies, Chupke Chupke. Kishore was all over the duet and Rafi aptly supported him for the sweet “Saregama masarega” duet.
Composer duo Laxmikant Pyarelal needs a special mention here. Here was a duo who had no clear cut preference of one over the other, unlike many other MDs in the 70s, and equally distributed their creations to both of them throughout. They kept on bringing these two stalwarts together throughout the 70s, with memorable duets in Humjoli(1970), Parvarish(1977), Ram Balram(1980) and Deedar-e-yaar(1982). My personal favourite remains “Mere dildaar ka baankpan” from Deedar E Yaar, penned by the great Sahir Ludhianvi.
Shankar Jaikishen also recorded some popular Kishore-Rafi duets in Ek Naari Ek Brahmachari(1971), Jungle mein mangal(1972) and Love in Bombay(1975).
During the late 70s, double hero concept became very popular, and two different but prominent voices were required for two heroes, ahem, angry young men! Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi recorded maximum duets in that period of 1977-1980. Rajesh Roshan recorded as many as 4 K-R duets in a single movie called “Aap ke Deewane”(1980). One of my favourites “Tum ko khush dekhkar” belongs to that movie.
Madan Mohan, Bappi Lahiri, Kalyanji Anandji and Usha Khanna recorded quite a few Kishore Rafi duets in the 70s in movies like Parwana(1971), Khoj(1971), Karmyogi(1977), Aap to aese na the(1980) etc.
The ultimate punch came when Kishore, as a music director, called upon Rafi in 1980 to record a song for him. Rafi, genuine human being as ever, charged a rupee from Kishore to record the ensemble number with Kishore himself and Manna De in Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi(1981).
Rafi passed away in 1980 and Kishore, four and a half years younger to him, passed away in 1987. Both these legends departed before their time and in between full-fledged career. Hindi film music is yet to see such phenomena happen yet again.
As an elderly musical knowledgeable friend of mine told me once- Had Kishore and Rafi been alive today, all their clones would have been singing in pubs of Mumbai. I respect all the artists, but this statement depicts a lot about a Bygone generation who is still awed at the greatness of these two human beings. And yes, their fan groups keep on fighting, forever and ever and ever…J