The documentary Dastaan-e-Rafi took five years to make, so it is not surprising that the 120-minute film tells the story of the playback singer Mohammed Rafi through over 60 interviews and more than 60 hit songs.
Produced and co-directed by Rajni Acharya, the film includes reminiscences from members of Rafi’s family, including his daughters Yasmeen, Parveen and Nasreen, as well as from the actors Dilip Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Jeetendra and Shammi, Rishi and Randhir Kapoor. All of them testify to Rafi’s integrity, generosity with time and money, and act of charity towards the needy.
In an interview with Scroll.in, Acharya said that making the film was a lifelong dream and could have been done only once, like Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975).
When did you get the idea of making a documentary on Mohammed Rafi?
Sujata Dev wanted to write a book on Mohammed Rafi. She is a family friend. I suggested to her that we should work together on the project. She had to meet a lot of people to interview for the book. We had clear outlines that whatever we filmed would be a part of my documentary and whatever she wrote would be a part of her book. There was no interference in each other’s work.
There must have been a favourite Rafi song that inspired you to venture into direction.
Khoya Khoya Chand [Kala Bazar, 1960], whose rights I could not unfortunately get for my film. It was a song that reflected my youth and brought back memories of my time as a young man trying to charm the ladies.
How did you manage to line so many people to share their stories about Rafi?
When I was shooting the documentary, a lot of people wanted money in return for interviews, and we had to use our contacts to bypass the demand. We got what we wanted. We made no compromise on the quality even when people gave us a tough time. I think god assigned us to do this project.
Talking to his family was no problem. His friends and relatives were forthcoming.
Did you discover anything new about Rafi while filming?
More than the stories of his songs and his career as the greatest singer in the country, it was the humane stories we heard about how he helped people in times of crisis that shaped our film. The scripting was done after the shooting was completed. We came across a sensational bit of news about Rafi’s death, but we did not want to capitalise on it.
You also travelled to Pakistan to talk to musicians associated with him.
We went to Lahore to meet several singers who had worked with or were great admirers of his work. I met singer Shamshad Begum’s brother through whom I was able to meet other musicians. I was born in Karachi and I also have a lot of friends there, which made it easy for me to approach artists to talk about Rafi.