To mark Mohammed Rafi’s death anniversary on July 31, the makers of Fanney Khan released a revamped version of the hit tune Badan Pe Sitare from Prince (1969). In the August 3 release, Anil Kapoor plays Fanney, a failed singer and self-declared Rafi devotee who performs the song at an event in his residential colony.

The real devotee of the legendary singer, however, is off-screen: the vocalist of the remix, Sonu Nigam. Like the fictional Fanney Khan, Nigam has, in numerous interviews, called Rafi his guru and spoken at length about the influence of Rafi’s career on his own.

The retolled Badan Pe Sitare joins a long list of Nigam’s sonic tributes to his icon. Though the remix has some problems, Nigam isn’t one of them. His voice sits awkwardly in Kapoor’s throat, but if you were to listen to the audio alone, the sincerity of Nigam’s rendition shines through. This despite composer Amit Trivedi’s unconvincing re-arrangement and some unnecessary tweaks to the lyrics of the song – the word “aashiq” is replaced “fanney” in the second stanza.

Fanney Khan (2018).

This isn’t the first time Nigam has recreated Badan Pe Sitare. The song was a part of the album series Kal Aaj Aur Kal, Nigam’s recreation of Rafi’s 100 greatest hits. Nigam also performed the song as part of his Rafi Resurrected world concert tour in 2008, in which he was accompanied by the Birmingham Orchestra.

Yet, Nigam said in an interview that he was initially reluctant about singing the track for Fanney Khan. “I basically was avoiding doing it [remixes] because I don’t like to tamper with the original songs anymore,” Nigam told IANS. “I’ve done enough of versions in my past. And it’s Rafi sahab’s song. Who wants to mess with it? He is my guru, he is my musical father. But Anil Kapoorji insisted and he requested me to do it.”

Kal Aaj Aur Kal.
An Evening in London - Rafi Resurrected.

Nigam was four years old when he performed his first Rafi song, Kya Hua Tera Vaada from Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin (1977). His father, the singer Agam Kumar Nigam, introduced him to the music legend, he told The Times of India in a 2013 interview . “Whenever I talk about Rafi sahab, I feel I’m talking about my father,” he told the publication. “Mujhe lagta hai Bhagwaan ne mujhe is dharti par Rafi saab ka danka bajaane ke liye hi bheja hai.”

Mohammed Rafi versus Sonu Nigam Live.

Rafi’s influence on Nigam’s singing style is palpable. In an interview to Rajat Sharma of Aaj Tak, Nigam revealed that when he sang Sandese Aate Hain for JP Dutta’s Border (1997), people recalled Rafi. “People said I sing like Rafi-saab and that my voice would work well for such patriotic songs,” Nigam said.

While the compliment was huge, Nigam did not want to be typecast. This decision too bore his idol’s stamp. In the same interview, Nigam said that when he set out to make a career as a playback singer, one of the things he wanted to imbibe was Rafi’s versatility.

“I’d like to say this about my first Ustad [Rafi]. Just like Rafi saab had sung O Duniye Ke Rakhwale and then also sung a song like Sar Jo Tera Chakraaye. And then also a song like Chaahe Koyi Mujhe Junglee Kahe. an artist and as his disciple, my endeavour has been to ensure the audience listens to my voice in a variety of genres. That they listen to me in a spiritual song like Kal Ho Naa Ho, a patriotic song and a comedy song and so on.” 

— Aap Ki Adalat (2017).

Nigam made a reference to Rafi’s versatility in another tribute video for Saregama Music, in which he listed the many genres that the legend had deftly tackled. “Bhajan, qawwali, love songs, wedding songs, sad songs, songs for Ramzan, songs for Rakshabandhan, patriotic songs, ghazals, semi-classical numbers, comedy songs. And I’m missing many genres,” Nigam said. “There’s no one like him.”

Sonu Nigam's tribute to the Legend Mohd Rafi. Saregama Music

The luminary similarly comes up in many other conversations with Nigam – whether in the context of what he has learnt from Rafi’s singing or when he explains how Rafi modulated his voice and expressed an emotion.

Seven years ago, on Rafi’s death anniversary, Nigam paid homage to his idol on a music reality show, where he once again summed up what the musician meant to him. “Everyone is inspired from someone in their life, and when a person is an artist, the inspiration is often found in one’s guru,” Nigam said before embarking on his rendition of Rafi’s soul-stirring Main Yeh Soch Kar from Haqeeqat (1964).

Sonu Nigam pays tribute to his idol, Mohammed Rafi, on X Factor India.