Saurav Kishan, who knows the lyrics to 800 Rafi songs, has earned praise from celebrities for his covers.

Man in a yellow T shirt and headphones singing into a mic
news Social Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 15:02

It was eight years ago, when Saurav Kishan was 15 years old, did he decide to turn into a Mohammad Rafi expert of sorts. He crooned a rendition of Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki, an evergreen hit by the legendary singer Rafi, at a reality show in Kerala. He was discovered by late music director Johnson, who realised that the boy is a near perfect sound-alike of the music legend.

A playback singer who worked in the Hindi film industry, Mohammad Rafi was one among the greatest and most influential singers of his generation. He was best known for his voice as well as his range of songs, which include fast numbers, patriotic songs and romantic numbers, qawwalis, bhajans, classical songs and others.

"I happened to sing the song at Gandharva Sangeetam and after listening to me, Johnson sir asked me to focus only on Mohammad Rafi songs and nicknamed me Chhota Rafi," Saurav tells TNM. Since then, Saurav, who is referred to by this nickname in his hometown of Kozhikode, has been focusing on learning Rafi songs.

But last week, the 23-year-old’s talent finally broke the internet after a Twitter user posted songs sung by him. The video, in which he sings Teri Aankhon Ke Siva from the 1969 film Chirag got 41,000 likes, nearly 8000 shares and 1000 quote tweets. He became a viral sensation in one day.

Subsequent videos where he sings Chaudhvi Ka Chand from the 1960 film of the same name, also has also thousands of retweets.

The young singer's songs were even praised by celebrities such as Anand Mahindra who said, “We have been waiting for decades for a new Mohammed Rafi. It sounds as if we may have to wait no longer... I couldn't switch this clip off…”.

Playback singer and music composer Shankar Mahadevan too shared the song and showered praises on the 23-year-old's flair.

A gramophone and a music loving grandfather 

Speaking to TNM, Saurav, who is a 5th year medical student in China's Xinjiang province, says that his passion for music was ignited by his grandfather, a homeopathy doctor, who used to play Rafi, Kishor Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar on his gramophone, while consulting patients.

“I was drawn to Rafi after listening to these songs at an early age,” he says. At the age of three-and-a-half, Saurav gave his first concert on Doordarshan TV while being trained in Carnatic, Hindustani and light music. 

A Rafi expert

“My gurus are Pratapan sir who taught me Carnatic music and Bijai Sursain who trained me in Hindustani,” he adds. But it was only after his interaction with music director Johnson did the 23-year-old seriously focus on Rafi’s music. He can now sing 800 Mohammad Rafi songs without a lyrics sheet.

“When I look at the lyrics and sing, I cannot feel the soul of the song and I don't feel confident. Usually I imagine the song when I sing it, as I learn the songs by watching videos of Rafi sir,” Saurav adds. While he believes that each of the songs is a gem, his personal favourite is Abhi Na Jao Chhodkar from the 1961 film Hum Dono, which the young singer describes as “hauntingly beautiful”.

So similar is his voice and singing style to Rafi's that Saurav was even complimented by Shahid Rafi, the eldest son of the legendary singer. He could not help but say, "You sound so much like my father”.

"We were at Fazal Gafoor's daughter's wedding and he had a private concert for his guests with me. It was here that Shahid sir sang Aane Se Uske Aaye Bahar before me. I was nervous and I sang Bahaaro Phool Barsao right after he finished," Saurav recollects.

However, after his song, he recalls Shahid Rafi coming over to him and patting his back for his performance. "We stayed in touch ever since," Saurav adds.

The 23-year-old has been giving regular recitals across Kerala. He has performed multiple times at Thrissur's Regional Theatre, Kozhikode's Tagore Hall and other prominent venues. Every year the Mohammad Rafi Foundation also invites him to sing on the birth and death anniversary of the singer, setting up a stage at the Kozhikode beach.

"People ask me how I am able to sing like him. I just tell them that I am not anywhere close to him. I am just a huge fan trying to do 100 percent justice to his songs," Saurav adds.

Apart from old Hindi songs, the 23-year-old also enjoys English retro songs. He is a fan of Elvis, Jim Reeves, Kenny Rogers and Don Williams and also does their covers. 

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.