Half a decade ago, 16-year-old Saurav Kishen stood at the side stage during a public function held in an international school. On stage was Shahid Rafi, the eldest son of legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi. As Shahid rendered the song Aane Se uske Aaye Bahar from the movie Jeeneh Ki Raah, Saurav became nervous as he was to sing subsequently in front of him.
Soon, this young boy belted out the evergreen song of Rafi Bahaaro Phool Barsao from the hit movie Suraj. After he finished, Shahid walked up to the teenager, and said, "I am happy with how you sang. You sound a lot like my father."
"I have been in touch with him since then," says Saurav who has recently smashed the internet with his cover songs of Mohammed Rafi. What makes this 23-year-old Kozhikode native's voice distinguished from others is his uncanny similarity of vocal to the legendary singer himself.
When a twitter handle shared a video of Saurav's rendition of Mohammed Rafi's song, 'Teri Aankhon Ke Siva' last week, thousands of users including Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra retweeted it. It garnered 12 lakh views just on Twitter.
"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...(sic)," he wrote.
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... https://t.co/QhM3koPlVE— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) September 12, 2020
Joining him was playback singer Shankar Mahadevan who was stunned by his voice. "Look at this talent !! What a voice! So happy to hear him sing like this !! (sic)," he tweeted.
Look at this talent !! What a voice ! So happy to hear him sing like this !! 💕 https://t.co/E92issk8Lw— Shankar Mahadevan (@Shankar_Live) September 13, 2020
Many celebrities, actors, bureaucrats, and politicians wrote congratulatory tweets about this new internet sensation. As for Saurav, all these feels like a dream. He was branded as Chota Rafi by social media. "However, this name tag has stuck with me for the last since I am in 6th standard," tells Saurav in a candid chat with Republic TV.
Nine years ago, he sang for a TV reality show which was judged by Kerala's maverick music composer Late Johnson Master. When Saurav sang the first song at the competition, 'Suhaani Raat Dal Chuki' from the movie Dulari, Johnson advised him to solely train his voice to Mohammed Rafi.
"He corrected my style and he was in touch with me. I am indebted to him. His loss is personal," says Saurav with gratitude. The tag of Chota Rafi got stuck since then.
Today, this young singer has crooned in over 100 live programmes. He renders over 800 songs of Mohammed Rafi from his memory. "I just cannot sing with lyric sheets. I lose the soul of the song if I keep a lyrics reference," says the Keralite who has once performed 30 songs of Rafi during a live concert. "Also, when I learn a song, I see the expressions of actors to understand the emotion behind these words." Saurav also wishes to sing different genres in the future.
The young Keralite pursuing his MBBS from China lends his inclination for melodies at a young age to his grandfather. "My grandfather Dr. Ramakrishnan, a homeopathic doctor, used to consult patients while the gramophone records played hits of Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, and others," says Saurav. He says his home buzzed with Hindi melodies. Later, Saurav was trained in Carnatic Music under Pratapan and Hindustani under Bijay Sursain later.
"After the videos became viral, I have got many offers and collaborations lined up," he says. He feels more opportunities will open up after the COVID crisis dip. His live concerts in youtube which otherwise had a few hundred views skyrocketed.
Saurav does vocal training for a minimum of two hours daily. His father Sunil Kumar helps in correcting his pitch. His younger brother Vaibhav plays the guitar. His mother Minnika Rani supports her son's talent. Saurav feels he is blessed. "Whenever I sing, I feel Rafi sir's presence around me. Before I begin my performance, I pray to him," says Saurav with a melodic smile.