She made her debut as a child artiste in Usne Kya Socha (1937), thanks to her uncle Zahoor, who was a successful villain in Hindi movies. Four years later, she debuted in her first real role as the young Mumtaz Mahal in Nanubhai Vakil‘s Taj Mahal. Her first recorded song for the movies came in 1942, for the film Station Master, under the baton of music director Naushad, who had heard the young Suraiya sing on All India Radio for a children’s programme, and was impressed. She sang two songs, Ye rail hamare ghar ki (with Saigal, Amirbai Karnataki, and Rajkumari) and Saajan ghar aaye aayeri aali, a duet with Rajkumari. An interesting bit of trivia here: it was the encouragement of Raj Kapoor and , two childhood friends, that made her take part in that children’s programme.
Jag Beeti (1946)
Music: Ghulam Haider
Lyrics: Nazim Panipati, Shams Lucknawi
Though she didn’t sing many songs for Master Ghulam Haider, her collaboration with the great music director always produced great melodies. She had four solos in this rather obscure film – Jag Beeti did not seem to have made any waves when it released (or even later, for that matter). There is no mention of who the lyricist is, not even onsmriti.com, though there are two, maybe three, lyricists associated with this film.The song is redolent of the folk tunes of Punjab.
Anmol Ghadi (1946)
Lyrics: Tanvir Naqvi
Suraiya played second lead to Noor Jehan in this film, and in one of her rare interviews credits the latter for having got her the role. She shared a warm rapport with Noor Jehan, who began her career in films at the same time she did. Yet, she considered Noor Jehan her mother, sister, and friend. Though Noor Jehan had the lead role and four stunning songs including Aawaz de kahan hai, Suraiya’s three solos brought her lots of acclaim. When Noor Jehan moved to Pakistan in the wake of the Partition, she inadvertently gave an impetus to Suraiya’s career. Suraiya had the edge over contemporaries like Kamini Kaushal and Nargis because she could sing her own songs. Another favourite Naushad-Suraiya number isMurliwale murli bajaa from Dillagi (1949). Nadira, who was to co-star with Suraiya in Waris, once mentioned that her father would repeatedly go to the theatre to watch Suraiya singSocha tha kya – and leave immediately after the song was over.
Music: Khurshid Anwar
Lyrics: DN Madhok
It is not easy to be noticed in a film where your co-star and co-singer is the legendaryKL Saigal. But with five solos in this film, Suraiya was not only noticed, she secured her position as both actress and singer. Her voice takes on a slightly flirtatious note in this song, without losing its innocence. That was perhaps her greatest quality. Parwana was the last film in which KL Saigal acted; he died during its making.
Music: Krishna Dayal
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
A lesser-known film by a lesser-known music director, Lekh’s songs were nevertheless, very popular upon the film’s release. Music director Krishna Dayal may not be very well-known, but he had almost all the top singers of his time singing for him, not to speak of well-known lyricists writing his songs. Suraiya’s honey-smooth voice melds beautifully with the music as she laments the parting that comes in love’s wake. She is left with only the memories of her lost love.
Dil ka qaraar lut chuka gham ki kahani reh gayi,
Woh to nazar se door hai, uski nishaani reh gayi
Suraiya had four songs in this film, but not many know that Lekh also had two Asha Bhoslesongs – a solo, and a duet with Mukesh. This was the early part of Asha’s career when she wasn’t getting many chances to sing. Lata Mangeshkar was soaring like a meteor, and music directors went to her, and then to Shamshad Begum and Geeta Dutt for their compositions. Though Asha had begun her career with Chunariya in 1948, she had to wait until 1953 before some well-deserved fame came her way. Lekh and Khel were the only films for which she sang in 1949.
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Aarzoo Lucknawi
An ode to love, Suraiya’s voice is almost languorous as she sings this lovely plaint. She had a clear voice, excellent diction and a childlike simplicity that never failed to please. It was not the least of her admirable qualities that she never considered herself a great singer, or even a great actress, for that matter. At the height of her stardom, she retained that simplicity which kept her away from the ill-effects of fame.
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Narendra Sharma
As is usually the case with the Anand brothers, this was also based on a literary work – Gogol‘s ‘Inspector General’. The film also had the melodious Nain deewane but I ended up choosing this because this song highlighted the simplicity that was Suraiya’s trump card. Suraiya worked with Burmanda in only three films, two of which (Vidya and Afsar), not coincidentally, starred Dev Anand. A close competitor was Nigahein kyun milayi thi from Laal Kunwar (1952) – but I must admit that that was because Sahir‘s lyrics were so evocative of the pain of loss. Stepping into the realm of wild speculation, I wonder whether the pain in her voice was a reflection of her real-life woes, as she sang:
Nigaahein kyon milaayi thi agar yun chhod jaana tha
ummeedein kyun jagaayi thi agar dil ko jalaana tha
Music: Hansraj Behl
Lyrics: Anjum Jaipuri
There is such sweetness in Suraiya’s voice as she sings of a maiden’s waiting for her love. Music director Hansraj Behl accompanies her clear notes with the minimum music, really making it supplementary to the yearning in her voice. Yet, it is not a plaint. It is a happy waiting, sure that he will come. There is another melody in this film –Raste pe hum khade hain dil beqaraar lekar, that describes the sadness of waiting. Two sides, same coin.
Music: Jamal Sen
Lyrics: Kidar Sharma
This is another period of ‘intezaar’ though the yearning is more plaintive than in the earlier song. Suraiya plays a tribal girl waiting for her lover, Premnath. (Here is a better audio clip of the song) This movie also boasted of other lovely songs, like Lata’s Aayi barkha bahaarand Suraiya’sTu to aaja re naina mein bas jaa re.
Another ‘unsung’ composer of some talent who composed for many films only to die in penury, this was Jamal Sen’s debut film – a break given to him by producer-director Kidar Sharma, who also wrote the lyrics for the musical score. Music director Shyam Sunder, who has the ‘discovery’ of Mohammed Rafi to his credit, can also claim some credit in ‘discovering’ Jamal Sen. It was he who introduced Jamal Saab to Master Ghulam Haider, which led to a long, successful partnership that lasted until the latter migrated to Pakistan in the wake of the Partition. In a Doordarshan documentary on Kidar Sharma, the veteran film-maker talks about how he had met Jamal Sen, and was not quite sure about the latter’s talent. How could he take a risk? Jamal saab was quick to respond; he asked Kidar Sharma to listen to a few of his compositions that were based on Rajasthani folk tunes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Shamz Azimabadi
OP Dutta, the director of Pyar ki Jeet once said of Suraiya that she had a clarity of tone, perfect diction, and a sublime voice. These qualities were never more evident than when she sang for her neighbour and childhood friend, Madan Mohan. Having been one of the two who egged her on to join the children’s programme on AIR, it is strange that Madan Mohan and Suraiya worked together only in this film. The film flopped, as did many films for which Madan Mohan scored the music (and wonderful music it was too), but this song and Mohabbat mein kashish hogi (which had versions by both Suraiya and Talat Mahmood) were big hits.
Shama Parwana (1954)
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Shama Parwana had some wonderful compositions. This particular song also had a male version, which was sung by Mohammed Rafi, and is quite one of my favourite numbers, even though it was quite painful to see Shammi Kapoor emote on screen. For some strange reason, I prefer Suraiya’s version, even though I usually prefer the male versions of songs that are sung by both male and female voices. Another collaboration with the same music-director duo that I particularly like is O door jaanewale from Pyar ki Jeet.
Anil Biswas – Qamar Jalalabadi
My introduction to the score of Waris came, as must be pretty obvious to anyone who has heard it, with Raahi matwaale. The song plays in many versions in the film, male solo, female solo, duet, etc. In fact, I even listed in my post on lyricist Qamar Jalalabadi. This is a lullaby from the same film, and I first came across this less-known number when I was searching for songs for my post on lullabies. And there it stayed, until I gave up the idea of doing that post. It is too beautiful a song not to be heard again, though, and I’m glad that I can use it here. (Trivia: She had earlier co-starred with another singer who nurtured ambitions of making it as an actor – Mukesh Chand Mathur – in a 1953 film called Mashooqa.)
Mirza Ghalib (1954)
Music: Ghulam Mohammed
Lyrics: Mirza Asad’ullah Khan ‘Ghalib’
This was her ‘comeback’ film, after a series of inconsequential roles. It was also the first feature film to be awarded the President’s Gold Medal. With a wonderful score that was composed of Mirza Asad’ullah Khan Ghalib’s fine verses, she lent her voice and her face to playing Chaudvin, Ghalib’s lover. In fact, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru heard her sing, he is said to have complimented her – ‘Ladki, tumne Mirza Ghalib ki rooh ko zinda kar diya‘ (You have brought to life the soul of Ghalib); a well-deserved compliment, since many stalwarts are of the opinion that her rendition of Ghalib’s shers was her career best. It was difficult to choose just one song from Mirza Ghalib because the film had some of the finest of Ghalib’s shaayari set to music – from Rahiye agar aisi jagah and Yeh na thi hamari kismat toAah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak, which dusted off mentioned in her list of favourite ghazals.
After listening over and over to the score, I kept coming back-back to Nuktacheen hain ghame-e-dil. And the last couplet is so achingly true:
Ishq par zor nahin hain ye woh aatish, Ghalib
ki lagaaye na lage aur bujhayi na bane
(Love is not forced; it is that fire, Ghalib,
that does not blaze at whim or extinguish at will…)
Interestingly enough, when I was looking for Nuktacheen hain ghame-e-dil, I came across a very interesting rendition of the Mirza Ghalib ghazal. The singer is Jaddan Bai, more famous as Nargis’s mother. I must say I quite prefer Suraiya’s version.
And how can I leave out:
Rustom Sohrab (1963)
Music: Sajjad Hussein
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
This was Suraiya’s swansong. She collapsed on the sets and the break to recuperate convinced her that she did not enjoy her work any more. She bid farewell to fame with next to no regrets. It is perhaps strange that she was singing for Sajjad Hussein, who once famously said that God should have stopped creating female singers after Noor Jehan and Lata Mangeshkar. Hopefully, his collaboration with Suraiya changed his mind? As Suraiya voluntarily ended her career with this film, both acting and singing, she was to leave a void that no other singer could fill.
Suraiya’s career lasted two decades, and saw the ebbs and flows of success and failure. Ruled by her martinet grandmother, Suraiya had not spent a moment on her own – she was strictly chaperoned everywhere she went. When she finally retired, she was genuinely happy to be free of the studios, the arc lights, the unending shootings. For the first time in her life, she could be herself.
Her grandmother had kept all suitors away, afraid to lose the golden goose, claim wicked tongues. But even after her grandmother’s death, Suraiya continued to remain inaccessible, safely locked within her own memories and ours. Apart from her unfulfilled love for Dev Anand, people who knew her well claimed that she was unfailingly good tempered, and had a lively sense of humour. She never had any regrets about leaving fame and fortune behind – now, how many of today’s celebrities who have tasted the sort of fame she did can say that?
Aur Bhi Afsaane Hai
© Anuradha Warrier
Written By: Anuradha Warrier, is a writer, editor, film, and music buff. She writes for pleasure, edits for a living, and indulges in watching films, listening to music, and writing about both on her blogConversations Over Chai as and when time permits.
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