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Suraiya was the last of the singer-actresses before ‘playback’ took over completely in the late 1940s. With Noor Jehan and Khursheed moving to Pakistan in the wake of Partition, the path was clear for the meteoric rise of Suraiya as a singing star. Her career, though voluntarily cut short, saw its share of highs and lows. She was never a ‘playback’ singer; she sang only for herself on screen. (A couple of her songs were axed from the films for which they were originally intended, and then used later on as playback for other actresses; and apart from one instance, she never did sing for anyone else.)
In my initial post, I compiled a baker’s dozen of her songs, both popular and not as well-known ones (though they deserve to be). Here, I give you a dozen of her duets – again, some well-known, some, not quite, all melodious, and worthy of a listen.
1. Jaago aayi usha (With Manna Dey)
Music: KC Dey
Lyrics: SK Kalla
This was the movie that saw the debut of budding singer Manna Dey. And Jaago aayi usha, a duet with Suraiya, was his first recorded song. The music director was his uncle KC Dey, with whom he had worked as assistant music director the previous year. The song was an instant hit, and propelled the young singer onto the path of success. Again, this seems to be the only song that Manna Dey ever sang with the lovely singing star.
2. Chahe to mita de, chahe to bacha le (With KL Saigal)
Music: Lal Mohammed
Lyrics: Swami Ramanand
Having heard Suraiya rehearsing, and being impressed with her ability to emote while singing, KL Saigal recommended her for the heroine’s role in Tadbir. For Suraiya, a self-confessed Saigal fan, it was a dream come true. It was their first collaboration, both as singers and as co-stars. After the departure of Noor Jehan and Khursheed to Pakistan after the partition, Suraiya was the only actress left who sang her own songs. Saigal and Suraiya proceeded to act (and sing) together in two other movies – Omar Khayyam andParwana (1946).
Another great Saigal-Suraiya collaboration was Raani khol de apne dwar from Tadbir itself. Though neither Omar Khayyam norParwana had any duets (that I know of), there was a clutch of solos by the duo, not the least of which was Baalam tujhe sabr pade mora from Parwana. It has the doubtful credit of being Saigal’s last recorded song. Saigal died during the making Parwana; the film was released the following year. The music director was Khurshid Anwar.
3. Teri nazar mein main rahoon (With Surendra)
Music: Sajjad Hussein
Lyrics: Shewan Rizvi
Suraiya reunited with her co-star of Anmol Ghadi, this time playing his heroine instead of the second lead. The music director was Sajjad Hussein, and since this was the pre-Lata era, and since Noor Jehan only sang for herself, one assumes that he didn’t have any issue with Suraiya singing. While 1857 had only one Suraiya-Surendra duet, Sajjad gave Suraiya some wonderful solos such as Gham-e-ashiana, Phir ho gayi unse baat and Ummeedon ka taara.
4. Laayi khushi ki duniya (With Mukesh)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Anjum Pilibhiti
Suraiya was already a big star when they began shooting Vidya, but sparks flew between the beautiful actress and the handsome newcomer. Her romance with Dev Anand was the stuff of which romance was made. In typical filmi style, he saved her from drowning when the boat on which they were shooting Jaayi khushi ki duniya hansti hui jawaani, capsized.
Like all legendary love stories, their romance was also tinged with tragedy. Her grandmother, who had a firm hold over the household, opposed the match citing different religions. Her mentor, Naushad, had once said that Suraiya’s grandmother had complete control over every aspect of her life. She accompanied Suraiya everywhere, and never let her out of her sight.
Dev Anand always maintained that had Suraiya shown a little more independence, the course of their life would have been different. He was willing to take her away, but she could never summon up the courage to defy her entire family for him. The final straw came when her grandmother emotionally blackmailed her and Suraiya was forced to throw the ring that Dev had given her into the sea. Dev was heartbroken for a while, while Suraiya remained unwed her entire life.
Another Suraiya-Mukesh duet that was on my list was Badarwan ki chaon tale from the little-known Lekh (1949).
5. Tu mera chand main teri chandni (With Shyam Kumar)
One of the mistakes people often make is to mistake the Shyam who was acting with Suraiya to also be the singer who sang this classic number. No, they are not the same. Character actor Shyam Kumar was also a singer who often sang for the actor Shyam. He played the villain in many films, and then moved on to character roles, though he was not very well-known. He also starred in Dillagi, leading to even more confusion. The hero, Shyam, of Dillagi was never a singer.
This song was reprised again as a duet by Shyam Kumar and Geeta Roy (Dutt) and picturised on Shyama. This was Geeta’s first recorded song for Naushad.
6. Aji preet ka naata jodnewale (With Geeta Dutt)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Pandit Narendra Sharma
Like Asha Bhosle after her, Geeta Dutt also sang only one duet with Suraiya, though they often sang for the same films. The song, composed by SD Burman, was a simple harmony conveying the emotions of a young girl in love.
Geeta Roy (Dutt) first faced the recording studios with Suraiya for Naach (1949). The music directors were Husnlal Bhagatram. It was the same year that Dillagi was released with five songs sung by Suraiya. While Tu mera chand main teri chandni, Suraiya’s duet with Shyam Kumar became the rage, it is a lesser known fact that young Geeta Roy also sang the same number in tandem with Shyam Kumar.
7. Teri zaalim nigahon ne (With GM Durrani)
Music: S Mohinder
Lyrics: Surjit Sethi
One of the handful of movies that Suraiya and Dev Anand signed so they could spend as much time together, the film flopped, but this song is a lively foot-tapping number that outlasted the fate of the movie. S Mohinder was one of the lesser-known composers who was introduced to films by Aroon (actor Govinda’s father) in Sehra (1948). GM Durrani was quite a popular actor-singer until the floodgates of playback singing opened and singers like Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mahmood, and Mukesh became popular. He had some very popular numbers to his credit.
The other song that I had shortlisted was Kyun dil mein mere base ho from Aaj ki Raat (1948). It is in the style of sawal-jawab songs that were quite popular at one time.
8. Bedard shikari (With Lata Mangeshkar)
Suraiya famously said of Lata: “Noor Jehan was born great, Lata achieved greatness and I had (singing) greatness thrust upon me.” She firmly believed that she had not an iota of Lata Mangeshkar’s talent, and once in an interview confessed that when Lata recorded her first duet O pardesi musafir kise karte hain ishaare with her (Suraiya) for Balam (1949), she was so spellbound she missed her cue. It speaks to Suraiya’s humility and her generosity of spirit that she could look her competitor in the eye and accept the greatness of her talent without rancour. Lata always said that Suraiya had treated her with affection and warmth though the two were never friends. The two sang a grand total of five duets together.
Having co-starred with Prithviraj Kapoor in Ishaara, one of her earliest films, and then with older brother Raj Kapoor in Dastaan, she showed no displeasure at having to star with a raw newcomer like Shammi Kapoor. It was one of Suraiya’s most endearing qualities that she was not only willing, but went out of her way to support and work with newcomers even though she was a ‘star’.
Asha Bhonsle recalls how Suraiya’s trademark giggle would keep her from recording her lines, and how, finally, she burst out in frustration, saying, ”Aapa, aapki hasi khatam ho gayi ho to bata dijiye, phir main gaaongi.”* (Tell me when you finish laughing. Then, I’ll sing.)
10. Ghar tera apna ghar lage (With Talat Mahmood)
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
While Raahi matwaale remains the most popular of the songs from Waris, this song is a revelation. Talat’s smooth-as-silk voice blends melodiously with Suraiya’s honey-coated vocals. Talat Mahmood acted with Suraiya in Waris (1954) and Malik (1958). When he heard that Suraiya was retiring after Rustom Sohrab, he was dismayed. Having shared an excellent rapport with his co-star of two films, and his partner in many a duet, he knew her as a good human being as well as a good artist. Their songs in Waris are popular even after all these years.
Incidentally, Suraiya ended up singing for Nimmi as well, in Shama (1961) because Suman Kalyanpur couldn’t make it for the recording. And who can forget Dil-e-naadan tujhe hua kya hai from Mirza Ghalib?
11. To zara si baat pe khafa na ho (With Mohammed Rafi)
Mr Lambu (1956)
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This is from a rather obscure film, but the song is so lively that I had to include it in the list. Mohammed Rafi is as peppy as usual, but Suraiya is a revelation as she adapts to OP Nayyar’s style. This is the only Suraiya starrer for which OP Nayyar composed music. Suraiya had to wonderful solos in this film – Soyi hai kahan jaakar and Yaad karoon teri batiyaan ro ro guzaari maine ratiyaan. Rafisaab had by this time, sung nearly 25 duets with Suraiya (from 1948 onwards).
I would have put Tara ri arari from this film for the Rafi-Suraiya duet because a) it had Raj Kapoor on screen, and Rafi singing for him is a rare enough occurrence to do so, and b) this was one of the few songs that took Suraiya outside her comfort zone (she claimed she was not too good with western tunes) – if I hadn’t already used it in a couple of lists before. Raj Kapoor was a childhood friend who teasingly called Suraiya ‘kallu’. The camaraderie between them was evident when they co-starred in Dastaan.
I also had the haunting Beqaraar hai koi from Shama Parwana on my shortlist (it’s an incredible song, and there was Shammi to watch) but I regretfully dropped it in favour of this lilting, happy number.
12. Albela saiyyan jhulna jhoola re (With Shamshad Begum)
Music: Ghulam Mohammed
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Who can resist two of the finest singing voices of a long-gone era? It’s a playful sakhi song, though I wonder who Shamshad Begum is singing for. Malik also had the wonderful Talat-Suraiya duet Man dhire dhire gaye re malum nahin kyun.
I was almost tempted to use Dil le gaya ji hai koi from Sanam again (I had used it earlier for Shamshad Begum duets), just so I could see Meena Kumari make such pretty faces. I dropped the thought (regretfully) because I’d already listed a Suraiya-Lata duet from the same film.
Suraiya’s last recorded song was for Rustom-Sohrab (1963). When she collapsed on the sets, and had to take a break to recuperate, she realised how much she really enjoyed the rest. Tired of working, she voluntarily retired into anonymity after this film, preferring to leave on a blaze of glory. From then on, she lived the life of a recluse, rarely making a public appearance. She was 34.
Aur bhi afsaane hai
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 blog Conversations Over Chai as and when time permits.
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