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Suraiya: The Last Nightingale of Bollywood

Guest article by DP Rangan

(Suraiya was literally as sweet as a nightingale. I have covered her in some detail. But with his amazing enthusiasm for research, DP Rangan was not deterred in finding enough interesting material and uncovered songs on her. I thank Mr Rangan for this nice article and join him in paying my tribute to one of my greatest favourite singers on her 89th birth anniversary (15 June 1929 – 31 January 2004).AK)

SuraiyaThis is the seventh in the series of posts on this chanteuse, a rage among her admirers in late 1940s. The earlier six posts were all creations of the blog master. Four of the posts were on her combination with the Music directors Naushad, S D Burman, Anil Biswas and Husnlal-Bhagatram. The fifth one was general in character based on her songs of the later part of her career, i.e. 1950s through 60s, and the sixth was a small writeup focused on a song Door papiha bola. Naushad, Husanlal Bhagatram and Ghulam Mohammad were music directors in bulk of her films and it will be difficult to exclude Naushad in any discussion of her songs. I have tried as far as possible not to repeat any of the songs from the earlier posts. Such are her achievements, blogs can be written on several aspects of her personality ad infinitum. I have tried to trace her biography and illustrated with songs not so well known as is my usual practice.

A lissome beauty of yesteryears and a heart throb of numerous fans in her heydays, Suraiya took over the reigns of an actress with singing and dancing talents, after departure of Noorjehan in 1947, and cut a wide swathe in the film world from the age of 13 to 34 when she suddenly quit filmdom at the height of her career much to the bewilderment of her fans and film magnates. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru appreciated her acting in the film Mirza Ghalib (1954) and told her in person – “Tumne Mirza Ghalib ki rooh ko zindaa kar diya” (You have made Mirza Ghalib’s soul come alive). She rose to such dizzy heights in her career spread over twenty years. She in all her modesty averred she was no true singer, a gross understatement if any. Except for some early songs for Mehtab, she sang for herself only as an actress in films from 1946-63. During the period 1948-50, she reigned as a super singing star and received highest remuneration among all actors like Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Madhubala to name a few. Her adakari in films with Muslim background, such as Mirza Ghalib, Afsar, Shayar and a few more, was a fusion of modernity with tradition of the days and brought alive the feudal atmosphere to the scenes she enacted. While she reigned supreme in the field she was christened with other titles as Malika-e-Husn (The Queen of Beauty) and Malika-e-Adakaari (The Queen of Acting), all fused together. She is a cuckoo and peacock rolled into one for her acting, singing and dancing talents. She could be called la hermosa fembra, a title conferred on Spanish beauties in fifteenth century.

I am deeply indebted to the rich html post for my article. It was quite elaborate, itself based on extensive research conducted by the author and the bibliography looks like British Encyclopedia. My hats off to the author for his painstaking endeavor which had rendered my efforts effortless.

Suraiya Jamail Shaikh (Suraiya) was born on 15th June 1929 in Gujranwala, Punjab to Aziz Jamail Shaikh, a furniture shop owner. He moved with his family to Lahore shortly thereafter. She was brought to Bombay in 1930 as a one year old by her mother Mumtaz Begum and strong-willed maternal grandmother Badshah Begum who was to contribute to the tragedy in Suraiya’s life at a later date. Her father joined them later on. She studied in J.B. Petit High School, Fort, Bombay. Raju Bharatan, the well-known writer, Raj Kapoor and Madan Mohan were her neighbourhood companions. Raju Bharatan wrote about her, Raj Kapoor acted as hero opposite her in Daastan (1950) and Madan Mohan composed music for her film Khoobsurat (1952). She had a natural talent for singing, acting and dancing from childhood and her mother groomed her talents with a Hindustani music teacher as her guru. Mumtaz Ali imparted her dancing lessons.

Suraiya was involved in 72 films from 1937 to 1963 in various roles as child artist (1), co actor/supporting actor (10), playback singer (6) and heroine (55). From 1942 to 1952, she figured in 56 films and acted as heroine in 42 of them. There was a sharp decline thereafter and from 1953 to 1963 she acted in just 13 films and two of her songs from an incomplete film was lifted and added to the film Taqdeer (1958) by the music director Dhani Ram. 1949 was the most productive year for her. She acted as a heroine in 11 films. After 1958 her career came to a virtual standstill and she appeared in just two films, one each in 1961 and 1963. At the age of 34, she withdrew from the field and lived in self-imposed isolation till her demise in 2004.

She acted as a child artiste in the film Usne Kya Socha in 1937. Her maternal uncle Zahoor, who acted in villain roles took her to shooting scene of the film Taj Mahal in 1941 during school holidays. The director Nanubhai Vaakil had one look at the petite twelve-year-old and captivated by her charm, straightaway cast her as a child Mumtaz Mahal and her acting career started in earnest. Her first song as a solo was in the film Nai Duniya (1942).

1. Boot karoon main polish babu by Suraiya from Nayi Duniya (1942), lyrics Tanvir Naqvi, music Naushad

Naushad was much impressed when he heard her sing and engaged her as a playback singer for adult actress Mehtab in Sharda (1942). Mehtab was quite apprehensive about the outcome. The little girl had to stand on a stool to sing through the mike. After hearing it, Mehtab insisted that Suraiya should be her playback in future. She sang as a playback for her in two more films Kanoon and Sanjog (both 1943). Her first song as a playback singer for an elder artist is given below.

2. Panchhi ja peechhe raha hai bachpan mera by Suraiya from Sharda (1942), lyrics D N Madhok, music Naushad

She started her regular acting as a child artist from the film Station Master (1942), a Silver Jubilee film (two duets with Rajkumari Dubey) and Tamanna (1942). In Tamanna she had her first duet with Manna Dey under the music direction of K.C. Dey and it was Manna Dey’s first Hindi film song.

3. Jaago jaago ayi usha by Manna Dey and Suraiya from Tamanna (1942), lyrics S. K. Kalia, music KC Dey

She started her role as heroine in Ishara (1943) opposite Prithviraj Kapoor in which she sang two solos. Here is one of them.

4. Baagon me koyal by Suraiya from film Ishara (1943), lyrics D N Madhok, music Khursheed Anwar

K.L. Saigal was bowled over by her singing and acting prowess and had her as his heroine in Tadbeer (1945) and two more films, Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parvana (1947). Parwana, Saigal’s last film, was released after he passed away. Suraiya sang 11 solos and two duets with Saigal in these films.

5. Milne ke din aa gaya by Saigal and Suraya from Tadbeer (1945), lyrics Swami Ramanand Saraswati, music Lal Mohammad

6. Khaiyam hai Allah wala by Suraiya from Omar Khayyam (1946), lyrics Dr. Safdar Aah Sitapuri, music Lal Mohammad

7. Paapi papiha re pi pi na bol bairi by Suraiya from Parwana (1947), lyrics D.N. Madhok, music Khursheed Anwar

In 1946 she acted in four films. In Anmol Ghadi, a Silver Jubilee film, she paired with Noorjehan. Even with such a leading actress in the fray, she held her own and sang three solos which held their own. This song became a hit.

8. Man leta hai angadai by Suraiya from Anmol Ghadi (1946), lyrics Tanveer Naqvi, music Naushad

Another film 1857 (Gadar) in which she co-acted with singing star Surendra had many good songs set to music by the whimsical Sajjad Hussain. She had four solos and a duet with Surendra.

In the Silver Jubilee film Dard she sang four solos and a duet with Uma Devi. The hero was a non-entity named Nusrat, brother of producer AR Kardar.

9. Betab hai dil by Suraiya and Uma Devi from Dard (1947), lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Naushad

Her duet with Mukesh from the film Dak Bangala (1947) was a popular song of that time.

10. Jab baadal ghir ghir ayenge (with Mukesh) from Dak Bangala (1947), lyrics D N Madhok, music Naresh Bhattacharya

During 1948, seven films of hers were released. Vidya and Pyar Ki Jeet were well received. In Vidya she paired with Dev Anand for the first time and the first film of hers in which S.D. Burman was the music director. She sang four solos and a duet with Mukesh, Lai khushi ki duniya, is well-recognised. All five songs are so good to hear. Pyar Ki Jeet was another hit film of the year. Music was given by Husnlal-Bhagatram and lyrics were written by Qamar Jalalabadi and Rajendra Krisna. Suraiya had three solos and two duets. Two of her solos O door jaanewale and Tere nainon ne chori kiya, are listened to with great fondness even today. I am posting one of the two duets.

11. Rut rangeele hai by Suraiya, Meena Kapoor and Surinder Kaur and chorus from Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Husnlal-Bhagatram

In the year 1949, she reached the peak of her performance when eleven films of hers was released. She sang 55 solos and 10 duets. Husnlal-Bhagatram composed music for four films, and other seven music directors for the other seven films. Prominent films were Dillagi (Silver Jubilee film) and Badi Bahen.

Dillagi was a great hit. Naushad composed music to the lyrics of Shakeel Badauni. Suraiya had six solos and two duets with Shyam Kumar, not to be confused with the hero Shyam. Her song Murliwale murli bhaja became a rage in rural India too as people from villages thronged to towns to see the movie. Here is a less known duet from the film. It is a long-distance duet of separation on which AK has given a wondrous post.

12. Zalim zamana mujhko tumse by Shyam Kumar and Suraiya from Dillagi (1949), lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Naushad

Suraiya and Lata Mangeshkar joined together for the first time in this duet from the film Baalam (1949). It is again a long-distance duet centred around a child. Sung very well by both in their own way.

13. Pardesi musafir by Suraiya and Lata Mangeshkar from Baalam (1947), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi, Music Husnlal Bhagatram

Badi Bahen (1949) was another feather in her cap with four solos – Bigadi bananewale, Wo paas arhein ya door rahein, Tum kujhko bhool jaao and Dil tere jaane se pahle…Ho likhnewale ne likh di meri taqdeer mein barbaadi – out of the eight in the film. All the songs of Suraiya in the film are timeless in their appeal. These have been discussed in the detailed review of the best songs of 1949, as well as in the articles on Husnlal-Bhagatram.

She was at the height of popularity in these years. Unruly crowd waiting outside her house for a brief glimpse had to be controlled by the police. During premier shows she was again hassled by the crowd laying siege to the cinema theatre and she stopped attending such shows afterwards.

In 1950 (6) and 1951 (4), her ten films were released. She had 45 solos and 18 duets in these films. Barring Daastan (hero Raj Kapoor her childhood neighbour), which celebrated Silver Jubilee, and Afsar, the rest were run-of-the-mill films. There were a few popular songs as O pardesi balma (Shaan), Ae shamma tu bata, Tara ri Tara ri (both Dastan), Man mor hua and nain diwane (Afsar), Bedard shikari, Dil le gaya ji koi dil le gaya (both from Sanam). I am just posting two songs.

14. Main kah dun tumko chor by Suraiya and Mohammad Rafi from Sanam (1951), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi, music Husnlal-Bhagatram

15. Dil ko haye dil ko by Mohammad Rafi and Suraiya from Daastan (1950), lyrics Shakeel Badauni, music Naushad

Suraiya’s affaires de coeur with Dev Anand was an important milestone in her life. They came together in the film Vidya (1948). While filming a boating scene for the song Kinare kinare chale jayenge, it capsized and Dev Anand rescued her from a likely watery grave and spark of love was ignited. They acted together in six more films, the last being Sanam (1951). Dev Anand was no laggard in such matters and formally proposed to her while on the sets of film Jeet (1949). Love affairs rarely run smooth and Suraiya hesitated to go ahead in the face of a determined opposition from her maternal grandmother on the grounds of religion, but also the loss of milch cow I think. The tragedy was it had the blessings of her parents, but they were too meek to stand solidly behind her in her hour of trial. Dev Anand, realizing the futility of waiting indefinitely, married Kalpana Kartik. Suraiya chose to remain single and found courage to oppose all subsequent offers of marriage which came her way. The song Tum mujhko bhool jaao from Badi Bahen and another O kismat tera ho bura kyon dil ke tukde kar diye from Shair seem very appropriate for the tragedy. She now started reducing her future assignments. After 1952, it became a trickle and total shutdown in 1963 with Rustom Sohrab as her last film.

In 1952, six of her films were released and only Deewana was well known and a Silver Jubilee film. She sang 20 solos and two duets in these six films. I am not posting any songs from this year as none of them appealed to me.

Mukesh ventured into film production and came out with the film Mashooqa in 1953 in which he was the hero. It bombed at the box office. He chose Suraiya to be the heroine. This was the sole film in the year for her. She had 4 solos and 2 duets with Mukesh. Roshan composed music and lyrics were by Qamar Jalalabadi and Shailendra.

In 1954 and 1955, she acted in six films (26 solos and 12 duets). Mirza Ghalib, Waris and Shama Parwana were prominent ones. In Mirza Ghalib, she put up superb performance as a young girl in love with Mirza Ghalib. She infused soul into her solos of Mirza Ghalib compositions and none had been able to outperform so far. Ghulam Mohammad gave scintillating music which will endure forever. This film was awarded President’s Gold Medal as the best feature film in that year. In Waris she paired with Talat Mohammad and its songs composed by Anil Bisas and lyrics by Qamar Jalalabadi/Majrooh Sultanpuri were welcome among contemporary cinema buffs. She sang 3 solos and 4 duets with Talat Mahmood. Here is a less heard duet.

16. Ghar tera apna ghar laage by Talat Mahmood and Suraiya from Waris (1955), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Anil Biswas

In Shama Parwana she acted with Shammi Kapoor, son of Prithviraj Kapoor, and created a record of acting with father and his two sons in her career, which may remain solely hers for all time to come. She sang four solos and three duets. Here is a nice duet of hers with Mohammad Rafi.

17. Beqarar hai koi ae mere dildar by Suraiya from Shama Parwana (1954), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi, music Husnlal-Bhagatram

In 1956 she acted in only one film, Mr. Lambu. She had two solos and one duet with Mohammad Rafi. Here is a solo from the film sung in serious vein. The lyrics are by Asrar Hussain Khan aka Majrooh Sultanpuri and the superb music by the legendary OP Nayyar.

18. Soyi hai kahan ja kar by Suraiya from Mr. Lambu (1956), lyrics Asrar Hussain Khan, music OP Nayyar

1957 was a blank year. In 1958 she acted in three films and in another film Taqdeer two songs of hers not included in her earlier films were added. In Maalik she paired with Talat Mahmood and sang two duets in addition to a solo. The duet Man dheere dheere gaaye re would be welcome even now. Here is a song from Taqdeer (1958) lifted from an earlier abandoned film for Shyama, heroine of the film.

19. Hawa udakar layee saawan ke sapne by Suraiya from Taqdeer (1958), lyrics unknown, music Dhani Ram

Her next film – Shama – was released in 1961. Music director was Ghulam Mohammad and lyricist Kaifi Azmi. Her three solos, Aap se pyar hua jata hai, Dhadakate dil ki tamanna and Mast ankhon mein shararat were great compositions and have not dimmed with time.

Come 1963, she acted in the film Rustom Sohrab, as a princess in love with Rustom (Prithviraj Kapoor). Thereafter, she retired from acting and retreated into her shell never to come out again. A career which began as a heroine against Prithviraj Kapoor in Ishara (1943) ended in 1963 with the same actor. What a coincidence! The music director was the great master Sajjad Husain and he also practically went into retirement after this film. Thus, two great personalities vanished into thin air at the same time, she to live in isolation by her choice, and he, because of his disposition, was ignored by film fraternity. Here is her swan song in the film which could double as an autobiography in her voice.

20. Ye kaisi ajab aastaan ho gayi by Suraiya from Rustom Sohrab (1963), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi, music Sajjad Husain

She retired to her rented accommodation at Krishna Mahal, Marine Drive, Mumbai with her mother as her company like an anchorite. After her mother’s passing away in 1987, she became lonelier and without catharsis. Tabassum who acted as her younger sister in Badi Bahen and Moti Mahal kept in regular touch with her. She recollected her last conversation before Suraiya’s demise in 2004, “Aapa kaisie hein” to which Suraiya replied in a poetic manner “Kaisi guzar rahi hai sabhi poochte hain mujhse, Kaise guzaarti hoon koi nahin poochta”. Around middle of 2003 she became sick and was looked after by her neighbour and family friend Dhimant Thakar. She was hospitalized for a fortnight at Harshandas hospital with complications and Sunil Dutt and Naushad visited her. She passed away at 9.25 a.m. on 31st January 2004 and was interred at Bada Kabristan, Marine Drive, Mumbai. As usual tributes from various persons including those who never bothered to look her up when alive poured forth acclaiming her.

There have been many articles on her. She had also given a few interviews and a few books on cinema make profuse mention of her. She was the recipient of awards as Screen Lifetime Achievement Award, Bimal Roy Memorial Trophy. On the 134th birth anniversary of Dadasaheb Phalke in 2003, she was honoured and a postage stamp was issued depicting her on 3rd May 2013, the occasion being ‘Hundred Years of Indian Cinema’. To crown it all, in the same year she was voted as the “Best Onscreen Beauty with the Most Ethnic Look”. A building at Worli in which she owned flats has been named ‘Suraiya Building’ and a road in Nagargaon, Lonavla is called ‘Suraiya Road’.

I offer this post in memory of a damsel with an ethereal beauty and am sure this will not be the end of the road as there is lot of material still left to come out with many more posts and I expect some from among the group of veterans of this blog will volunteer for the job and do better justice to it than I have.

Disclaimer: The thumbnail picture is taken from the Internet, and the song links are from the YouTube, only for the enjoyment of music lovers. The copyright vests with the respective owners.

This post first appeared on Songs Of Yore - Old Hindi Film Songs, please read the originial post: here

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Suraiya: The Last Nightingale of Bollywood


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