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Memorable films



Upperstall profile by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan

Suraiya was perhaps the last of the great singing stars.

Born in Lahore in 1929, she debuted as a child star with Taj Mahal (1941). She did playback as a 13 year old for Mehtaab in Sharda (1942) under Naushad's direction. The barely-in-her-teens Suraiya had to stand on a stool to reach the mike!

She was effectively launched as a singing star in Bombay Talkies Hamari Baat (1943) but really made her presence felt in perhaps India's first multi-starrer K Asif's Phool (1945) and played strong supporting second lead roles to Noor Jehan in Mehboob Khan's Anmol Ghadi (1946) and Munawar Sultana in Dard (1947). Though Noor Jehan had perhaps the best of Naushad's compositions in Anmol Ghadi (Jawan Hai Mohabbat, Awaaz De Kahan Hai, Aa Jaa Meri Barbad Mohabbat ke Sahare, Mere Bachpan ke Saathi, Kya Mil Gaya Bhagwan), Suraiya too had her musical moments with Socha Tha Kya, Main Dil Mein Dard Basa Layee and Man Leta Hai.

She was also fortunate to star opposite the legendary KL Saigal in three of his later films - Tadbir (1945), Omar Khaiyam (1946) and Parwana (1947), the last remembered for her haunting rendition of Jab Tumhi Nahin Apne.

The 1948-49 phase saw her rise to her peak. With Pyar ki Jeet (1948), Bari Behen (1949) and Dillagi (1949), she became the highest paid female star of her time. At her peak, Suraiya generated hysteria comparable only to Rajesh Khanna in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Shop owners would down their shutters to see her starrers on the first day itself, crowds would throng outside her residence at Marine Drive in Bombay just to get a glimpse of her and actor Dharmendra recalls going to see Dillagi 40 times! Her songs from the above films Tere Nainon Ne Chori Kiya, O Door Jaanewale (Pyar ki Jeet), Woh Paas Rahe Ya Door Rahe, O Likhnewale Ne, Bigdi Bananewale (Bari Behen) and Tu Mera Chand, Murliwale Murli Bajaa (Dillagi) were hummed in every nook and corner of the country.

But there was more to Suraiya than just her songs. Over the years she had more than picked up the finer rudiments of acting as well and she came up with more than capable performances in her films expertly integrating gesture, music and speech though it has to be said many of her performances do appear dated today.

However Suraiya's reign at the top was brief. She suffered both professionally and personally. Her films started flopping one after another in the 1950s. She had got involved with Dev Anand and the two of them did seven films together (1948-51) but her strict grandmother put her foot down and the affair and their partnership ended. (Suraiya remains unmarried to this day)

She made a short-lived comeback with Waaris (1954) and Mirza Ghalib (1954). The latter saw her finest dramatic performance as she made alive and vivid the role of the married Ghalib's lover, a courtesan. Ghalib also saw some of her finest singing - Aah ko Chahiye Ek Umar, Nuktacheen Hai Gham-e-Dil, Dil-e-Nadan Tujhe Hua Kya Hai, Yeh Na Thi Humari Kismet etc. Her singing is till date regarded as the definitive Ghalib. In fact India's then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru paid her the ultimate compliment by telling her she had brought Mirza Ghalib to life. (Tumne Mirza Ghalib ki Rooh ko Zinda Kar Diya).

Unfortunately for Suraiya, her work thereafter remained largely undistinguished. Shama (1961) was a musical hit but failed at the box-office and her last film was Rustom Sohrab (1963), which also boasts of one of her finest ever songs - Yeh Kaisi Ajab Dastan Ho Gayi. It was an extremely difficult composition but it is to Suraiya's credit how effectively she rendered it.

After that Suraiya preferred to stay away from the limelight and was rarely seen except at select film functions leading her to be known as the Garbo of India. She passed away in Mumbai on January 31, 2004 following a brief illness.




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