21 February 2012

The Legends: Suraiya

15.06.1929 - 31.01.2004
While researching songs for my posts on Shamshad Begum, I realised there was another singer whose life and art I wanted to chronicle; a singer whom, again, I began to appreciate only as I grew older. Unlike Shamshad Begum, however, she was not really a 'playback singer', though she did make her debut singing for someone else. In fact, think of legendary singers, and hers is not the first name that comes to mind. Suraiya Jamal Shaikh is interesting because, once she gained success as an actress, she sang only for herself. 

Neither a classic beauty, nor a classically-trained singer, Suraiya was still the biggest female singing-star that India has ever seen. She was definitely the highest paid; in some cases earning more than her heroes. Suraiya was always a quick learner, and under her grandmother's eagle eye, attained a position where she commanded both respect and awe.

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 Madan Mohan, two childhood friends, that made her take part in that children's programme.

The same year, Naushad gave her Panchi jaa peeche reh gaya bachpan hamara for the much-older heroine Mehtab in Sharda (1942). Suraiya needed a stool to reach the microphone. Mehtab was not very convinced that a 12-year-old could playback for her, but Naushad persisted, and soon, Suraiya's voice came to be associated with Mehtab. Naushad mentored the young singer, giving her some of her career's best songs.

Other than Naushad, most of Suraiya's songs were sung for music duo Husnlal-Bhagatram, who have the distinction of having recorded the maximum number of songs with the singer-actress. Her favourite music director, however, was Khwaja Khurshid Anwar, for whom she first sang in Ishaara (1942), in which she played a supporting role. Five years later, he gave her four solos in Parwana (1947), the success of which was to cement Suraiya's place securely as a star singer.

After initially playing 'supporting' roles, her first break as the lead heroine came with Hamari Beti (1943), and with Phool (1945) she began to get noticed. It is said that Saigal, having heard her sing, was impressed enough to recommend her for the role in Tadbeer (1945). She co-starred with him in two other films, Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana (1947). Parwana was also the last film in which KL Saigal acted and sang. 

In her heyday, Suraiya evoked the kind of hysteria that has typically been the male privilege. People thronged the roads outside her bungalow, waiting hours for a glimpse of her. Diehard fans were known to have bunked school, college, work, and even closed down their shops to see her films the day it opened. Dharmendra has confessed to having stolen out to watch Dillagi - over 40 times! (She returned the favour when she admitted that she was a great fan of Dharmendra.)

Here, in the first part, I bring you 13 songs, in chronological order that she sang for different music directors. Her duets will follow in the second part to this post.
1. Gulshan pe hai bahaar  
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 on smriti.com, though there are two, maybe three, lyricists associated with this film.The song is redolent of the folk tunes of Punjab.

2. Socha tha kya, kya ho gaya 
Anmol Ghadi  (1946)  
Music: Naushad 
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 contemporarties like Kamini Kaushal and Nargis because she could sing her own songs. Another favourite Naushad-Suraiya number is Murliwale murli bajaa from Dillagi (1949).

Nadira, who was to costar with Suraiya in Waris, once mentioned that her father would repeatedly go to the theatre to watch Suraiya sing Socha tha kya - and leave immediately after the song was over.

3. Paapi papihara pee pee na bole re    
Parwana (1947)
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 legendary KL 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.

4. Dil ka qaraar lut chuka  
Lekh (1949) 
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 Bhosle songs – 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.

5. Mere dil mein aao
Duniya (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.

6. Manmor hua matwale 
Afsar (1950) 
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

7.  Ye kiski yaad aa gayi  
Rajput (1951) 
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.

8. Raaton ki neend cheen li  
Shokhiyan (1951) 
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 bahaar and Suraiya’s Tu 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 Jamalsaab 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? Jamalsaab 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.

9. Yeh chand sitare kya jaane   
Khubsurat (1952) 
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.

10. Mera dildaar na milaaya  
Shama Parwana (1954) 
Music: Husnlal-Bhagatram 
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.

11. Taaron ki nagri se Waris (1954) 
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.)

12. Nuktacheen hain ghame-e-dil  
Mirza Ghalib (1954) 
Music: Ghulam Mohammed
Lyrics: Mirza Asad'ullah Khan 'Ghalib'
This was her 'come-back' 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 to Aah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak, which dustedoff 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:
13. Yeh kaisi ajab dastan hai  
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?


  1. Mmmm. :-) I have read your entire post, Anu - and am now listening to my favourite Suraiya song, Nuktacheen hai gham-e-dil - as I type. And I am actually breaking out in gooseflesh all over. I LOVE that song.

    Thank you for this post, and for all that background information. I agree with you about the simplicity of Suraiya's voice - very pure and unaffected. I'd only heard a handful of the songs you listed (the ones from Shama Parwana, Rustom Sohrab and Anmol Ghadi, besides the ones from Mirza Ghalib), but I've listened to each of them over the past half hour, and they're lovely. Can we ever come to a point where we can say we've discovered all there is to Hindi cinema, or its music? Thank goodness, not!

    Here's another Suraiya song which I like, Aapse pyaar hua jaata hai, from Shama:



  2. I would like to comment more often, but I find it difficult to keep up with all you film bloggers but all the same I am just trying to squeeze out some time to post this comment. Well Madhu has done half the job for me by posting that song from Shama. Before I go into Shama, I have to mention here that I just love Suraiya's voice.
    Dad had the opportunity of acting with her in Shama, he played his brother. The songs of this film were super-hits,had the film also been a box-office hit the film's music director would not have had to wait for nearly 30 years to see success, no I am wrong he did not see the success he had already passed away, the music director was none other than Ghulam Mohammed whose film Pakeezah was a huge success but unfortunately he was not around to see it.
    Besides the song posted by Madhu, my other favourite song from Shama is this one Mast Anhkon Mein Shararat


  3. Thank you, Madhu. Some of the songs were new to me too, like Paapi papeehara from Parwana - I was blown away when I heard that. The others I grew up hearing my father play them on and on - must confess I didn't quite appreciate them, then.

    You're right about the vast ocean of undiscovered music - sometimes, it saddens me that I haven't heard them before; sometimes, I'm glad because that means there are so many more wonders to discover. I do not quite know which feeling triumphs!

  4. Thank you, Madhu. Some of the songs were new to me too, like Paapi papeehara from Parwana - I was blown away when I heard that. The others I grew up hearing my father play them on and on - must confess I didn't quite appreciate them, then.

    You're right about the vast ocean of undiscovered music - sometimes, it saddens me that I haven't heard them before; sometimes, I'm glad because that means there are so many more wonders to discover. I do not quite know which feeling triumphs!

  5. I think we followed the same trajectory - or, our fathers did! I grew up listening to Suraiya's songs too, and didn't like them much then. Now I'm settling into my forties, I find so much to like in the songs that my father used to play, and my son has the same complaints as I did.

  6. I don't have time to read the whole post. I will do it tomorrow.
    For now, my favourite Suraiya song from the 60s, where she gives playback to Nimmi

    Looking forward to read this!
    Good night!

  7. Well, maybe he will grow into our music just as we did into our fathers. :) We can always live in hope.

  8. I love your pre-emptive comments, harvey. :) Looking forward to your comments after you read the post and listen to the songs.

  9. Dear Anuradha,

    Sridhar told me yesterday that you had posted a new article on Suriaya. I have been listening to it all of today. Such lovely, lovely songs. I'm glad you put her early songs like 'Gulshan pe bahaar hai' and 'Paapi papeeha re' - but then, you have an astonishing knowledge of the songs of the 40s! Thank you once again for listing these songs so I can just click on them. And for all the background information you so painstakingly research. I'm looking forward to her duets in Part 2. Until then, I have these songs to keep me company.

    God bless!

    Ramnathan. K.S.

  10. Thanks for this wonderful collection of Suraiya songs, many of which were unknown to me till now. You are like an archaeologist in this aspect!

    In gulshan pe hai bahar her voice sounds still so young, doesn't it?
    I love socha tha kya, kya ho gaya. Although I invariably think of the parody in Lamhe.
    Murliwale is also one of my Suraiya favs!
    Re.: paapi papihara, wonder where they got the herd of sheep! She looks so young!
    I knew only sawan ki ghatao from Lekh. I didn't know that Asha had also sung for that film. Do you know if she was already married at that time?
    Mere dil me aao was new for me. It is cute. The beginning sounds a bit melancholic, but later on it picks up pace.
    Love the way she sings manmoooor. Beautiful! Wasn't Afsar made as Sahib bahadur in the 70s?
    Raaton ki neend cheen li is such a lovely song.
    Love the other songs in Shama Parwana more than the one mentioned here, particularly bekaraar hai koi. Shammi looks so much like Raj in this.
    Somehow the only song which I like from Waris is rahi matwale in all its versions. The other songs pale in comparison. It was funny to see the young boy totally uninvolved in the song! :-)
    Mirza Ghalib! A wonderful score! Khambakt ek bhi besura gaana nahin hai!
    Jaddanbai had a great voice, didn't she? I got acquainted with her voice at Richard's site.
    Yeh kaisi ajab dastan hai has such a hauntign quality to it that I never thought of it as a seduction song, till I saw the video.

    Did I understand you right, that there is going to be a second part to this post?

  11. Thank you so much, Mr Ramnathan, for reading my posts so regularly. :) It's appreciation from my readers that keeps me posting. I'm so glad you're enjoying the songs.

    I do not claim an astonishing knowledge (or any deep knowledge for that matter) of the 40s. Most of the familiarity came from having heard it over an over again in my childhood - when I didn't much like them. But as I grow older, I find myself drawn to these songs - for one, they have real music instruments!  : - )

    Part 2- Duets will be posted in a while. Thank you once again.

  12. harvey, you know what I like most about you? You comment on each song, not just the post. It's so encouraging. Thank you.

    In those early songs, she was hardly 15 or 16 - it's no wonder that she sounds young. She was sixteen-going-on-seventeen when she did Parwana.

    Asha was 16 years old herself when she sang for Lekh, so, no, I don't think she was married. : - )

    Yes, Afsar was remade as Saheb Bahadur, and by Chetan Anand himself. Only, he remade it with Priya Rajvansh in Suraiya's role, while Dev reprised his original character.

    Bekaraar hai koi is my husbang's favourite song from Shama Parwana too - I was going to use it for the Rafi-Suraiya duet, but I dropped it in favour of the one I did eventually use.

    And yes, there is part 2 - I haven't even mentioned her duets here! : - )

  13.  Yes the songs are great, I actually quite liked the film too, though I do not remember Suraiya's name in the film. Incidentally dad was also the villain and happens to be the reason why Suraiya commits suicide.

  14. Your dad was villain?! I didn't know he had played outright villain roles. Oh, do put up your blog about him, Shilpi.

  15. I wonder why she isn't remembered more often as singer - because she was so pretty and a popular actress, too? She had such a lovely singing voice, it was so charming and sweet. I was planning on doing a Suraiya post once upon a time, but a little research on youtube convinced me that I knew very little about her songs! All my Suraiya favorites are from Dillagi, Badi Behen and Mirza Ghalib. There are a few others like Dhadakte dil ki tamanna, two that you've mentioned - Yeh kaisi ajab dastaan and Man mor hua matwaala - and some from Dastaan (can't recall the songs at the moment), but that is about it! So I am very excited about this post and it's second installment. Tonight, when I should be busy with work-related stuff, I am going to be spending time with Suraiya! :D

  16. I hope you had a fine time, bollyviewer. I spent more time listening to her songs than actually listing them. Can't say it was a waste, but still... : -)


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