Contrary to popular misconcption that She was born in Lahore, Suraiya was born in Gujranwala, Punjab (which is in Pakistan since 1947), and was the only child of her parents. Suraiya spent her childhood in Lahore, that is why most writers label her place of birth as Lahore which is not correct.Suraiya's father had small furniture shop in Gujranwala, later he moved to Lahore and Suraiya was taken to Bombay on the request of her mom, maternal grandmother and uncle. No one heard of Suraiya's father again after that time and not much is known about him. The move to Bombay was her first step towards a career in radio and then later films. Although, She was not formally trained in music; yet she went on to become a successful singing actress thanks to god-gifted talent, hard work and good on-the-job training. .
While in Bombay, She attended New Girls' also known as J.B. Petit High School for Girls, in Fort, Bombay (now Mumbai). In addition, She also received religious teachings in Persian at home.
Suraiya made her debut as a child artist in Usne Kya Socha (1937). She got a prominent role as a child artist with the help of her uncle Zahoor, who was then a popular villain actor. During a holiday from school in 1941, she accompanied him to Mohan Studios to see the shooting of the film Taj Mahal which was being directed by Nanubhai Vakil. Vakil noticed Suraiya and not having in his mind at that time any particular young girl to play the role of young Mumtaz Mahal in Taj mahal, selected Suraiya to play that role.
Music director Naushad once heard Suraiya's voice on All India Radio while she sang for a children's program, and chose her to sing as a 13 year old for Mehtaab in Kardar's film Sharda (1942).
As an adult, Suraiya initially played secondary roles in K. Asif's Phool (1944), Mehboob Khan's Anmol Ghadi(1946) which was written by Aghajani Kashmiri, and Dard (1947). She got a break as a heroine for the film Tadbir (1945) on the recommendation of K. L. Saigall, who liked her voice during a rehearsal. She went on to costar with Saigal in Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana (1947).Although by then she had a couple of hit songs including a duet with Surendra in 1857(1946) ,but the four solo songs which she sang in Parwana made her a genuine singer star. She considered Composer of these songs, Khwaja Khurshid Anwar as her favorite Music Director for whom she sang just thirteen songs during 1943 to 1949. More opportunities arose for Suraiya after reigning actresses Noor Jehan and Khursheed Bano migrated to the newly created Pakistan following the 1947 partition of British India.
As an actress, Suraiya had an edge over her contemporaries Kamini Kaushal and Nargis because she could sing her own songs. After three hits Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), Badi Bahen, and Dill1949), she became the highest paid female star. But her reign at the top was brief; her films started flopping in the 1950s. She made a comeback in Waaris and Mirza Ghalib (1954). Mirza Ghalib (1954) ran into trouble with Censor Board because Suraiya's body parts and figure got exposed in Medieval dresses. Somehow Nehru also heard about this trouble, and he saw a special show of Mirza Ghalib along with Suraiya, Sohrab Modi, and Mohammed Rafi. Nehru praised Suraiya for her performance in Mirza Ghalib, and asked the Censor Board to clear the film from Censors.
Her future movies weren't very successful however. She reduced her work slowly and finally bid farewell to the film industry with Rustom Sohrab (1963) which was her last film. She quit films at a time when She could have made millions with her acting and singing. She refused to turn to playback singing like her contemporary Noor Jehan did in Pakistan, choosing to retire gracefully at the top, becoming quite reclusive in the coming decades. This is in strange contrast to someone for whom crowds used to wait to get a glimpse around 1950 outside her house. She rarely made apperances except for the one odd film award function and of course, a function to felicitate Noor Jehan ji when She came to India in 1981 as part of the celebrations to commemorate 50 years of Indian talkie films.
Suraiya was romantically involved with then upcoming actor Dev Anand, who famously reminded her of her Hollywood favourite Gregory Peck. The two of them costarred in six films between 1948 and 1951. During the shooting of a film, a boat capsized and Dev Anand saved Suraiya from drowning. She fell in love with him, but her grandmother opposed the relationship.Suraiya's life, money etc were controlled by her Mom, Nani and Mamo. All important decisions were made by them. They didn't let her marry Dev Anand, and Suraiya never forgave her family because of this. It is a well-known fact that when Suraiya's mother got sick, Suraiya never took care of her. Suraiya's mom died in charity hospital in miserable condition, but she didn't even spend a penny on her Mom's treatment. From this incident, you can imagine Suraiya fire of hatred and revenge for her family. Suraiya remained unmarried all her life.
Suraiya lived in her apartment on Marine Drive in Mumbai until her death in 2004 at age 75. She left behind property worth crores of Rupees which is an indicator of her immense popularity and the adulation She once commanded as She was the No 1 actress.
She was interred at Badakabarastan in Marine Lines, Mumbai.