Author: Lata Khubchandani
Originally Shared by Neha Desai on RMIM. Thanks Neha ji.
For The Sake Of Love
The question of free will has remained an open one throughthe ages, does destiny rule our lives or do weshape our destiny - this question comes up again as one rewindsto the life of the singing sensation of the ‘40s and ‘50s - Suraiya.She seemed to have been introduced into the film industry at atime when she was much too young to decide what she wantedfrom life. Once there, she worked very hard under the vigilanteye of her grandmother and reached a position where shecommanded respect, affection and awe. She had never beentrained to sing, nor did she have an overwhelming love forsinging. It was just that she was a quick learner. "Her voice wasthat of the girl next door. It was homely voice andunsophisticated. One you could identify with it," commentsMusic director Naushad Ali.
Today, Suraiya refuses all offers to sing or perform on stage. "Ihaven’t sung a note since I retired from films," she says. Havingretired, Suraiya has never shown any desire to return. Shewants to make up for all that time she had to spend working,getting up early for shootings and never being able to do whatshe liked. She wants to even out those years of discipline whenshe was at the top.
Suraiya's life took a turn when she got her priorities mixed up at a crucial time. Dev Anand, the only man she had ever loved,proposed to her and asked her to give up acting. She hesitateda little too long; only she knew how hard she had worked toreach the top. Dev accused her of being too fickle, of caring more for her career than for him and that was the end of theirfabled love story. But nothing about Suraiya suggested then ornow that she was a career-oriented person.
Today, as she lives alone, she is known for her good nature,and lively sense of humour. One wonders whether it was thissame person who had second thoughts about marriage when it was pitted against her career? Perhaps she has asked herself this same question before.Legends have a way of growing larger than life, larger than reality and this happens when they become victims of their own images. We’ve had a tragedienne like Meena Kumari whosetragic persona became so important to her that it spilled overinto her personal life and she could not detach herself from it. We’ve heard stories of Madhubala whose laughing, everbeautiful image was so much part of her personality that she could not come to terms with her illness. And we have a Suraiya who remains a recluse for no better reason than "I’m too fat now. I want people to remember me as I used to be." Andpeople remember her as a lively nymphet, always ready to burst into laughter, a quality she retains even today.
Music director Naushad Ali takes one down the years to talk about this artiste who entered the industry too young and left it very early. "Suraiya was ruled by a martinet of a grandmother who took complete charge of her life, accompanied her everywhere and never let her out of her sight - she wascompletely responsible for making Suraiya what she was".
"We were making a film for Prakash pictures and needed a girl to play the heroine’s younger sister, someone who could sing as well. The singer G M Durrani suggested Suraiya and one day a young girl dressed in a frock holding her grandmother’s hand walked into the office. The director of the film C M Loharasked me to take her audition. The girl had no training in music but she was very intelligent. She sang two songs for the film Station Master. One was a chorus yeh rail hamare ghar kichuk chuk, and a solo number saajan ghar aaye. It was her debut, both as an actress and as a singer. She was just nine years old. I introduced her to A R Kardar, in whose film Nayi Duniya, she gave playback music for the first time. Then came Sharda, another film by Kardar. The heroine was Mehtaab and Suraiya gave playback for the song Panchi ja piche raha hai bachpan mera. Her playback singing for Mehtaab became so successful that people thought it was Mehtaab herself singing."
For Naushad, she sang in films like Dillagi, Dastaan, Dil-e-Nadaan, Dard, Deewana and Anmol Ghadi. According to Naushad, "Suraiya was gifted with a naturally melodious
voice. Her tonal quality was very good. Her singing was non-professional, but she learn’t fast. In those days, music directors composed songs to the artiste’s range so that the voice wouldn’t appear distorted. It is unfortunate that she retired too early."
Says co-singer Talat Mahmood, "Even if she had become a little heavy, she should not have given up singing. I made two films Maalik and Waris with her and we shared a fantastic rapport. Waris even celebrated a silver jublee, a rare thing in those days and our songs from those films still remain very popular. She was as good a singer as she was a human being."
Today she follows a leisurely lifestyle says a friend. Repeated attempts to meet her are met with rebuffs from a "female watchdog" who seems to guard her. She refuses to even come on the phone and almost never meets the press. Her pleasantly worded excuse is always the same - that she doesn’t want to be seen as she looks now. But she refuses to shed those extra kilos even for the sake of her image. But no talk of Suraiya would be complete without a mention of Dev Anand and their love affair.Suraiya Jamal Sheikh met Dev Anand during the filming of Vidya. She was then an established star and he a very raw newcomer. But she found him sedate, cultured and very handsome. It was during the shooting of the song Jaayi khushi ki duniya, hansti hui jawaani in which she had to rest her head on Dev's shoulder and realised that no one had made her feel this way before. However, the relationship was resented by her family.
Suraiya did not know how to deal with pressures around her; her family insisted she have nothing to do with Dev, while he insisted that she marry him and retire from films. As she was not yet an adult, her uncle threatened to have Dev arrested on grounds of her being a minor, if she contemplated marrying him.The fear that they’d harm Dev, coupled with the thought of giving up everything she’d done to reach the top, made her waver. It was this hesitation that made Dev doubt that she had ever loved him. Mounting family pressures made her give up all thought of marrying the one man she cared for.Dev Anand however prefers to retain those beautiful moments in his private file. Says he, "We were involved, so I'm obviously going to say only good things about her. When I entered the industry she was already a big star. She was a lovely person and a very good singer. Today when I look back, it seems that time has gone by in a jiffy. Suraiya used to laugh a lot and her singing was effortless. Anil Biswas, was a very good music director in those days. I remember he’d give her the lines and she’d pick up the tune immediately and sing. I’m out of touch with Suraiya now, but I remember meeting her sometime back. She’s put on a lot of weight and she wears a lot of jewellery. I have good memories of her, she was very nice but she was always surrounded by this retinue of people."
Born in Lahore, in June 1929, Suraiya is young by today’s standards, but this singing star who delighted the audiences for such a long time refuses to come out of hiding. She held her own among stalwarts like Noor Jehan, Khurshid, Zohra Bai, Amirbai and others without the benefit of any music training.She has given us numbers like Nain Diwane, the outstanding Woh paas rahe ya door rahe, frothy numbers like Kise maloom tha and the beautiful Nuktachin hai ghame dil. Her career spanned a little over two decades but she has left behind a vast body of work for audiences to delight in. One wonders what it was she gained from her association with the industry. A broken love affair, a life of loneliness; her mother and grandmother passed away, the rest of her family migrated to Pakistan and today she lives alone. Her strength, her courage, her good temper and generosity (she acted with newcomers when she herself was at the top, when she could pick and choose her co-stars) make her a human being above the average. Whatever destiny willed for her, she accepted - and today she has become a legend in her own right.