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When a teenage Suraiya sang for Mehtab


How the great singing star got her first big break as a playback artiste

Sonal Pandya

Suraiya stumbled into a career in films quite by accident. Her uncle Zahoor acted as a villain in some Hindi films, including in Nanubhai Vakil's Taj Mahal (1941). One day, Zahoor took his young niece to the sets. Vakil found the 12-year-old charming and cast Suraiya as the younger version of Mumtaz Mahal. That was the beginning of Suraiya’s acting career.

Suraiya the singer required more persuasion. Good friends Madan Mohan and Raj Kapoor took her to sing for a children's programme on All India Radio. Naushad heard her voice and the young girl, who had never trained musically, also found an adviser in the legendary music director. Naushad encouraged her to pursue singing and used her then inexperienced voice in films like Sharda (1942), Station Master (1942), Kanoon (1943) and Sanjog (1943).

Early on, the teenager's playback singing was used on Mehtab, 11 years her senior. Suraiya's voice became associated with Mehtab, though the actress was initially skeptical of a 13-year-old dubbing for her. Suraiya first sang for Mehtab in Sharda (1942) with the song 'Panchhi ja peechhe raha hai bachpan mera'. The 13-year-old could not even reach the microphone, which used to be a fixed one, and sang the song standing on a stool.

In Sanjog (1943), Mehtab was paired opposite Noor Mohammed Charlie (playing our version of Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp) in the comedy film filled with misunderstandings and mixed-up proposals. Directed by AR Kardar, Sanjog featured songs like 'Aa more saanwre saiyyan mora jiya' composed by Naushad and written by DN Madhok. This song established Suraiya as a solo singer.

Slowly, with bigger roles in Hamari Baat (1943) and Ishara (1943), Suraiya graduated from the second lead to become a singer-actor in her own right. Even after her retirement from films at 34, she remained a popular star in the minds of cine-goers for a long time.