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When Suraiya met Hollywood star Gregory Peck


On her 13th death anniversary (31 January), we look at how a midnight meeting with the Hollywood actor became Suraiya's most cherished memory.

Suraiya with Gregory Peck

Sonal Pandya

Suraiya, or Suraiya Jamal Sheikh, began acting as a child artiste with Taj Mahal (1941) and landed her first leading role as a teenager in Ishara (1943) co-starring Satish, Swarn Lata and Prithviraj Kapoor. Blessed with a melodious voice, she quickly became popular as a singing star. Her most famous on-screen pairing was with the top romantic hero of the time, Dev Anand. It was no coincidence, then, that Dev saheb reminded her of her favourite Hollywood star Gregory Peck.

Dev Anand and Suraiya acted together in only seven films, but quickly fell in love after meeting on the sets of Vidya (1948). Dev saheb even proposed to her during their courtship. But Suraiya's orthodox Muslim grandmother protested against the union. Several others in the industry also dissuaded her and Suraiya eventually ended the relationship with a heavy heart. She never married.

Suraiya with American director Frank Capra and her family.

Suraiya first made contact with Gregory Peck when she was introduced to Hollywood filmmaker Frank Capra, who was in India to attend the first International Film Festival of India. She requested the director to carry an autographed photograph of hers to Peck. Known for his charismatic screen presence and strong acting in films like The Gunfighter (1950) and Roman Holiday (1953), the busy Peck stopped by in India on several occasions when filming The Purple Plain (1954) in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon.

On one such stop, Peck paid Suraiya a midnight visit she would never forget. When the star was put up at a city hotel in 1954, actor Al Nasir, who happened be a family friend of Suraiya, mentioned how fond she was of him and asked Peck to accompany him to her Marine Drive residence a few minutes away.

Peck was supposed to present the award for Best Film at the first ever Filmfare awards, but had arrived later at the after-party as his flight was delayed. The affable star agreed to the surprise and within minutes, they showed up at Suraiya's door, surprising her beyond belief.

When Suraiya recalled her encounter around 20 years later in a film magazine, she said, "We spoke for more than an hour. I didn't sleep at all that night. Nobody at the studios believed I had met Gregory. They laughed and made fun of what they thought was a yarn. Then the evening papers reported the incident. After that, for a month or two the newspapers carried our 'love stories'. I enjoyed all of it!"