Article Hindi

10 timeless classics by the singing star, Suraiya

On her 88th birth anniversary, we look at some of Suraiya's notable songs from the 1940s to 1960s, the years of her golden career since making her debut as a teenage singer under music composer Naushad.

Sonal Pandya

A routine visit to Kardar Studios turned into a successful career for a young Suraiya. The teenager, without any formal training, was groomed by music maestro Naushad to become a leading playback singer, both for herself and the other top actresses of the time.

The beautiful and expressive Suraiya became a standout as a singing star in the 1940s and 1950s. Just as quickly as she rose to the top, it all ended suddenly as well. She retired from the film industry at the young age of 34.

After her death in 2004, many tributes poured in. Outlook magazine even noted the heights of her stardom, stating, “She evoked the kind of hysteria [in the late 1940s] that can be compared only with Rajesh Khanna in his heyday from 1969 to 1972. Ask any old-timer and they would confirm that people bunked offices, schools and colleges, even closed shops on the opening day of her films, to see her films first day, first show.”

On her 88th birth anniversary, we go through some of her memorable songs.

1. ‘Panchi Jaa Piche Raha Hai Bachpan Mera’ – Sharda (1942)

Suraiya skipped her classes as a student at New High School (now known as JB Petit High School) to sing this song for music composer Naushad. The 13-year-old singer sang for the 24-year-old actress Mehtab in AR Kardar’s Sharda (1942). The actress had been apprehensive about a young girl singing for her but she needn’t have worried. The song, written by DN Madhok, became a hit. The famous story goes that the teenager was so small that she couldn’t reach the recording mike in the studio and a footstool had to be provided so she could sing ‘Panchi Jaa Piche Raha Hai Bachpan Mera’.

2. ‘Panghat Pe Muraliya Baaje’ – Ishara (1943)

The film Ishara (1943) was music composer Khurshid Anwar’s debut in the Hindi film music industry. The young singer’s rendition of ‘Panghat Pe Muraliya Baaje’ by lyricist DN Madhok became popular alongside other songs from the soundtrack. Directed by JK Nanda, Ishara also starred Prithviraj Kapoor, Swarnlata and KN Singh. Suraiya also had a small role in the film as Shanta.

3. ‘Socha Tha Kya Kya Ho Gaya’ – Anmol Ghadi (1946)

Suraiya recorded three songs featuring herself in Mehboob Khan’s Anmol Ghadi (1946) as a 16-year-old. She acted in the film as Basanti against the great Noorjehan who played Lata, the lead. In the book, Naushadnama: The Life and Music of Naushad, she recounted to author Raju Bharatan, “Noorjehan, in a sense, was the one who was responsible for getting me to be more aware of my musical surroundings. Her attitude towards me made me determined to perform to my maximum capacity for Naushad.” She both performed and sang ‘Socha Tha Kya Kya Ho Gaya’ with great aplomb in the film.

4. ‘Paapi Papiha Re’ – Parwana (1947)

Once again singing for the team of music composer Khurshid Anwar and lyricist DN Madhok in Parwana (1947), Suraiya’s voice shone in a soundtrack dominated by KL Saigal, another great singing star. This was his last film, and it was released after his death. KL Saigal had been impressed by Suraiya’s talent and starred with her in Tadbir (1945) and Omar Khayyam (1946). As expected, the music album was a hit. Suraiya also starred in Parwana as the village belle, Gopi.

5. ‘O Door Janewale, Wada Na Bhul Jana’– Pyar Ki Jeet (1948)

Suraiya had an edge over her contemporaries when she sang her own songs. Her effortless voice combined with her natural charm, added to her popularity. Case in point, the hit film Pyar Ki Jeet (1948) in which Suraiya starred opposite Rehman and also was a huge part of the film’s musical success, with around five songs to her name. ‘O Door Janewale, Wada Na Bhul Jana’ written by Rajinder Krishan, was a highlight amongst the songs Suraiya sang for the brother composer duo, Husnlal Bhagatram.

6. ‘Layi Khushi Ki Duniya’ - Vidya (1948)

By 1948, the 19-year-old Suraiya was already a big star when a newcomer, Dev Anand, starred opposite her in only his fifth film. Reportedly, the two fell in love on the sets after Dev Anand saved Suraiya from drowning during a song sequence set on a river. Their easy chemistry (and wide smiles) are evident for all to see, especially in this delightful duet, ‘Layi Khushi Ki Duniya’, sung by Suraiya and Mukesh, an unusual choice for the actor. Vidya (1948) was composed by SD Burman and the lyrics were penned by Yashodanandan Joshi.

7. ‘Tu Mera Chand Main Teri Chandni’ – Dillagi (1949)

Interestingly, the film’s villain, Shyam Kumar, sang ‘Tu Mera Chand Main Teri Chandni’ with Suraiya, but it was finally picturised on the hero, Shyam, and Suraiya. The romantic duet was written by Shakeel Badayuni and the music was given by Naushad. As a singer Suraiya had matured, but she noted in the same Bharatan book that, “Naushad, I felt, went on to pack something extra into my Dillagi songs. I gave them everything that I had, so that Naushad could have no cause for any plaint.” Her mentor disapproved of her budding romance with Dev Anand, who was a Hindu. Suraiya was most focused so that he wouldn't consider her beau a distraction.

8. ‘Tara Ri Aara Ri Aara Ri Ye’ – Dastan (1950)

This Westernised duet with Mohammed Rafi, was picturised on Raj Kapoor (her childhood friend) and Suraiya. AR Kadar’s melodrama, Dastan, was told in flashback. Written by Shakeel Badayuni and composed by Naushad and his assistant Ghulam Mohammed, the number seems to be inspired by the western folk ballard, ‘Oh my darling, Clementine’. Suraiya herself noted that certain numbers from the soundtrack “tested her to the hilt”. And a mere two years later, she sang for the last time with Naushad in Diwana (1952).

9. ‘Nuktacheen Hai Gham-E-Dil Usko Sunaye Na Bane’ – Mirza Ghalib (1954)

Sohrab Modi’s Mirza Ghalib, co-starring Bharat Bhushan, is a feather in Suraiya’s cap. The singer-actress put her all into the film, a comeback of sorts for her, after a range of films did not do well. She impressed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru so much that he is said to have remarked to her, “You have brought to life the soul of Mirza Ghalib." With music by Ghulam Mohammed and using Ghalib’s original words, the film has done gone down as one of the classics of Indian cinema. Mirza Ghalib was the first Hindi film to win the prestigious President’s Gold Medal in 1954.

10. ‘Mast Aankhon Mein Shararat’ - Shama (1961)

This was Suraiya’s last musical hit, once again composed by Ghulam Mohammed. Kaifi Azmi wrote the dialogues and lyrics for the film directed by Lekhraj Bhakri. Nimmi, Vijay Dutt, Kammo and Tarun Bose were also a part of Shama (1961). Suraiya was only 32 and two years later, with the film Rustom Sohrab (1963), retired from the limelight, leaving behind this lasting image of her to her adoring audiences.