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Suraiya – The Iconic Singer-Actress of Indian Cinema

Suraiya was an Indian actress and playback singer of Hindi films. She was active from 1936 to 1964, starring in 70 films and singing 338 songs. A highly paid actress, she was the most popular of her time. Born in Lahore on 15 June 1929 in British India, she passed away on 31 January 2004 in Mumbai. Besides her acting prowess, she was a renowned playback singer, often singing for herself. Suraiya sang her first song for “Nai Duniya” (1942) at the age of 12. She began her film career as a child artist in “Madame Fashion” (1936) directed by Jaddan Bai and gained recognition as a leading actress in films like “Tajmahal” (1941), where she portrayed Mumtaz Mahal.

Suraiya’s career soared with films such as “Ishara” (1943), “Tadbir” (1943), “Phool” (1945), “Anmol Ghadi” (1946), “Omar Khaiyam” (1946), “Parwana” (1947), “Dard” (1947), “Shair” (1949), “Dastan” (1950), “Afsar” (1950), “Diwana” (1952), “Bilwamangal” (1954), and “Mr. Langle” (1956). The years 1948-49 marked a turning point in her career with successful films like “Vidya” (1948), “Pyar Ki Jeet” (1948), “Dillagi” (1949), and “Badi Behen” (1949).

It’s said that actor Dharmendra watched Suraiya’s film “Dillagi” 40 times, being a fervent fan. Her role as a tawaif, Moti Begum, in the film “Mirza Ghalib” earned praise even from Jawaharlal Nehru, who remarked that she brought life into the soul of Mirza Ghalib.

Suraiya’s last film was “Rustam Sohrab” (1963), after which she retired from Hindi cinema due to poor health. She received a lifetime achievement award in 1996 before passing away on 31 January 2004.

Brought up in Mumbai, Suraiya found her fame there. Her childhood friends included Raj Kapoor and Madan Mohan. Additionally, she was a radio artist. Following the departure of Noor Jahan and Khurshid for Pakistan, Suraiya’s luck turned. In 1948, she starred opposite Dev Anand in “Vidya,” marking a significant on-screen chemistry. During the shoot, Dev Anand saved Suraiya from drowning, leading to speculation about their relationship. However, Suraiya’s grandmother, an orthodox Muslim, vehemently opposed their union, leading to their separation.

Suraiya was praised by Naushad for her unsophisticated and charming voice. She was the first superstar singer-actress of Indian cinema, a singer by nature, an actress by coincidence, and a legend by her own making.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

Radhakanta Seth is an Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a Freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.

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