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SURAIYA (1929 – 2004)


Suraiya was an actor and singer. She was born Suraiya Jamal Sheikh in Gujranwala, Punjab, now in Pakistan, in 1929, an only child, and was not a conventional Indian beauty except for her expressive eyes. In spite of her lack of training in music, she went on to become a successful singer-actor on film. She spent her childhood in Bombay and debuted as a child artist in Usne Kya Socha (1937). Her uncle Zahoor was a popular screen villain, and in 1941 during a school holiday, she accompanied him to Mohan Studios to see the shooting of Taj Mahal by Nanubhai Vakil. Vakil noticed the twelve-year-old girl and chose her to play the young Mumtaz Mahal. She found a mentor in the music maestro Naushad, who had heard her sing on All India Radio. Naushad cast her to sing for the young actor Mehtaab in Sharda (1942). She was so small she had to stand on a stool to sing the song ‘Panchhi ja’ for the film. Her ability to sing gave her an edge over other heroines of the time. She then went on to act in Hamari Baat (1943).

At first she played supporting roles in films such as K. Asif’s Phool (1944), Mehboob’s Anmol Ghadi (1946) and Dard (1947), and was recommended for the lead role in Tadbir (1945) by K. L. Saigal. She co-starred with Saigal in Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana (1947). After 1947 many celebrated cine stars such as Noor Jehan and Khursheed migrated to Pakistan, leaving the field open to Suraiya, and her career bloomed over the next few years. After the hits Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), Badi Bahen and Dillagi (1949), she became the highest paid female star of her time, but her success was short-lived and the 1950s saw her popularity waning. There was a brief revival with Waris and Mirza Ghalib in 1954, followed by a prolonged gap. Her last feature was Rustom Sohrab (1963).

Suraiya was romantically involved with actor Dev Anand, whom she met when she was just nineteen, and the two of them did six films together between 1948 and 1951: Vidya, 1948, Jeet, 1949, Shayar, 1949, Afsar, 1950, Nili, 1950, and Do Sitare, 1951. Their relationship was said to date from an incident during the shooting of a song for Vidya, when a boat capsized and Dev Anand saved Suraiya from drowning. However, her grandmother, who chaperoned her very strictly, disapproved of the relationship and is said to have thrown Dev Anand’s gift of a diamond ring into the sea and burned all his letters before her eyes. Dev Anand married Kalpana Kartik in 1951, but rumour continued to swirl around the pair. Suraiya never married.
 
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