Remembering Suraiya on her 88th birth anniversary.

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Suraiya Jamaal Sheikh (15 June 1929–31 January 2004) was a Hindi / Hindustani film actress and playback singer in Bollywood in the 1940s to early 1960s, who remained unmarried throughout her life, after her love affair with actor Dev Anand was aborted by her maternal grandmother. She was the most popular singing star of the Indian sub-continent of her generation. Till 1943, as a child singer, Suraiya gave play-back for one actress, namely, Mehtab in three films and also in some of her own films for her roles as a child artiste. After this, she only sang for her own films as an actress, and as a heroine after 1946 till 1963.

From 1948 to 1950, she became the singing superstar of Bollywood, earning the highest amount for her performances, over all the performing actors of the times, male or female, including Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Madhubala. She received 1.5–2 lakhs rupees for her role per film, when top male actors were getting 50 thousand to 1 lakh rupees. For a song, she commanded rupees 1000, while Lata was getting rupees 100–200 per song.

She was the only child of her parents. She had a natural talent for singing, acting and dancing from childhood. She received basic training in music, when her mother used to take her to Hindustani music teacher or ‘masterji’ for training. She first sang for a children’s program for All India Radio in 1937. Later on Naushad gave her on the job ‘training’, while recording. She went on to become a most successful singing film star of Bollywood. She first sang for a children’s program for All India Radio in 1937. She had received training in dancing from Mumtaz Ali, dancer-actor and father of famous comedian, Mehmood.

She was also known for her North Indian Muslim feudal style acting or ‘adakari’ in many of her films (Mirza Ghalib (film), Phool, Afsar, Shayar, Jeet (1949 film), Anmol Ghadi, Dastan).

This style ‘endowed modernity with an aura of tradition’ and brought nostalgic feudal tinge to the scenes. Her performance ‘expertly integrated gestures, music and speech’. Suraiya in her heydays was known as ‘Malika-e-Husn’ (queen of beauty), ‘Malika-e-Tarannum’ (queen of melody) and ‘Malika-e-Adakaari’ (queen of acting), all rolled into one.

In the late 1940s and early 50s, craze for Suraiya amongst her fans was at its peak. Her house at Marine Drive was always mobbed by her fans and suitors, when her car used to come out or enter the gates. Most of the fans were obsessed with her. “She was a screen goddess and a mellifluous singer, who had the world at her feet.”(Tribune). Even one of them (actress Veena’s brother) went on a fast outside her house, so that she would acquisce and marry him. Another crazy fan came with a ‘barat’(wedding party) and dowry from Lahore, and yet another, kept a photograph of hers in the ‘Puja’ (temple at home) and would not eat without worshipping her. Even street singers would make money singing songs fom her film ‘Pyar ki Jeet’. At the other extreme, even Kanti Desai, son of the Chief Minister, Bombay State, Morarji Desai (later Prime Minister of India), invited her to a private party, but she refused politely. It is said that Kanti Desai tried hard, even threatening her, but to no consequence. Actor Dharmendra was a great fan of Suraiya. He is said to have seen her film ‘Dillagi’ (1949) forty times in his teens, walking miles from his hometown, Sahnewal in Punjab, to watch her movies

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