This generation may not have heard of him, but he was heard with pin-drop silence when he sang his soul-stirring song “Kyon yaad aa rahen hain guzare huye zamzne…” on the stage during Indian Cinema’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in the year 1982. The audience that included biggest of the Bollywood names knew him well and had their eyes moistened by the touching melody which looked so true to life. The glorious bygone era of Surendra, the singing star sensation of the 30s and 40s and heartthrob of thousands then, seemed to have suddenly come back before them. Their spontaneous applause and standing ovation made him overwhelmed with emotion, as their so much admiration and regard was, perhaps, his best recognition in many decades since his most melodious early years of Hindi films.
Surendra was born on November 11, 1910 in Batla village of Punjab. He always used B.A., L.L.B. with his name and wanted to establish himself as a successful lawyer, but due to his pleasent voice everyone suggested him to become a singer and try hands at Hindi cinema. Finally, he agreed with them and came to Bombay to join Mehboob Khan’s Sagar Movie Tones.
In 1936, he got his first break in Deccan Queen. Deccan Queen established him as a sining star. He released a parody of K. L. Saigal’s ‘Baalam Aaye..’ in his voice as ‘Birha Ki Aag Lagi..’ which became an instant hit with the film-goers. His next film Aansuon Ki Duniya went un-noticed. He sang ‘Tumhi Ne Mujhko Prem Sikhaya..’ with Bibbo in his next film Manmohan which became very successful soon after the release of the film, and he got recognition as a singing star of those times. With Jaagirdaar he got his first chance to sing under the baton of great music director Anil Biswaas. Anilda recognised the talent in the young man and was very much impressed by Surendra’s voice and ability to sing. Anilda fortified his singing abilities. He gave further chances in Gramophone Singer, Jiwan Saathi, Alibaba, Aurat, Ghareeb, Jawani, etc.
When Anil Biswaas switched over to Bombay Talkies, Surendra sang under Khemchand Prakash and Gyan Dutt for about 2–3 years. Khemchand’s Bharthari (1944) was among his best musical creations. Surendra sang ‘Bhanwara Madhuban Me Jaa..’, ‘Bhiksha De De Maa..’, ‘Allah Naam Ras Pina Praani..’ and ‘Prem Bina Sab Soona..’ in Bharthari. In 1946, Surendra got the opportunity of his life time, when, Mehboob who was making Anmol Ghadi, called him up and gave him the chance to work against the then singing stars Noor Jahan and Suraiyya. For Anmol Ghadi, Naushad gave him a golden chance to sing with Noor Jahan, and Surendra lived up to all expectations. Surendra got songs like ‘Aawaz De Kahan Hai..’ a duet with Noor Jahan, which was a huge hit, ‘Kyun Yaad Aa Rahe Hain Gujre Hue Zamaane..’ and ‘Ab Kaun Hai Mera..’.
Anmol Ghadi was a huge success and thus Naushad repeated Surendra in Anokhi Ada, Elaan, etc. Surendra sang probably his best song in Gawaiya (1954) under music directly Ram Ganguly, the song was ‘Teri Yaad Ka Deepak Jalta Hai Din Raat..’ the other version (faster) of the song was sung by the great Talat Mehmood. But, it was the slow version sung by Surendra who took the notice of the film-goers. Ironically, after this he almost stopped singing and confined himself to acting. He acted in many films, like, Dil Deke Dekho, Mughal-e-Aazam, Baaghi, Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne, Waqt, An Evening in Paris, Milan and Sarasatichandra, to name a few.
Suraiya and Surendra in a still from the movie Anmol Ghadi (1946)