Suraiya, the Indian playback singer and actress in Bollywood in the 1940s and 1950s was a very popular personality of her generation.  She was born in 1929 in Gujranwala, Pakistan.  She passed away in 2004 in Mumbai, India.


Apart from being a movie singer and actress, she was also a good classical singer.  She made her debut as a child star in 1937 movie, Usne Kya Socha.


Suraiya was born as Suraiya Jamaal Sheikh, and she was the only child of her parents.  She came from a humble background with no contacts, or formal training in the field of acting or singing.


After shifting from her birthplace, Gujranwala – (where her father had a small furniture shop), the family shifted to Lahore.  She was later taken to Bombay (present day Mumbai) by her mother, maternal uncle and maternal grandmother – much against Suraiya’s father’s will.  The change of residence gave her the opportunity to enter the Indian film world.


While accompanying her uncle to Mohan Studios in 1941 to watch the shooting of film, Taj Mahal, Suraiya was offered the role of Mumtaz Mahal in the same movie directed by Nanubhai Vakil. Later, the legendary music director, Naushad heard her on All India Radio.  She was barely in her teens when she sang the song: Panchi Ja.  From 1943, she delivered some fantastic hits.  Her acting skills along with her melodious style of singing brought her to the special league of stars.


Suraiya starred in K. Asif’s Phool, Mehbbob Khan’s Anmol Ghadi, and Dard.  In 1945, ‘Tadbir’ took her to another level of fame.  She starred in Omar Khayyam and Parwana with the one-and-only K.L. Saigal.  With the migration of ruling actresses – Noor Jehan and Khursheed Bano to Pakistan post-independence, the wave further turned in favour of Suraiya.  She ruled the silver screen by delivering three successful films: Pyar Ki Jeet, Badi Bahen and Dillagi.


At one point, she was more in favour with the producers and directors because she could sing her own songs.  Thus, she was more in demand than even Nargis and Kamini Kaushal.  Unfortunately, a few of her films tanked at the box office in the 1950s.  Waaris and Mirza Ghalib revived her career, but by now, Suraiya was losing out.  Rustom Sohrab was her last film in 1963.


The lady’s personal life was sad.  She was in love with the popular hero, Dev Anand.  However, the romance was looked down upon by her family due to religious restrictions.  As a result, the relationship broke off.  Suraiya remained unmarried for life, and over the years she became a recluse.  She died in Mumbai at Harkishandas Hospital after a brief illness.  Suraiya was buried at Badakabarastan in Marine Drive – Mumbai. 

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