Yeh Kaisi Ajab Dastan
Film/Year: Rustom Sohrab (1963)
Bujha Do, Bujha Do, Bujha Do Sitaron Ki Shammein Bujha Do
Chhupa Do, Chhupa Do, Chhupa Do Haseen Chaand Ko Bhi Chhupa Do
Yahan Roshani Mehmaan Ho Gayi Hai
Yeh Kaisi Ajab Dastan Ho Gayi Hai
Chhupaate Chhupaate Bayaan Ho Gayi Hai.
(O would someone please just extinguish those lights of stars and go, also hide that beautiful moon/ My shining light is already here as my guest/ It’s a fantasy come true, a strange tale that has expressed itself despite all attempts to keep it secret!)
Listening to Sajjad’s characteristically intricate tune and Qamar Jalalabaadi‘s exquisitely romantic lyrics come alive in Suraiya’s surreally sensuous and earthily evocative voice is a heady experience. Such a natural voice, sophisticated yet uninhibited, soft yet powerful and making it all sound so easy. That after such a breathtaking rendition, the singing star Suraiya would just leave the film and music world to be an elusive, reclusive entity for next four decades was just one of the many legends adding to the unique mystique of her alluring persona.
Legend has it that to sing her first song Boot Karuun Main Polish Babu (Nayi Duniya-1942) a 12 year old Suraiya was made to stand on a stool to reach the level of microphone. The same year, she also play-backed a memorable Panchhi Jaa for a much older heroine Mehtab in Sharda. Within no time, Suraiya graduated from a child artist in Taj Mahel (1941) to the 45 year-old Prithviraj Kapoor’s 14 years- old heroine in Ishara (1943)! Funnily the same year, she also paired as a child artist with Prithviraj’s son Raj Kapoor in Hamari Baat!
Within next five years, with hits like Anmol Ghadi (Socha Tha Kya), Pyar Ki Jeet (Tere Naino Ne Chori Kiya), Badi Bahen (Woh Paas Rahein Ya) and Dillagi (Tu Mera Chaand, Main Teri Chaandani)- Suraiya became the topmost singing star in independent India. Thousands of fans used to throng below her Krishna Mahel apartment on Mumbai’s Marine Drive, hoping just to catch a glimpse of her beauty.
She fell in love with a newcomer, Gregory Peck look-alike Dev Anand when he saved her from drowning during shooting of a song in Vidya (1948). Faced with a stiff opposition from her grand-mom, the romance flourished clandestinely for a few years but only ended in despair. Like all tragic, unfulfilled love stories Dev Anand- Suraiya love story became a timeless legend. Suraiya never married – spurning countless proposals, including one from her ex- hero (and famous character actor) Rahman. Perhaps the pain of her unsuccessful love- affair never went away.
Fifties saw her progressively lose ground to Lata Mangeshkar and Geeta Dutt on singing front and to Nargis, Madhubala and Meena Kumari on acting front. Even though her performance and singing (Yeh Na Thii Hamari Kismat) in Mirza Ghalib (1954) won her praise from the then Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, by then Suraiya had ceased to be a box-office draw.
After Rustom Sohrab (1963), almost like Greta Grabo, she shut herself out of public life, preferring to retire when people asked why and not why not. Walls and mantle-pieces in her home were full of photographs from her glorious past. It was as if she preferred to live in that past when the world was at her feet, refusing to maintain any ties with the present. For almost forty years, neither did she attend any parties, nor any public award functions. Towards the end she relented to accept a few life-time achievement awards. Well, she had certainly deserved them!
On reading her death- news on January 31, 2004, I remembered Suraiya’s life story- a fantasy come true, a strange tale that expressed itself despite all attempts to keep it secret!