Suraiya Jamal Sheikh was an Indian playback singer and actress who was popularly known as Suraiya. She was active in Hindi Cinema between 1936 and 1963. In a career spanning over three decades, Suraiya appeared in 67 films, and she sang 338 songs. By the mid-1940s, Suraiya had become one of the most celebrated personalities in the Indian Cinema. Suraiya died on 31 January 2004 at the age of 75 due to chronic ailments.
Suraiya was born on Saturday, 15 June 1929 (age 75 years; at the time of death) in Lahore. She did her schooling at J.B. Petit High School for Girls in the Fort district of Mumbai. She was one-year-old when her family moved to Mumbai, where they lived at Krishna Mahal at Marine Drive.
Height (approx.): 5′ 2″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Family & Caste
Suraiya belonged to a Muslim feudal family.
Parents & Siblings
Suraiya’s father’s name was Aziz Jamal Sheikh, and her mother’s name was Mumtaz Sheikh. Her grandmother’s name was Padshah Begum. Her father died in 1963, while her mother died in 1987.
Husband & Children
Suraiya never married.
Suraiya was in a relationship with Dev Anand. Suraiya and Dev Anand fell in love with each other during the shooting of a film. According to a BBC report, Suraiya met Dev Anand first time on the sets of the film Vidya. Dev Anand introduced himself to Suraiya as Dev and asked her by what name she would prefer to call him. Suraiya answered “Dev.” He also wrote in his autobiography that when Suraiya hugged him from behind on the sets of Vidya, he felt the warmth of her breath following which their romance started blossoming. It is written in Dev Anand’s autobiography, “Romancing With Life,” that he gifted Suraiya a diamond ring worth three thousand rupees.
According to another story, Dev Anand and Suraiya fell in love with each other when a boat turned over in the water, and Dev Anand saved her from drowning. It happened when they were shooting for the song “Laayi Khushi Ki Duniya Hansti Hui Jawaani.”
Reportedly, Suraiya wanted to marry Dev Anand; however, her maternal grandmother didn’t allow this marriage as Suraiya was a Muslim, while Dev Anand was a Hindu. It was also said that she was the only earning member in her family and that’s why her grandmother didn’t want her to get married to Dev Anand. Later, Dev Anand got married to Kalpana Kartik (actual name Mona Singha) in 1954, while Suraiya remained unmarried throughout her life. Reportedly, Suraiya was also in a relationship with Hollywood actor Gregory Peck.
Suraiya belonged to a Muslim feudal family. Her family was an orthodox family that followed the old and traditional belief system.
House No. 63, Krishna Mahal, Marine Drive.
She made her acting debut with Bollywood film Madame Fashion (1936) in which she played the role of Miss Suraiya.
In 1941, during her school vacations, she accompanied her uncle M. Zahoor to the sets of the film Taj Mahal at Bombay’s Mohan Studios, where Nanubhai Vakil, a famous Indian filmmaker, was impressed by the innocence and charm of 12-year-old Suraiya, and he offered her the role of young Mumtaz Mahal in the film Taj Mahal.
Later, she appeared as a child artist in many films as a child artist like Tamanna (1942), Station Master (1942), and Hamari Baat (1943). Devika Rani, who led the Bombay Talkies production company, had a contract of rupees 500 for five years for her role in Hamari Baat (1943); however, Devika Rani revoked this contract on Suraiya’s request when she was offered Rs. 40,000 by K. Asif for his film Phool. She appeared as a lead heroine in J.K. Nanda’s film Ishara, opposite Prithviraj Kapoor. In 1945, she appeared in the film Tadbir (1945) alongside K. L. Saigal. Later, she appeared with K. L. Saigal as her co-star in Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana.
In 1946, she appeared in Mehboob Khan’s Anmol Ghadi alongside Noor Jehan. Later, she appeared in Dard (1947), Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), Gajre (1948), Badi Behen (1949). She appeared in seven films along with Dev Anand Vidya (1948), Jeet (1949), Shair (1949), Afsar (1950), Nili (1950), Do Sitare (1951), and Sanam (1951). For her performance in Mirza Ghalib, Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru praised her by saying,
Tumne Mirza Ghalib kii ruuh ko zindaa kar diyaa,” (“You have brought the soul of Mirza Ghalib back to life”)
Mirza Ghalib won the 1954 National Award for Best Feature Film. After Mirza Ghalib, she appeared in the films Bilwamangal (1954), Waris (1954), Shama Parwana (1954), Kanchan (1955), and Shama (1961). Suraiya’s last film was Rustam Sohrab (1963). Reportedly, she quit acting after Rustam Sohrab as she had to suffer from low blood pressure during the shooting of the film. The films of Suraiya that remained incomplete include Jaanwar, Pagalkhana, and an English version of Wajid Ali Shah.
Suraiya started singing in childhood. She first sang as a playback singer in the film Nai Duniya (1942). Her first song was “Boot karun main polish babu,” which was composed by Naushad. Suraiya sang for many popular films including Sharda (1942), Kanoon (1943), and Sanjog (1942-43). K. L. Saigal was so impressed by the talent of 16-year-old Suraiya that he recommended her as the lead actor in the film Tadbir. She sang along with Manna Dey in his first Hindi film song. Suraiya sang the song, ‘Panchhi Jaa’ for the film ‘Sharda’ in 1942. Her music composer praised her for her singing talent and quoted,
“Uski awaaz mein gharelupan tha.”
In 1943, when she sang “Ek Tu Hoo, Ek Main Hoon,” it became the first song in the Bombay music industry that had characteristics of Latin American music. Her song “Bistar Bicha Liya Hai Tere Dar Ke Samne Ghar Hum Ne Le Liya hai Tere Ghar ke Samne” became a huge success; it was a duet with Arun Kumar for the film Hamari Baat (1943). With the musical film Dillagi (1949), Suraiya became a huge star in India, both in acting and singing. Although Suraiya recorded 51 songs for Naushad, it was with the music director duo Husnlal Bhagatram that Suraiya recorded the maximum number of songs, 58. Suraiya and noted music composer Sachin Dev Burman collaborated for only three films, Vidya (1948) (with Dev Anand), Afsar (1949) (with Dev Anand), and Lal Kunwar (1952). Lata Mangeshkar and Suraiya sang four duets together. They sang together for the first time for the film Balam (1949).
Suraiya’s net worth was 50 crore at the time of her death in 2004.
Suraiya’s Properties and Heirs
Suraiya was the owner of various residential properties in Mumbai. She possessed various apartments at Marine Drive, flats in Worli, a bungalow built over a wide area in Lonavla, and jewellry in good quantity. She did not leave behind any apparent heirs. But soon after her death, there were so many people who emerged as her property owners with different claims. Ashwin Shah, her landlord, claimed ownership of her apartment at Marine Drive. He stated she was a tenant in his apartment. After that, her legal advisor, Dhimant Thakar, claimed the same apartment saying that he was a family member of Suraiya. Amee Shah, daughter of Dhimant Thakar, claimed the entire property of Suraiya saying that she is an adopted child of Suraiya and Suraiya had gifted all the property by the way of Heeba to her. Mehfooz Ahmed, Suraiya’s cousin from Pakistan, claimed a fair share in her entire property. Suraiya owned six flats in a Worli building. Vandana Walavalkar, being the secretary of that entire building, stated that all the six flats belonged to the society because of an absence of any title papers to the flats. Finally, a 79-year-old fan of Suraiya filed a petition and then the high court ordered the state government to seal all the properties under the Administrator General Act.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1950, Suraiya was declared “Star of the Year” and was awarded a gold medal.
- Suraiya was awarded the Screen Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
- Suraiya was awarded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee during Mirza Ghalib’s 220 Birth Anniversary in 1998.
- The Government of India honoured her on the occasion of the ‘100 Years of Indian Cinema’ by releasing a postage stamp bearing her image in various roles on 3 May 2013.
- Suraiya was awarded by the Dadasaheb Phalke Academy and Screen World Publications on the 134th birth anniversary of Dadasaheb Phalke.
- On the occasion of the completion of 100 years of Indian Cinema, Suraiya was voted the ‘Best On-Screen Beauty with the Most Ethnic Look.’
She died on 31 January 2004 because of various health ailments, including hypoglycemia, ischemia, and insulinoma after she got hospitalized at Mumbai’s Harkishindas Hospital; she was 75 years old.
- Singer: K. L. Saigal
- Work of Art: Mughal Architecture
- Love Story: Roopmati and Baz Bahadur
- Film: The Heiress
- Performance: Chaudhvin in Mirza Ghalib
- Memory: When she met Gregory Peck
- Co-Star: Dev Anand
- Fan: Dharmendra
- Possession: Letters from my fans
- Author: Kahlil Gibran
- Idol: Ashok Kumar
- Outfit: Churidar Kurta and Dupatta with zari work
- Music Director: Naushad
- She learned different languages like English, Urdu, Persian, and Hindi from a maulvi.
- Suraiya once stated that her biggest enemy is a mirror. She was scared to look at it.
- In 1956, Suraiya worked in a C-Grade film named Mr. Lambu directed by Nisar Ahmad Ansari.
- Her favorite pastime was buying glass bangles in different colours.
- In 1999, Suraiya was seen presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award to Lata Mangeshkar at Zee Cine Awards show.
- Dev Anand fondly called her Junie. The other two nicknames that Dev Anand gave to Suraiya were Nosey and Suraiyana, and Suraiya loved to call him Devina and Steve.
- According to reports, someone named a road at Lonavla “Suraiya Road” in her honour. She was seen at the inaugural ceremony of that road with her mother.
- Suraiya didn’t have the attributes of a contemporary actress, neither she receive formal training in music. Still, she reigned as a leading actress and singer in the Indian entertainment industry.
- Apart from acting, Suraiya also appeared in print commercials for various popular brands like LUX.
- M. Zahoor, Suraiya’s maternal uncle, was a well-known actor who was known for playing the role of a villain in the 1930s.
- Suraiya’s photograph was featured on a matchbox.
- Reportedly, Raj Kapoor and Madan Mohan, her childhood friends, once took her to a children’s program at All India Radio, where noted music director Naushad noticed Suraiya’s singing talent for the first time.
- Suraiya’s photo was displayed in Filmfare magazine as a cover pic.
- Suraiya and Dev Anand’s affair was one of the most controversial love affairs in the Indian Film Industry.
- She was counted among the highest-paid actresses in Bollywood in the late 1940s and 1950s.
- Suraiya and Noor Jehan had many similarities as both were 17 years old when Mehboob Khan cast them in his film Anmol Ghadi (1946), and both spent their childhood near Lahore.
- After the release of Suraiya’s film Pyar Ki Jeet (1948) in which she appeared alongside Rehman as the lead actor, a huge crowd gathered in front of her residence, and the police had to post an inspector and four constables to control the crowd.
- Nadira, who was a co-star with Suraiya in the film Waris once said that her father repeatedly visited the theatre to watch the song “Socha tha kya” sung by Suraiya.
- In her last film “Rustom Sohrab,” Suraiya sang the song “Ye kaisi ajab dastan ho gayi hai.”
- Suraiya left K. Asif’s film Jaanwar midway as she had a spat with actor Dilip Kumar during the shooting of the film. Reportedly, Dilip Kumar tore her blouse and bruised her back; the injuries took months to heal up.
- Feroze Deen Iftikaar, a Pakistani was a die-hard fan of Suraiya. He came from Pakistan to marry her without her consent. Suraiya’s father insulted him and told him to go back to his country.
- Once The Hindu described the diverse attributes of Suraiya and wrote,
What can you say about a lady who was courted by Dev Anand, respected by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, but feared by Lata Mangeshkar.”