Meeting Suraiya was like taking a walk back in time.
There was a time when traffic jams at Marine Drive (Mumbai) were
caused not due to a long line of cars, but because of a young
charismatic actress whose melodious voice had cast a spell on
thousands of young Indians. Entering her home at Krishna Mahal on
Marine Drive today, instantly transports you into another age and
"I WAS 12 AND LOOKED LIKE MUMTAZ MAHAL!"
Suraiya's career as an actress began as a child artiste.
"One day, my 'mamoo' (maternal uncle) Zahoor, who was a popular
villian in films, took me along to watch the shooting of Prakash
Pictures' 'Taj Mahal'. There, I met the producer, Nanubhai Vakil,
who felt that my face was ideally suited for the character of
young Mumtaz Mahal and asked my uncle if I could do the film. My
mother and grandmother agreed. So, I went off to Delhi to shoot
at the Red Fort for 10 days.
"And that was followed by one offer after another.'' And a
star was born.
SINGING WAS AN ACCIDENT
"I was never trained in singing. Madan Mohan, who lived close by
and Raj Kapoor once dragged me to participate in the children's
programme on the All India Radio. Naushad sa'ab, who heard my
voice on the radio, got in touch with me to sing for Kardar
sa'ab's film, 'Sharda'. And I sang 'Panchi ja peeche raha hain
bachpan mera', which was picturised on Mehtab. I was 11 years old
"NARGIS ENVIED ME"
"Frankly, I hadn't planned a career in films. I was just lucky
to have got good roles. Nargis would always tell me, 'Somehow you
get the best roles'," says Suraiya, modestly.
"Most of my roles were simple, but the audiences loved them. And I
was lucky to have got simple, melodious and easy to pick up songs
to sing, and work with the best composers of the day like
Naushad, Husnlal-Bhagatram and Anil Biswas. We didn't even dream
of promo videos, ads and all the associated technical wizardry
then. But we still caught the audience's imagination."
THE CROWDS WENT SURAIYA-MAD
And how! When 'Pyar Ki Jeet' was released, it drew crowds
outside Suraiya's house that had to be controlled by posting an
inspector and four constables outside her house.
"When I went for the premiere of the movie 'Badi Bahen', there
was such a big crowd outside! As I walked into the theatre, they
pulled at my clothes. There was a lathi charge and people were
injured. I stopped going for premieres thereafter."
"DEV SAVED MY LIFE"
No Suraiya interview can be complete without a reference to the
Dev Anand-Suraiya love story. While Dev Anand himself went on to
marry Kalpana Kartik and, later, to romance several other women,
for Suraiya, it seems that love began and ended with Dev Anand.
"We were picturising a song in a boat right in the middle of the
river, when the boat overturned and we found ourselves
floundering in the water. I didn't know how to swim. Dev brought
me out of the water. I thanked him, saying, 'If you hadn't saved
me, my life would have ended.' He retorted, 'If your life had
ended, so would mine.' We were drawn to each other."
"MY GRANNY WAS DEAD AGAINST DEV"
"I worked with Dev in seven films. Inevitably, people started
talking about our romance and my grandmother learnt of it. She
was extremely angry because Dev was a Hindu and granny was very
"WE DECIDED TO ELOPE"
The highlight of this romance was the plan the lovers made to
elope. While shooting for 'Jeet', the director decided to film on
location instead of erecting a set. Also part of the plan was
the summoning of a real 'panditji' to get Dev and Suraiya married
during the shot. They would then get into the car and drive away
- all as part of the scene, but in reality escaping.
"I BACKED OUT"
Unfortunately, Suraiya's grandmother came to know of the plan.
"Eventually, my grandmother succeeded in separating us. Dev was
deeply hurt and offended by my lack of courage. But I was afraid
for him. In retrospect, I don't think anything would have
happened if I'd been bold enough. But I was terrified of my
grandmother. And was heartbroken. But time is the greatest
A practical woman, Suraiya prefers not to be a prisoner of the
past. She agrees that had she chosen one of the many marriage
proposals that came her way, life would have been different. But,
she says, "Who can say what may have happened had I married?
I've seen so many friends' marriages crumbling. I've been single
and happy, living and doing the things I like, with a circle of
close friends. But I'll admit that after my mother expired some
years ago, I felt some amount of loneliness creep in."
"PANDIT NEHRU COMMENDED ME"
"I'd been a fan of Mirza Ghalib since childhood. And so when
Sohrab Modi sent for my grandmother and discussed the role and
other terms with her, I was thrilled.
"It was a very simple film, made in three months. Yet, what an
effect the film had! It was the first feature film to be awarded
the President's Gold Medal. At a function in Delhi, Pandit Nehru,
after watching the movie, said to me, 'Ladki, tumne kya unke
(Mirza Ghalib) ghazalein gaayi. Tumne Mirza Ghalib ki rooh ko
zinda kar diya.' For me, that was an award better than an
"MY TIME HAD COME"
'Rustom Aur Sohrab' made in 1962 was Suraiya's swan song. Why?
"I hadn't been keeping well and had collapsed with weakness
during the shooting of the movie. I was forced to take a break
and recuperate. During that time, I really enjoyed resting and
realised how tired I was with work. I completed the films I had
on hand and decided to call it a day. And I've never looked
Incidentally, this legendary actress-singer still retains a
lovely schoolgirlish lilt in her voice. Time, it seems, hasnt
laid its hands on it.