Mallika e tarannum the legend lives on

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Anupama Nair

When I think of Music, I always think of my favorite writer Shakespeare and his quotes “If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die”. I will take you on a journey of the Hindi film music and then talk about the Noor of Indian music Noor Jehan. Hindi film music has a long history and still decide the fate of a movie. The film music from the beginning till the 1990s had poetic lyrics and melodious music. However, with the arrival of the millennium, the music lost its touch. No poetic lyrics or melodious music exist, very rarely in film like Parinita, but mostly do not exist anymore. It pains my heart to see this fall. Hope the yesteryears come back, at least for music.


The first film in Hindi with recorded music was in the move “Alam Ara” made in 1931, and the first song had the lyrics “De khuda ke naam per”. In the 1940s they are many songs which after 80 years are still popular. Some of those songs are “Akhiyan Milake (Ratan), Jawan hai Muhabbat (Anmol Ghadi), and Awaz de Kahan hai (Anmol Ghadi). The songs sung by Suraiya and Noor Jehan are still super hits.


Noor Jehan was a famous Indian singer and actress who worked both in India and Pakistan. She had a highly versatile personality, and could sing in several languages including Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Sindhi, and had recorded over 10,000 songs in her career. She was born into a Muslim family with a rich musical tradition, in British India, and she was exposed to the world of show biz at a young age. She began singing at the age of five and received early training in classical singing from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He introduced her to the stage and before long she had blossomed into a talented and confident stage performer.


She developed an interest in acting along with singing and made her initial film appearances as a child actor. The famous theatre owner Diwan Sardari Lal took her to Calcutta in the early 1930s and her entire family moved to Calcutta in hope of developing the film careers of  Noor Jehan and her older sisters, Eiden Bai and Haider Bandi. Mukhtar Begum, who was a famous actress encouraged the sisters to join film companies and recommended them to various producers she knew. She also recommended them to her husband, Agha Hashar Kashmiri, who owned a maidan theatre or a tented theatre to accommodate large audiences. It was here that she received the stage name, Baby Noor Jehan. Her sisters were offered jobs with one of the Seth Sukh Karnani companies, Indira Movietone and they went on to be known as the Punjab Mail.


In 1935, she acted in a Punjabi movie called ‘Pind di Kuri’ in which Noor Jehan acted along with her sisters and sang the Punjabi song “Langh aja patan chanaan da o yaar”, which was her earliest hit. She then acted in a film called ‘Missar Ka Sitara’ by the same company and sang in it. Jehan also played the child role of Heer in the film Heer-Sayyal in 1937.  All these Punjabi movies were made in Calcutta. After a few years in Calcutta, Jehan returned to Lahore in 1938. In 1939, renowned music director Ghulam Haider composed songs for her, which led to her early popularity, and he thus became her early gurus.

In 1942, she had her first Hindi hit Khandaan opposite Pran. It was her first role as an adult, and the film was a major success. The success of Khandaan encouraged her to move to Bombay – the center of Bollywood, with the director Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. She shared singing with Shanta Apte in Duhai  released in 1943. She married Rizvi later the same year. Badi Ma released in 1945 is a social drama film based in the time of Second World War. It was produced and directed by Master Vinayak. The film starred Noor Jehan, Ishwarlal, Yakub, Sitara and Girish. It could be called a vintage film as it had Lata didi and Asha Bhosle acting alongside Noor Jehan.

Then came the great blockbuster of all times – Anmol Ghadi with Surendra and Suraiya. This movie is my all-time favorite and I do not know how many times I saw this movie. The film was a musical hit and still remembered for its music by Naushad, with many super hits like “Aawaaz De Kahaan Hai”, “Jawaan Hai Mohabbat Haseen Hai Zamana” and “Mere Bachpan Ke Saathi Mujhe Bhool Na Jaana”. The film also featured playback singer, Mohammed Rafi's first super hit, “Tera Khilauna Toota Balak”, and became the highest-grossing film at the Indian box office in 1946.


Jugnu released in 1947, directed by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi was the highest grossing film of 1947. The film starred Dilip Kumar, Noor Jehan, and Ghulam Mohammad. The famous playback singer Mohammed Rafi also had a cameo appearance. This film was the first major hit for Dilip Kumar, who went on to become the Kohinoor of Bollywood. Another hit movie was Mirza Sahiban released in 1947.The movie was directed by K. Amarnath, starring Noor Jehan and Trilok Kapoor in the lead roles,  based on the folktale of ‘Mirza Sahiban’ and was the fourth highest grossing Indian film of 1947.


From 1945 to 1947 Noor Jehan was one of the biggest film actresses of Bollywood. In 1947, with the partition of India, we lost our Noor of the film industry. She along with her husband moved to Karachi. She later came to India in 1982. She passed away in 2000 after a heart attack and when I heard the news left a void in my heart.


The famous musician C. Ramachandra said “A political agreement divided the kingdom of two queens. In 1951, the heir and the empress met each other in the middle of the road. When the political surgeons of the subcontinent amputated Pakistan from India, they underestimated its cultural consequences. Art, cinema, and literature of the subcontinent found itself disembodied. The decision of Noor Jehan to move to Pakistan hurt many of her fans – especially a young one girl called Lata Mangeshkar in particular”.


But even though distances separated them, the two singers have always claimed love for each other's talents. An incident that reflects the connection between the two occurred in 1951. In the words of C Ramachandra “travelling through Amritsar for a recording, Lata Mangeshkar was seized by a desire to meet her former idol, Noor Jehan. Noor Jehan resided in Lahore, a couple of hours on the other side of the border. Immediately, calls were made to Noor Jehan. Both singers spoke for hours over the phone, sharing tales, gossip, even songs, before the decision to meet was made. Since both singers could not cross the border, the meeting was set up in that desolate place armies call ‘No Man's Land’. It seems apt that two legendary artists could only meet in a place that no country or government had claim over.

Noor Jehan ji came running and the two embraced each other like long lost friends. Both were weeping. We who were witness to this divine meeting were overwhelmed and could not stop the tears. Even soldiers on both sides of the border were weeping. After some time, they sat chatting. We had food. They had brought sweets from Lahore and us from India. Noor Jehan’s husband was also there. I shall never forget this scene in my life. A great testimony to the fact that music can break any barrier. After few hours, we returned with wet eyes but with a divine and unique experience indeed”, he said in his biography.

Later in 1982, Noor Jehan visited Bombay for a concert. Lata Mangeshkar performed in her honor, winning the praise of Noor Jehan. We cannot comment whether Lata Mangeshkar would have been so successful if Noor Jehan had decided to stay back in India. But we cannot doubt the respect the two ‘queens of melody’ had for each other. Noor Jehan was truly Mallika-e-tarannum and would remain my favorite forever.

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