Monday, October 5, 2009


A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of All Times
by Nasir.

During the Nineteen Forties too, the Indian society being a conservative one in general, the unreliable profession in the movies, namely singing, dancing and acting in particular, did not inspire much respect not only in the cultured and elite circles but also among most of the middle class. On the day of his wedding, when asked to enter his profession in the Nikahnama by the Qazi, Naushad mentioned it as “Tailor” for the fear of what his “Biraadari” would say if they learnt that he was in the film industry. What an irony that precisely at that time the wedding band was playing the hit music from his own movies where as the Music Director he had composed beautiful songs and given the background music! Imagine, the profession of a tailor was more preferable to that of a person from the film background!

The use of words such as “Kanjar” and “Miraasi” were derogatorily used for ‘Nachne Gaane Waale.’ I remember having listened to a radio-programme of AIR or the Vividh Bharti in the Sixties. Some film-personality while hosting the programme narrated an incident that occurred at the time when he and his group were in transit to go to Afghanistan for some cultural-show. The interesting thing about the incident was that at the time of granting the visas at the border, the immigration officer was at a loss of words to categorise this group. Finally he came up with the words. The words used by him for the group were: “Tolaa-e-Kanjaaraan!”

It was also the time when the likes of Dilip Kumar, Anil Biswas, Lata Mangshkar and others, before they became legends in their own right, used to travel by trains to Malad for their work in the film studios such as the Bombay Talkies or at the Filmistan which is actually located at Goregaon in Mumbai. Some used to go round plying second-hand motor-bikes. Some preferred to just walk in order to save money for the meals. Some, such as Naushad, used to sleep on the foot-path so that they need not walk many miles to the place of their work. Mohammed Rafi, too, used to walk from Bhendi Bazaar to Dadar as we have noted before.

Now before we go to 1949, let’s see what else occurred in the film industry in Mumbai in 1948 or thereabout. At this time, there were some beautiful actresses around such as Kamini Kaushal, Nargis, Suraiya, Nalini Jaywant, Geeta Bali and Madhubala who would leave their lasting impressions on the cine-goers well up to the next century. Leela Chitnis was the first Indian actress who endorsed the Lux Beauty ad in 1941, but by 1948 was reduced to playing mother’s role.

The pages of the history of Mumbai film industry would be incomplete if we don’t mention the real-life romance of the film personalities that provided glamour. sheen and colour of their own to the Nineteen Forties. Unfortunately, the flower of their love was doomed to wither away from the beginning itself. Their love was just an autumn flower that would see no happiness of the spring. These three pairs could not succeed for the reasons that a woman and a man were already married to someone else, while the third pair of lovers was of different religious donomination. The film heroes, who were involved, would rise to the topmost level in the immediate decade of the Fifties. Yes, they were Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor who would head the three tier system of film-stars that would automatically come into being in the Sixties. Though the cinema is considered to be the director’s medium, yet these actors gave wings to new concepts in their profession which were not inferior to those of directors.

It is to be remembered that the Forties were the conservative times and therefore the impact on the contemporaries then was much more than we could possibly imagine in these days of permissive sex and pornography. Without going into their biographies or introductions, let’s examine these love-birds very briefly:

Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal were the leading pair that worked together in Shaheed, Nadiya Ke Paar, (both 1948), Shabnam (1949) and Arzoo (1950). Kamini Kaushal was senior to Dilip Kumar, having begun her filmy career in 1941 in Sangam. She was a popular actress that can be gauged from her earlier release of Neecha Nagar (1946) and the five releases during 1948: Shaheed and Nadiya Ke Paar with Dilip Kumar, Pagree with Amar, Ziddi with Dev Anand, and Aag with Producer-Director-Actor Raj Kapoor. Naturally, the shooting for these films must have been going around at about the same time. Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal came closer to each other while doing Shaheed. Both were very young and deeply involved. When Kamini was not with him, it appears that Dilip Kumar would feel the pangs of separation. So he would visit her on the sets where Kamini used to shoot for other pictures during that period. As such, he would often drop on the sets of Pagree which was being produced and directed by P.N. Arora.

However, there was a terrible problem facing this pair, for the real-life story of Uma (for that was Kamini’s real name) appears to be the story of the heroine of Gumrah that was made in 1963 by B.R. Chopra. (Dilip Kumar had refused to do Gumrah when B.R. Chopra offered him the role) Her sister had died leaving her husband and children behind and she was made to marry her sister’s widower, Mr. Sood who was a senior officer in the Bombay Port Trust and had been allotted a beautiful bungalow by the Port Trust. Is it not said in the sub-continent of India and Pakistan that who else but a “Mausi” or “Khaala” (maternal aunt) would make the best of the step-mothers?

So there you are! Otherwise, too, how could the family tolerate Kamini Kaushal’s love affair, when she was a married woman? It was not easy to obtain a divorce. The comprehensive Hindu Marriage Act came into effect only in 1955 and even that was very stringent on the question of divorce. P.N. Arora had never interfered with Dilip’s visit to his studio since the love-affair was their personal affair. But one day, according to him, a military guy who happened to be the brother of Kamini Kaushal stomped on the sets of Pagree and pointing his pistol at Kamini he threatened to shoot her if the clandestine love affair did not end there and then. Later it was settled that she would be allowed to complete her pending assignments. Kamini suspected P.N. Arora’s hand in leaking out the information to her family but completed his movie which required just a few days’ shoot.

However, it appears that the affair had gone on as far as the Arzoo (1950) days. In the meantime, Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal did Filmistan’s Shabnam (1949) which was based on the English movie, Caravan. Ismat Chugtai who was the story-writer as well as the playwright and dialogue writer for Arzoo reveals that while shooting for Arzoo, Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal would hold each other’s hand under the cover of the film script that they used to read. By then the scandal had broken out when Kamini Kaushal’s brother threatened to shoot Dilip Kumar if the affair was not wound up. As a kid I did hear some such rumour but it was a little more serious namely that Kamini’s brother had actual taken a shot at Dilip Kumar but missed him! After Arzoo the pair never acted together again. According to Sitara Devi, the noted Kathak dancer and who also played Dilip Kumar’s boss’s role in K. Asif’s Hulchal (1951), Dilip Kumar was a broken man thereafter since he really loved Kamini Kaushal. Dilip Kumar has admitted in the biography written by Bunny Reuben that as a young man he was attracted to Kamini Kaushal.  As the decades would roll, in Dilip Kumar’s life there would be new women that would include, Madhubala, Vyjayantimala, Waheeda Rehman, Saira Banu, and the forgettable Asma.

As for Kamini Kaushal, she never offered any statement on the said affair.  Indeed, according to some reports in the press (The Motion Picture Magazine, September 1949) throughout the crisis, lives of both Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal were under threat  When a friend of the latter told her that she should divorce her husband, stay independently,  and seek police protection, Kamini Kaushal seems to have faltered, thus revealing herself  "to be a coward."

Incidentally, neither Shabnam nor Arzoo had any songs of Mohammed Rafi. The music director of Shabnam was S.D. Burman and its lyricist was Qamar Jalalabadi. In Arzoo Anil Biswas provided the music, while Majrooh Sultanpuri, Jan Nisar Akhtar, and Prem Dhawan provided the lyrics.

Before we come to the next pair of love-birds, I would like to very briefly acquaint the dear readers with at least a sketchy information about the hold that Suraiya had on this nation of cineme lovers, reminding you at the same time that she was not a classic beauty as, say, Naseem Banu was, but her charms and songs plus her good looks made up more than that. It was that beauty and those melodious songs that captured the imagination of the cinema-lovers of the sub-continent. Suraiya was at her zenith in 1948-1949 and with the grand success of Pyar Ki Jeet, Badi Bahen and Dillagi and a string of other movies in the Fifties, she became the richest female star of her time. Old timers simply cannot forget the craze that Suraiya generated both as a film-star and singer. Pyar ki Jeet and Badi Bahen which had music by Husnlal-Bhagatram, and Dillagi which had music by Naushad had outstanding songs of Suraiya. Dillagi’s MURLI WAALE MURLI BAJAA, and the songs composed by the said duo musicians, TERE NAINON NE CHORI KIYA and WOH PAAS RAHEN YAA DUUR RAHEN and other songs generated a mass hysteria. She used to be mobbed on the road, at her house, and at the premiere shows of her movies. She had a daily fan-mail of 7,000. This craze continued till the mid-Fifties and I remember having read about an incident when one of her passionate fans stole all her disc-records from her home. She lodged a police complaint, pursuant to which the police went on looking for the culprit. Finally, they were able to nab the thief from a cottage at Lonavala, near Poona (Pune). What led them to the thief were the melodious songs of Suraiya that were being played by him in that cottage at that time, oblivious to all else.

Dharmendra who was still in his native place, not knowing that one day he would himself become a great film star, used to walk miles in his native place to see Dillagi nearly 40 times. Not just the commoners, but the film-stars too were enamoured of her. Even the super-star of Hollywood Gregory Peck came to see her at her residence in 1954. It was Al-Nasir who told him that Suraiya was his fan and so Gregory Peck, who was on his way to Ceylon for the shooting of Purple Plain and was lodged at the Ambassador Hotel at Bombay during his transit, gave a midnight knock at her doors and spent an hour with her.  Then there was one Shahzada, a relative of the famous heroine and supporting actress, Veena.  He was Suraiya's co-star in K.Asif's Phool (1944).  He is now chiefly remembered for being crazy about Suraiya whom he used to stalk.  He used to park his car day and night outside her apartment.  It was Jaddan Bai, the mother of Nargis, who actually took him along with her to Suraiya's and the star personally requested him to leave her alone. 

Suraiya was a big star when Dev Anand fell for her charms. Dev Anand changed his mannerisms to those of Gregory Peck precisely for the sake of Suraiya it seems. Both of them did seven films together, beginning with Vidya (1948), Jeet and Shayar (1949), Afsar and Neeli in 1950, and Do Sitare and Sanam in 1951. The origin of their love began while they were picturising a song in a boat for Vidya. The song was KINAARE KINAARE CHALE JAYENGE. While they were rowing, their boat suddenly turned over and Suraiya found herself drowning since she did not know how to swim. Dev Anand saved her life, and that was it! But the course of true love never doth run smooth. Suraiya’s granny was strictly against the fruition of this romance since Dev Anand was a Hindu and Suraiya a Muslim. While shooting for Jeet Dev Anand proposed to Suraiya and gave her diamond ring worth Rs.3,000/-. On seeing the ring, Suraiya’s granny threw it into the sea. Remember they used to stay at Krishna Mahal on the Marine Drive facing the Arabian Sea. The granny took steps to ensure that they could never marry, and even undermined their plan to elope. The story is long and not really our subject-matter. Ultimately, they drifted apart. Suraiya’s movies started flopping one after the other. Soon Dev Anand married Kalpana Kartik, though he admits that he did so on the rebound. Suraiya gave up acting. But she did return in 1954 in Waris opposite Talat Mehmood and in Mirza Ghalib opposite Bharat Bhushan. She won great commendations from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for her role in Mirza Ghalib and for her Ghalib’s ghazals. She later did a supporting role in Shama in 1961 and her last movie was Rustom Sohrab in 1963 after which spent the life of a recluse. Dev Anand admitted in his autobiography, “Romancing with Life”: “Yes, I loved Suraiya.”  Suraiya was the love and passion of Dev Anand's life and, according to him,  this memory he will always cherish. 

But Suraiya’s love was more sincere. She remained unmarried all her life till the icy hands of death claimed her. 

Such was the epic romance of Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal on one hand, and Dev Anand and Suraiya, on the other. The romance of Raj Kapoor and Nargis belongs to the Fifties and is therefore not broached here.

Mohammed Rafi sang some 24 duets with Suraiya. Suraiya was friends with Lata and both of them have paid tributes to each other and the poisonous story about Suraiya is not true. If at all Suraiya had any grudge, it was against Madhubala who had replaced her in Mahal (1949).


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