The other day, actor-singer Surendra’s death anniversary was observed. I thought of film ‘Anmol Ghadi’ when, as the handsome hero, for the second time Surendra had been paired with Noor Jehan after their first hit together, ‘Lal Haveli’. In ‘Anmol Ghadi’ Surendra was so handsome, full of life and was wooed by two pretty songstresses Noor Jehan and Suraiya. Just as Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor never came together again after Mehboob’s ‘Andaz’, so too, after ‘Anmol Ghadi’ such a powerful galaxy of three top singing stars was never seen together and will perhaps never be seen again because today we do not have singing stars.
But in ‘Anmol Ghadi’ the trio didn’t sing any one song together. That rare phenomenon was witnessed only in New Theatre’s ‘Dhartimata’ when the legendary trio – Pankaj Mullick, Uma Sashi and K.L.Saigal, rendered together that classic song, ‘Duniya rang rangeeli baba’.
Just take a look at ‘Anmol Ghadi’. Suraiya was emerging as the top singing star who was to replace Noor Jehan; and Noor Jehan, peaking to more dizzy heights in this film, had become the uncrowned queen of melody who was honoured with the title of Malika-e-tarannum’ after her rendering of that fabulous ‘Zeenat’ song, ‘Bulbulo mat ro yahan aansoo bahana hai mana’. Likewise Surendra had withstood the Saigal phenomenon and managed to stay on in the field, singing and acting together as no male actor was able to do. It is true that in those days all actors sang their songs. But their musical performance was not up to the mark. Ashok Kumar did sing some big hits for the Bombay Talkies films but he himself acknowledged that he was no singer. And ultimately he gave up singing from film ‘Sajan’.
THREE SINGING STARS
‘Anmol Ghadi’ was therefore a landmark film as it contained three singing super-stars. Surendra could then easily be placed among super stars as there were very few who were known to be musically effective. Good actors were there in abundance, like Motilal, Ashok Kumar, Chandramohan, Prem Adib, Jairaj Ulhas, Wasti, Ishwarlal and others. If Ashok Kumar and Motilal alone have survived in people’s memory it is because they continued to act even with the arrival of the next generation of top actors like Devanand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. But Surendra continued because of his melodious voice. And after K.L.Saigal’s death in January 1947 there was hardly any singer worth the name who could compete with Surendra as a singer though Mukesh had arrived on the scene and Rafi was struggling for a foothold. Naushad’s main male singers were G.M.Durani and Shyam Kumar. But they had been there since long and their fortune lay solely in the fact that their music director was Naushad who continued to patronize them even after Rafi had arrived on the scene and produced a hit with Noor Jehan in Jugnu..
Reverting to Anmol Ghadi, I may say that I have made special reference to this film for a very special reason. In 1983, Noor Jehan visited Mumbai to participate in the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the arrival of playback singing in India. She was therefore the star guest at the function which began with Lata lighting the ceremonial lamp and singing a devotional song, ‘Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam;. All eyes were on Noor Jehan.. Will she sing ? Will she not. This was because before leaving for India President Zia ul Haq had strictly instructed her not to sing in India. Now Zia was a powerful dictator. But Noor Jehan openly flouted his directive and said the musical waves cannot be stopped by political boundaries.
Singers and playback artistes of yester years were also invited; and Surendra was present too, sitting all alone among them, almost unnoticed..
WHEN NUR JEHAN WAS LATA !
Coincidentally Noor Jehan’s name in the film was Lata. And Surendra’s name was Chandra. And at one place Noor Jehan renders the dialogue: ‘Ab tum kahe ko aane lagey Chandra, tumhari Lata khud tumhare paas aaye gi’. Yes, in real life too it happened. Noor Jehan herself came from Pakistan to meet her old friends. But the organizers did not invite him on the stage which they should have done. It was a very legendary pair of its time. That did not happen. What is more, when Noor Jehan sang she mentioned that ‘Awaz de kahan hai…’ was a song with which she always opened her musical programmes. It showed the significance this song had in her life, more than ‘Yahan badla wafa ka’ which she had sung with Rafi. She sang the song alone. But when she came to the lines that Surendra had rendered in the original she said, ‘with due respects to Surendraji…’ And those lines were, ‘Kismat pe chha rahi hai kyon raat ki siyahi, veeran hain meri neenden taron se le gawahi, barbad main yahan hoon, abaad tu kahan haai, bedard asman hai duniya meri jawan hai, awaz de kahan hai…’
SHE CALLED HIM FROM A DISTANCE
Why didn’t Noor Jehan invite Surendra to sing with her ? Why didn’t the organizers request her to sing the classic duet with Surendra ? She did address him from a distance as ‘Surendrajee’.I think it must have been the fear of doubly annoying Zia ul Haq, first by singing and then by singing a duet with an Indian singer, and that too a Hindu. Whether they met subsequently at the get-togethers is not known to us. But at such a jubilee function, how could Surendra be left out ? So when he came on the mike, he also sang a song of ‘Anmol Ghadi’ – ‘Kyon yad aa rahe hain guzare hue zamane, ye dukh bhare fasane rote hue tarane, kis ko suna rahe hain kyon yaad aa rahe hain…yun muskura rahe hain, dekho agar to samjho ansoo baha rahe hain…Kya baat hai na jaane, kyon hichkiyon ki leh par gaate hain gham ke gaane, hum bhor ke diye hain, bujhte hi jaa rahe hain’ One could notice the sigh and helplessness Surendra was expressing while saying, ‘kis ko suna rahen hain, kyon yad aa rahe hain’. Yes, why should one identify the person being remembered when that person had refused to acknowledge the past and revive the time spent together ? Noor Jehan remembered ‘mera pyara hero Pran’ with whom she had acted in ‘Khandan’ but not the hero of her biggest hit film in India, ‘Anmol Ghadi’,
DECCAN QUEEN FIRST FILM
But Surendera’s musical journey did not begin with Noor Jehan. He started his film career in 1936. B.A. LLB from Lahore Surendra took to films on the advice of his friends. His first film was ‘Deccan Queen’ and the music director was Anil Biswas. In that film he rendered a hit ghazal, ‘Yad na kar dil-e-haseen guzari hui kahaniyan’. Saigal was right on top, and the Devdas song, ‘Balam aye baso mere man mein’ was a big hit. In film ‘Gramophone singer’ Surendra sang a solo which was on the tune of Saigal’s number, ‘Balam aye baso more man mein’. The lyrics of that song were, ‘Birha ki aag lagi more man mein’. ‘More man mein’ were the concluding words of the first line of both Saigal’s and Surendra’s songs. . The song could not hit the headlines.. I think I have a copy of the record (78 RPM).
FIRST BUMPER HIT
But the song that made Surendra an instant hit was rendered by him as a duet with Bibbo in film ‘Man Mohan’. The lyrics were, ‘Tumhi ne mujh ko prem sikhaya soye hue hriday ko jagaya’. The way Bibbo follows him after every line after seeking entry (recorded) through the words, ‘Main ander aa sakti hoon .’ seems to suggest to me(I have not seen the movie) that Surendra was teaching Bibbo how to sing, just as Dilip Kumar teaches Munawar Sultana to sing in film ‘Babul’ the romantic duet, ‘Milte hi ankhen dil huua diwana kisi kaa, afsana mera ban gaya afsana kisi ka’ (Talat and Shamshad),
IN OLD ‘MOTHERINDIA’
Surendra was the hero of Mehboob’s film, ‘Aurat’(which Mehboob re-made as Mother India). Film ‘Aurat ‘ starred Surendra as the good son and Yakub as the bad son. The mother’s role was played by Sardar Akhtar who later on married Mehboob. Anil Biswas was the music director. A duet sung by Surendra and Jyoti became a big hit: ‘Utth sajni khol kiware, tere sajan aye duware’. In ‘Ali Baba’ Surtendra came out with a super hit duet with Wahidan (some say she was mother of Nimmi). The song was, ‘Hum aur tum aur yeh khushi, ye keh-kahe ye dil-lagi, chitki hui hai chandni ..’ So haunting is the tune – I love to listen to it even today – that when the line, ‘Chitki hui hai chandni’ comes, one
feels as if one is indeed sitting in a moonlit night.
Surendra acted as Tansen in two films in which his music director Naushad was incharge of music. One was Baiju Bawra in which Ustad Amir Khan sang for the him, that classic, ‘Aj gavat mun mero jhoom ke’. There was a solo by Amir Khan too: ‘Ghanan ghanan kar barso re’. And the other film was ‘Moghul-e-Azam’ in which Bare Ghulam Ali Khan sang for him, ‘Prem Jogan ban jaaon’. For this song, Bare Ghulam Ali Khan was paid Rs 25,000. How much Surendra was paid for providing the lip movement is not known. But I presume Naushad chose Surendra because he was convinced that an established singer would give the correct lip movement to the songs.. Moreover for a singer of Surendra’s stature such eminent classical singers were indeed a good replacement for his voice.
I may add that in film ‘Lal Haveli’ Noor Jehan and Surendra made a good team of singing duo. This film was made before Anmol Ghadi.. And in this movie Surendra and Nur Jehan sang two duets which became very popular, ‘Dil le ke mukar na jaana, nazuk hai bahut zamana’ and ‘Mohaniya sunder mukhra khol’ Surendra had a popular solo too, ‘Yehi fiqra hai shyam pichle savere, haseenon ki galiyon mein hon herey pherey’. The film is also remembered for Yakub’s song, ‘Dil na lagana meri jaan dil na lagaana’ and his reopeated dialogue, ‘Chacha paseena aata hai’.
DUETS WITH AMIR BAI & GEETA DUTT
While Surendra sang a duet with Suraiya in ‘1857’ it was his duet with Amir Bai Karnatki in ‘Raja Bharthari’ that became a classic, tuned by Khemchand Prakash: ‘Bhiksha de de maiya pingla jogi kharra hai dwar’ It is a fabulous song. But today this song is rarely played while the 1857 duet of Surendra and Suraaiya is played very often on Vividh Bharati: ‘Teri nazar mein main rahoon, meri nazar mein tu’ (Sometimes Vividh Bharati says it is from 1857 and sometimes it announces the film.s name to be ‘Rooplekha’).Surendra’s duet with Geeta Roy in ‘Meri Kahani’ too became a big hit, ‘Bulbul ko mila phool to nadi ko kinara har dil go hai duniya mein kisi dil ka sahara’. His solo in ‘Gawaiya’ was also a hit, ‘Teri yad ka Deepak jalta hai din raat mere veeraane mein’. But this was rendered by Talat Mahmood too.
Among his last hit musical films was ‘Anokhi Ada’ in which Surendra acted as a professor. Naseem and Prem Adib were the other artists in this movie. Surendra’s solo in this film was, ‘Bare bhole bhale hain dil lene wale’ But a duet with Shamshad also became a big hit, ‘Kyon unhen dil diya hae ye kya kiya sheeshe ko pathar se takra diya’. But Mukesh’s four solos in the film, rendered for Prem Adib surpassed the other male songs on the popularity chart even though the Surendra-Shamshad duet continues to enjoy an equally high place among the golden hits of that era.
Surendra was 78 when he passed away in 1987. Even if he did not sing any more, he continued to act in character roles in films like ‘Hariyali aur Rasta’ and as Shami Kapoor’s father in ‘Dil deke dekho’. It must have been a crushing blow to him when he had to give lip movement to Talat Mahmood’s song in ‘Gawaiya’. The lyrics would sum up his mood, ‘Aise toote taar ke mere geet adhure reh gae’.
But when all is said and done, one cannot help saying that those were really the days of melody. That is why whenever we listen to those classic numbers we cannot help sharing Surendra’s anguish and saying, ‘Kyon yaad aa rahe hain guzare hue zamaane..’ and heaving a sigh of pang by recalling the Kishore number: ‘Koi lauta de mere beete hue din’.