Suraiya started her film career at the tender age of nine. The little girl took to the celluloid world as happily as a fish to the aquarium! Her life story remains as interesting as a film story itself. Always accompanied by a strict grandmother, Suraiya was chaperoned and monitored all through her life. But that didn't stop her from being a lively little nymphet with a mind of her own. After 1963, when she voluntairily gave up her singing-acting career she turned into a recluse, almost never seen in public.
She often said she loved being lazy after having spent so many years at the beck and call of filmmakers. Her house on Marine Drive in Mumbai is a landmark, which everyone saw but couldn't access. She spent the last decades of her life with a companion who looked after her. She had a few friends like old timer Jairaj, Nimmi, and Nirupa Roy whom she met once in while.
But this singing star of the 40s and 50s neither sang, nor acted during her last days. The reason for this was that she wanted to make up for those years and years of discipline she had to go through when she was at the top. Ruled by a martinet of a grandmother who took complete charge of her life, and accompanied her everywhere and never let her out of her sight, she was completely responsible in making Suraiya what she was, says music maestro Naushad Ali.
"She had no training in music but she was intelligent. She sang 2 songs for the film Station Master - one was a chorus 'yeh rail hamar ghar ki chuk chuk chuk and 'saajan ghar aye ayeri aali', which was a solo number. This was her debut both as an actress and singer. Subsequently, she gave playback for the heroine Mehtab in the film Sharda, and from there she became the voice of Mehtaab so successfully that people thought it was Mehtab herself singing."
She lived alone, but those who had access to her claim that she was unfailingly good tempered with a lively sense of humour and she retained the little girl quality about her. She loved to dress up, talk, eat and sleep. But any reference to Suraiya would be incomplete without a mention of her fabled romance with Dev Anand. Dev, however prefers to keep those beautiful moments in his personal file and says: "What can one say at someone’s death - one feels sorrow - we had moved on and were going our separate ways."
As one looks back at the career of this reclusive spirit, one hears numbers like 'nain diwane', 'man mor huwa matwala', the outstanding 'woh paas rahe ya door rahe nazaron mein samaye rehte hain'; frothy numbers like 'tarari tarari', romantic lines like 'tu mera chand', sad numbers like 'kise maloom tha' and 'aiso se jee na lagaye koi'. She held her own amongst stalwarts like Nurjehan, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai, and even Begum Akhtar. Her career spanned only 20 years, but one is astounded at the body of work she has left behind.
She sang for composers as varied as Husnlal Bhagat Ram, Naushad, 0.P Nayyar, Hunsraj Behl,Madan Mohan, S.D Burman and Anil Biswas. Suraiya's hallmark was her simplicity - the almost forthright rendering of her songs. She sang at a time when the singer's voice was pre-dominant. And Suraiya's non-stylised naturalness was a treat to listen to.
As far as her acting career was concerned, she acted with all the top heroes of her day. She commanded a respect few have managed to despite her extreme youthfulness. She acted with Prithviraj Kapoor and Raj Kapoor, but was willing to co-star with the then very raw Shammi Kapoor too. She was known for her willingness to offer support and act with newcomers when she had herself an established star. And in this industry where only the fit survive, that was a quality hard to find.