India’s last singing star, Suraiya Jamaal Sheikh, was born in Gujranwala, modern day Pakistan. Though she was always interested in singing, she received no formal training. She started acting at a young age and played the role of a young Mumtaz Mahal in “Taj Mahal” (1941). Her first hit came with “Panchhi Ja Peechhe Raha Hai Mera Bachpan” (“Sharda”, 1942).
After the song became popular, there was no looking back for Suraiya. It was Naushad who mentored and trained her to be able to sing as well as emote her songs.
One of the first multi-starrers “Phool” (1945), starred Suraiya with biggies like Prithviraj Kapoor, Sitara Devi and Durga Khote. Though Sitara Devi outshone everyone in acting, Suraiya stood out with her songs. Her big break came when she got the opportunity to sing a duet with K.L. Saigal in “Tadbeer” (1945). From that point on, till the late forties, she was considered one of the leading singers of Hindi films, along with the present day legends Noor Jehan and Lata Mangeshkar. The year 1946 brought with it the blockbuster “Anmol Ghadi”, with songs like “Socha Tha Kya Kya Ho Gaya.” Though she was paired alongside Noorjehan, Suraiya managed to hold her own as an actress as well as a singer. She co-starred with K.L. Saigal in films like “Omar Khayyam” (1946) and “Parwana” (1947). By this time, Suraiya was the most sought after singer-actress of the Hindi film industry. The fact that Noorjehan left for Pakistan furthered her cause as well.
Apart from her singing, Suraiya is known for her tumultuous relationship with actor Dev Anand. The two fell in love during the shooting of “Vidya” (1948). They became a rather successful pair on-screen in films like “Jeet” (1949) and “Afsar” (1950). Sadly, their relationship did not work out in real life. Her failed romance with Dev Anand, Lata's meteoric rise as playback singer in the 1950s and the failure of some of her films, adversely impacted her career. Though she continued to act and sing through the 1960s, she could never reclaim the dominance she enjoyed in the mid to late 1940s. This, despite continuing to give some very good songs like "Nukta Cheen Hai Gham E Dil" and "Dil E Naadaan Tujhe Hua Kya Hai" ("Mirza Ghalib", 1954), "Dhadakte Dil Ki Tamanna" ("Shama", 1961) and "Yeh Kaisi Ajab Dastan Ho Gayi Hai" ("Rustom Sohrab", 1963).
Suraiya retired after "Rostom Sohrab" and led a quiet life away from public glare, till she passed away on January 31, 2004.