Divya Solgamawrote on Aug 11 2008 7:11PM
Born to Madad Ali and Fateh Bibi at Kot Murad Khan, Kasur (a small village in Punjab - now in Pakistan) in the late 1920's, Melody Queen Noor Jehan was named Allah Wasai by her parents. It is not clear exactly when Noor Jehan was born. Some put it in 1926 and others in 1929, on the 21st September. If she was born on this date in 1929 it would make her exactly a week older than another singing colossus, Lata Mangeshkar. Noor Jehan and Lata Mangeshkar shared many things. Both were born in September and both started their singing career from childhood. Both played roles in feature films and both remained active for about 60 years as singers. Besides, both Noor Jehan and Lata worked in the film Badi Maa, made in Bombay in the forties, and both sang thousands of hit songs.
Noor Jahan took up singing when she was only seven when she started making appearances on stage with her elder sisters Eidan Bai and Haider Baandi for rural theatre companies known as Taka Theatre. She did not sing original songs but the famous film hits of the day. She came to Lahore with her sisters for better opportunities where she took part in the zinda nach gana (live song and dance) which usually preceded the actual film show. Looking for an even bigger stage the sisters moved to Calcutta in 1934/1935 where Mukhtar Begum, the leading singing star of the stage, encouraged the three sisters and recommended them to various producers. In later life Noor Jehan adopted Mukhtar Begum's style of performing and wearing of a sari. The sisters got permanent jobs with one of the Seth Sukh Karnani Companies, Indira Movie Tone. Their popularity grew as they became known as Punjab Mail. At this time, director K. D. Mehra was in the process of making a Punjabi film and persuaded his producer to cast the three in Pind Di Kuri (1935). And so began the film career of Baby Noor Jehan.
After four years in Calcutta back in Lahore it was Master Ghulam Haider who spotted her immense talent as a singer and composed songs that made her famous overnight. Baby Noor Jehan hit the nationwide rating with Gul Bakawali (1939) for renowned Mumbai producer Dalsukh Pancholi in 1939 where she recorded her first film song 'Shala Jawaniyan Mane' that was an instant hit. Baby Noor Jehan's appeal changed from a child struggling to play bit parts into a young woman with immense potential ready to take off and launch her singing and acting career. When it was decided to cast her as a heroine the basic problem with the producer and the director was how to erase the impression of her being a child from public perception. They feared that she would not be accepted as a heroine by the audience that had billed her a few years earlier as a child star. The first step was to remove the 'Baby' prefix from her name, and though she was young she was big built and appeared much older than her age. Her image on screen posed no problems to the director and so was born Noor Jehan, set to enter an adult world barely in her mid-teens.
She next acted in a film called Misar Ka Sitara (1936) by the same company and sang in it for composer Damodar Sharma. Five films later Baby Noor Jahan played the role of Heer's childhood in the film Heer Sayyal (1937). The role of Heer in this film was played by Balo, the mother of the 60's star Sabiha Khanum.
Noor Jehan had been suffering a terrible protracted illness concerning her ailing heart as well as several other ailments. She was sent to Karachi for treatment, yet she suffered a heart attack. On Saturday afternoon, December 23, 2000, Noor Jehan died from heart failure. In her later years, critics say Noor Jehan had overexposed herself and descended to the level of singing double-entendre songs which were popular but a far cry from the standards she had set for herself earlier in her singing career. Noor Jehan is survived by two sons and four daughters. The sons, Akbar Rizvi and Asghar Rizvi, run Shahnoor Studios and one of the daughters, Zille Huma, is a popular singer.
Noor Jehan was first cast as a heroine in Khandan (1942) opposite Pran (who later became Indian Cinema's most hated villain) as the hero. The film was also a debut for director Shaukat Hussain Rizvi (who later married Noor Jehan). Pancholi had previously involved Rizvi in the editing of Gul Bakawali (1939), Yamla Jatt (1940) and Chaudhry (1941). The songs of Khandan (1942) compsed by Ghulam Haider became instant hits and established her as the leading singer of films in India. Its success saw her immigrating to Bombay where she shared melodies with the singing star Shanta Apte in Duhai (1943). After that there was hit after hit with songs from Nadan (1943), Naukar (1943), Dost (1944), Lal Haveli (1944). By now her popularity outstripped all others. She was the darling of the masses, recognised and adored both for her singing and acting. After taking the role of leading lady in Nadan (1943), she was presented with second lead in Naukar (1943) while Shobana Samarth (Indian film actress Nutan's mother) played the heroine opposite Chandramohan. Dost (1944), directedby Rizvi, had the extremely gifted Motilal as the leading man opposite Noor Jehan, with Rizvi (who was now her husband) playing her brother in the film. It was in this film that Noor Jehan lent her voice for the first time to another actress, Husn Bano. It was in Lal Haveli (1944) that Noor Jehan starred opposite singing star Surendra Nath for the first time (they later made the all time classic Anmol Ghadi (1946)). Lal Haveli (1944) was also notable for the fact that Meena Kumari, then a child star, acted as the young Noor Jehan. The year 1945 was a turning point for Noor Jehan. In Master Vinayak's Badi Maa (1945) she played lead with "Baby Lata Mangeshkar" and "Baby Asha Mangeshkar" in supporting roles. During breaks in shooting she would ask the then unknown Lata to join in impromptu singing sessions and said "Mark my words, this girl will one day become a tremendous singer." Noor Jehan's influence on the early songs of Lata is still discernible. Lata has always respected Noor Jehan and considers her one of her favourite singers. Some critics even believe that if Noor Jehan hadn't left fame and fortune in India when migrating to Pakistan during the partition of India, Lata may not have been as successful as she is today. If Noor Jehan had stayed Lata would have had to face serious competition. The year 1945 also brought Noor Jehan her first superhit in Bombay, Zeenat (1945). It was her inimitable rendition of "Bulbulo Mat Ro Yahan" that gained her the title Malka-e-Tarranum, Queen of Melody. She dethroned reigining singing star Khurshid and rendered obsolete the nautch girl style of Zohra Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnatki. In 1946 Noor Jehan acted in the enduring classic Anmol Ghadi (1946). The title is a fitting description of the magical moments in this film with superhit songs like 'Awaz De Kahan Hai', 'Jawan Hai Mohabbat', 'Mere Bachpan Ke Saathi', 'Aaja Meri Barbad Mohabbat' and 'Kya Mil Gaya Bhagwan' composed by Naushad to make her the undisputed queen of films if there was any doubt left about her being the diva. Composers and lyricists vied to have their creations rendered by the Queen. In the film she plays a poetess called Lata caught in a love triangle featuring the other two singing stars of that era, Suraiya and Surendra Nath. So popular was the film that Noor Jehan's other two films released that year, Dil (1946) and Humjoli (1946), were pale in comparison. In Jugnu (1947) she starred with Dilip Kumar, then a rising star. The duet 'Yahan Badla Wafa Ka Bewafai Ke Siva Kya Hai' catapulted the then struggling Mohammed Rafi, who also made a special guest appearance in the song 'Woh Apne Yaad Dilane Ko'. Noor Jehan had very few duets as her voice did not require the support or enhancement of others. Her effortless emotive capabilities and her fluid grasp over the substance and essence of the lyrics is amazing, e