Suraiya Jamaal Sheikh, popularly known as Suraiya, was born on 15th June 1929 in Gujranwala, now in Pakistan. Though she was a simple looking girl who received no formal training in singing she went on to become one of India’s finest actress-singers and ruled the silver screen in the 1940s. Suraiya attended school in Bombay and made her debut as a child artist in 1937 in the film Usne Kya Socha.
Suraiya’s first big break came in 1941, when she accompanied her uncle Zahoor (a popular villan of his time) on the sets of the film Taj Mahal, a film by Nanubhai Vakil. The film had an opening for the role of Mumtaz Mahal, and Vakil promptly cast the 12 year Suraiya to play the lead. Her big break as a singer came when Naushad heard her sing for a childrens programme on the All India Radio. Her singing career found a mentor in the celebrated composer and he chose her to sing as a 13 year old for Mehtaab in Kardar's Sharda (1942). Suraiya was effectively launched as a singing star in Bombay Talkies Humaari Baat (1943). She made her presence felt in perhaps India's first multi-starrer K.Asif's Phool (1944). Suraiya started by playing secondary roles in films like Phool, Anmol Ghadi (1946) and Dard (1947). Her break as a heroine came in 1945 when she was cast in Tadbir on the recommendation of K. L. Saigal, with whom she later went on to do two other films, Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana (1947). Blessed with a melodious voice, Suraiya had a natural edge over her contemporaries Kamini Kaushal and Nargis as she could sing her own songs. 1948-49 proved to be the golden era of her career with 3 big hits - Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), Badi Bahen and Dillagi (1949) and Suraiya became the highest paid female star. However, her reign at the top was short lived and the 1950s saw some flops. She made a comeback with Waaris and Mirza Ghalib (1954). Her last film was Rustom Sohrab (1963) following which she kept away from films.
Suraiya was romantically involved with actor Dev Anand, with whom she did 6 films between 1948 and 1951. During the shooting of a song, a boat capsized and Dev Anand saved Suraiya from drowning. She fell in love with him but her grandmother opposed the relationship. Suraiya remained unmarried all her life. Suraiya was perhaps the last of the great singing stars. She passed away on January 31, 2004 following a brief illness.