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A Tribute: Malika-e-Tarannum Madam Noor Jahan – South Asia’s Queen Of Melody

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By Rohail Khan

She reigned the film and music industry for seventy years (from 1930 to 2000).

Let us pay tribute to Madam Noor Jahan on her 87th birthday on 21st September 2013.

Melody Queen Noor Jahan (original name: Allah Wasai) was Indo-Paks’s most versatile and highly decorated playback singer and actress . She was also the first female Pakistani film director.

She has recorded more than 10,000 songs in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi languages. Along with singing legend Ahmed Rushdi, she holds highest record of songs in the history of Pakistani cinema.

Born in Kasur, Punjab, on 21st September 1926, she was trained by her music maestro parents (Ustad Madad Ali and Fateh Bibi) to follow their traditional musical footsteps. However, the young and talented Noor Jahan was more interested in film acting.

At a tender age of six years, the prodigy showed her melodious voice and singing gift in a range of styles, including traditional folk and popular theatre. Realising her potential for singing, her parents sent her to receive training in classical singing under “Ustad Baray Ghulam Ali Khan” - British India’s Master of classical and Semi-classical music , also a native of Kasur.

The legendary Ustad Baray Ghulam Ali Khan trained young Noor Jahan in the traditions of the Patiala Gharana of classical music and the classical forms of Thumri, Dhrupad, and Khayal. Once her training finished, young Noor Jahan pursued a career in theatre singing with her sisters in Lahore.

The family moved to Calcutta, where the renowned singer Mukhtar Begum, recommended them to various film producers. She also referred them to her husband, Agha Hashar Kashmiri, who owned the famous “Maidaan Theatre” . It was here that she received the stage name “Noor Jahan”.

Top Film Actor – British India and Pakistan

In 1935, K.D. Mehra directed “Pind Dee Kuri” in which nine years old Baby Noor Jahan acted along with her sisters. She then acted in “Misr Ka Sitara” in 1936 and acted and sang in it. Baby Noor Jahan also played the child role of Heer in “Heer Sayaal” in 1937. After a few years in Calcutta, the growing Noor Jahan returned to Lahore in 1938.

In the wake of Second World War In 1939, Ustad Ghulam Haider composed songs which led Noor Jahan to her early popularity. She recorded her first popular song “Shala Jawaniyan Mane” for D.M. Pancholi's movie Gul Bakavli.

In 1942, the 16 year old pretty Noor Jahan played the main lead opposite actor Pran in the famous black & white movie “Khandaan”. It was her first role as heroine which brought her instant fame all over India. Khandaan's success saw her shifting to Bombay, with her first husband, the famous director Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi.

In 1945, Noor Jahan achieved another milestone, when she sung the famous Qawwali with Zohrabai Ambalaywali : "Aahen Na Bhareen Shikwe Na Kiye". This was first-ever Qawwali recorded in female voices in the South Asian film industry.

Noor Jahan's last film in India was “Mirza Sahibaan” in June 1947. She sang 127 songs in Indian films and acted in 69 films from 1932 to 1947.

Creation of Pakistan

After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, Shaukat Rizvi and Noor Jahan, Bombay’s celebrity couple, moved to Pakistan and settled for good in Karachi.

In early 1951, Noor Jahan starred in her first Pakistani film “Chanway “, opposite Santosh Kumar, which was also her first Punjabi film as a heroine. Shaukat Rizvi and Noor Jahan directed this film together, thus making Noor Jahan Pakistan's first female director.

Her second film in Pakistan “Dupatta” turned out to be a blockbuster in 1952. Subsequently, after divorce from Shaukat Rizvi in 1959, she married actor Ejaz Durrani.

Her final film as an actress and singer “Mirza Ghalib” became world famous in 1961 and raised her iconic stature. Her rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's : “Mujhse Pehli See Mohabbat Meray Mehboob Na Maang” is a legendary piece of Urdu poem sung like a melodious song.

Noor Jahan made a total of 14 films in Pakistan and said farewell to acting in 1963 after an acting career of 33 years from 1930 to 1963. The pressure of being a mother of six children and wife to a famous actor forced her to give up her acting career.

Top Playback Singer

Thus emerged a God-gifted playback singer rarely seen in South Asia. Noor Jahan formally made her debut as a playback singer in 1960. She sang a large number of duets with Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana, Mujeeb Alam, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. She had good understanding with film industry icons like: Dileep Kumar, Muhammad Rafi, Mukesh, and Lata Mangeshker.

Awarded with Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and Pride of Performance in 1966, Madam Noor Jahan was titled as “Malka e Tarannum “, “Queen of Melody” and also fondly called Sada Bahaar (evergreen) by her contemporaries in both Pakistan and India. Her popularity was further boosted with her patriotic songs during the 1965 war between Pakistan and India.

Top Films

As an actor from 1935 till 1961, Madam Noor Jahan’s top movies included: Sheela, Gul Bakavli, Imaandar, Sajni, Umeed, Susraal, Chaandni, Feryaad, Khandaan, Nauker, Dohayee, Nadaan, Dost, Zeenat, Lal Haveli, Dil, Gaoon Ki Gori, Anmol Gharee, Humjoli, Mirza Sahebaan, Jadooger, Jugnoo, Chanway, Dupatta, Gulnaar, Anarkali, Lakht e Jiger, Paatay Khan, Neend, Koyal, Mirza Ghalib.

Top Songs

As a playback singer, from 1940 until 2000, Madam Noor Jahan’s top songs included: Aawaz Day Kahan Hai, Sanoon Neher Walay Pul, Jis Din Say Piya, Chalo Acha Hua, Dil Kay Afsanay, Hamari Sansoun Mein, Hum Say badal Gaya, Hamari Saanson Main, Jalte Hain Armaan, Kis Naam Say Pukaroon, Kuch Log Ruth Ker, Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat, Kahndey Nay Naina, Mein Tay Mera Dilbar Jani, Sonay Dee Taveetri, Sunn Vanjli Dee Taan.

Top National Songs

During the 1965 India-Pakistan war, Noor Jahan rendered patriotic songs which to date are highly popular: Aey Watan Kay Sajeelay Jawaano, Merya Dhol Sipahiya, Mahi Chel Chabeela, Yeh Hawaoun Kay Musafir, Meray Ser Bakaf Mujahid, Rang Laey Ga Shaheedoun Ka Lahoo.

On December 23rd, 2000, South Asia’s most popular Queen of Melody Madam Noor Jahan died as a result of cardiac arrest. It was the eve of 27th Ramadan. She rests in peace near the Saudi Consulate in Karachi.

In a 1990 survey, conducted by Bollywood’s music directors, Malka -e- Tarannum Madam Noor Jahan was decorated as : “South Asia’s Playback Singer of the Millennium”.

[Rohail Khan is a Senior Banker and CFO based at Jeddah. He is also Chairman, Urdu Academy International (UAI), Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at rohailkhan00@gmail.com]
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