Essabhai Suratwala, one of the most prominent sound recordists of the film industry, was born in 1917 in Surat, Gujarat. His uncle brought him up after his parents died when he was barely eight years old. Young Essa showed little interest in his studies but was inclined towards mechanical jobs. He gave up school after the 4th standard and joined a radio workshop as an apprentice. There, he repaired radios until he joined Mohan Studios in 1939 as an apprentice under sound recordist Jillani and later became his assistant.
In 1948, Essabhai got his first independent assignment with the film Gaibi Talwar, a stunt film directed by A M Khan, followed by films like Veer Bhimsen (1950), Moti Mahal (1952), Mehman (1953) and Hamdard (1953). But he was still struggling when Bimal Roy gave him work and entrusted him with the recording of Do Bigha Zamin (1953) which went on to become one of the most significant films in Indian cinema history. Essabhai’s work in this film earned him a string of assignments from the great filmmaker, Biraj Bahu (1954), Devdas (1955) and Sujata (1959) all directed by Bimal Roy and Benazir (1964) and Usne Kaha Tha (1960) which were produced by him.
Other notable films where Essa worked were Musafir(1957), Garm Coat (1955), Kabuliwala (1961), Lajwanti (1958), Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Mehndi Rang Lagyo (Gujarati, 1960),Pinjre Ke Panchhi (1966), Biwi Aur Makan (1966), Anupama (1966), Reshma Aur Shera (1971), Mausam(1975), Nehle Pe Dehlaa (1976), Rocky(1981) and Dard Ka Rishta (1982). This wide range of films is a testament to his versatility and dedication to his art.
For the acclaimed Sunil Dutt starrer Yaadein (1964), Essa won the Filmfare Award for Best Sound Recording in 1965. He was also in charge of the soundtracks of three remarkable documentaries Kashmir, The Great Betrayal, and Gotamathe Buddha.