One of the last beloved singing stars of the early days of Indian cinema, Suraiya has left an indelible mark with her work in Hindi movies spanning nearly three decades. She was born as Suraiya Jamal Sheikh on 15 June 1929 in Lahore. Her mother Malika Begum moved to Bombay when she was only a year old. Having inherited a love for music from her mother, she started singing at a young age. Although she wasn’t trained in classical music, she soon had a grasp on the craft. By the age of five, she was performing in All India Radio alongside Raj Kapoor, who later became her co-star in films like Hamari Baat (1943) and Dastan (1950). When Suraiya found her way into singing and acting in films, her grandmother became her manager and chaperone, and remained so throughout her career.
Suraiya made her screen debut as a child artist in 1936 release Madam Fashion made by Jaddanbai. After being introduced to Nanubhai Vakil by her uncle M Zahoor, Suraiya played the role of young Mumtaj in his film Taj Mahal (1941). Music composer Naushad took a liking to her voice when he heard her on All India Radio and provided her with the opportunity to sing in A R Kardar's Nayi Duniya (1942) and Sharda (1942). The song Panchhi jaa, picturized on Mehtab, was well-received by the audience. She also appeared as a child actor in the film Station Master (1942). Noticing her potential, Devika Rani employed her at Bombay Talkies at a monthly remuneration of Rs. 500. For the film Hamari Baat (1943), Suraiya danced a duet in Bistar bichha diya hai tere dar ke saamne. The song became immensely popular, and coupled with the release of Ishara in the same year, Suraiya rose to stardom.
Through the course of her long career, Suraiya worked in a number of hit films like Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), Badi Bahen (1949), Dard (1947) and Anmol Ghadi (1946), to name only a few. In 1950, she was honoured as the Star of the Year, for which she received an award and a gold medal. Her performance in Sohrab Modi’s Mirza Ghalib (1954) earned her accolades and praised even from the then Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
Known to be a hard worker and a modest artist, Suraiya got along well with everyone on her sets. She acted alongside K.L. Saigal, one of her most cherished co-stars. She was also friendly with the actor Shyam, whose untimely death left her devastated. The two had acted together in films like Dillagi (1949) and Char Din (1949). Suraiya shared an amicable relationship with Naushad for her entire career. He was the first to recognize her potential as a singer and gave her the first break in Sharda. Suraiya went on to become one of the highest-paid actors of her time.
During the late 1940s, Suraiya met Dev Anand, and the two fell in love. They met on the sets of Vidya (1948), when Suraiya was an established actor and Dev Anand was a newcomer. They worked together in a few other films like Jeet (1949) and Afsar (1950). Unfortunately, the two separated due to family disagreements over their impending union.
Suraiya passed away on 31 January 2004 in Bombay due to ailments. She left behind an immense legacy as one of the most prominent female actors of her time.