Biography of Noor Jehan
Noor Jehan (Urdu: نُورجہاں ) – Pakistani playback singer and actress.
Name: Malika-e-Tarannum (Urdu: ملِکہ ترنّم )
Date of Birth: 21 September 1926
Place of Birth: Kasur, Punjab, British India
Date of Death: 23 December 2000 (aged 74)
Place of Death: Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan
Occupation: Playback Singer, Music Composer, Actress, Director
Father: Madad Ali
Mother: Fateh Bibi
Spouse/Ex: Shaukat Hussain Rizvi (1942–1953 div.), Ejaz Durrani (1959–1970 div.)
Children: Zile Huma, Nazia Ejaz Khan, Hina Durrani, Akbar Hussain Rizvi, Asghar Hussain Rizvi, Mina Hasan
A famous Pakistani singer and actress who worked both in India and Pakistan, Noor Jehan was born on 21 September 1926, into a Punjabi Muslim family in Kasur, Punjab, British India and was one of the eleven children of Imdad Ali and Fateh Bibi. Her career spanned more than six decades (1930s-1990s). She was renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of all time especially throughout South Asia and was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum (Urdu: ملِکہ ترنّم ) in Pakistan. She had a command of Hindustani classical music as well as other music genres.
A highly versatile personality, she could sing in several languages including Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, and Sindhi, and had recorded over 10,000 songs in her career. Born into a Muslim family with a rich musical tradition, in British India, she was exposed to the world of show business at a young age. She began singing at the age of five and received early training in classical singing under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He later introduced her to the stage and before long she had blossomed into a talented and confident stage performer. She developed an interest in acting along with singing and made her initial film appearances as a child actor. With time she grew up into a beautiful young woman with a golden voice and played her first role as an adult in the Hindi film ‘Khandaan’ which became a huge hit. She moved to Pakistan following the partition of India in 1947 and struggled for a few years to establish her. With her determination and hard work, she went on to achieve great success in Pakistani cinema and music as well.
Childhood, Family and Educational Life
Noor Jehan (Urdu: نُورجہاں ), was born as Allah Rakhi Wasai, also known by her honorific title name Malika-e-Tarannum (Urdu: ملِکہ ترنّم; the queen of melody) on 21 September 1926, in Kasur, Punjab, British India, into a large Muslim family as one of eleven children. Her parents, Madad Ali and Fateh Bibi, were professional musicians.
Jehan’s parents encouraged the children to sing from an early age, and Allah Rakhi especially seemed to have been blessed with a special talent. She started singing when she was around five and her mother immediately recognized the potential her daughter possessed and arranged for her to receive early training in classical singing under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He instructed her in the traditions of the Patiala Gharana of Hindustani classical music and the classical forms of thumri, dhrupad, and khayal.
At the age of nine, Noor Jehan drew the attention of Punjabi musician Ghulam Ahmed Chishti, who would later introduce her to the stage in Lahore. He composed some ghazals, na`ats and folk songs for her to perform, although she was more keen on breaking into acting or playback singing. Once her vocational training finished, Jehan pursued a career in singing alongside her sister in Lahore, and would usually take part in the live song and dance performances prior to screenings of films in cinemas.
In 1944, Noor Jehan married Shaukat Hussain Rizvi of Azamgarh, UP, India. In 1948, Shaukat Rizvi decided to migrate to Pakistan, and Noor Jehan moved too, ending her career in India. She next visited India only in 1982. Her marriage to Rizvi ended in 1953 with divorce; the couple had three children, including their singer daughter Zil-e-Huma.
Noor Jehan married Ejaz Durrani in 1959. The second marriage also produced three children but also ended in divorce in 1970.
Career and Works
During the 1930s her entire family moved to Calcutta in the hope that the daughters might get chances to embark on film careers. Theatre owner Diwan Sardari Lal introduced the family to several producers. Noor Jehan, along with her sisters appeared in the K.D. Mehra directed Punjabi movie ‘Pind di Kuri’ in 1935. The film offers started pouring in for the emerging singer cum actress and she next acted in a film called ‘Missar Ka Sitara’ (1936). Jehan also played the child role of Heer in the film ‘Heer-Sayyal’ (1937). All the Punjabi movies she acted in and sang for were made in Calcutta.
After a few years in Calcutta, Noor Jehan returned to Lahore in 1938. In 1939, renowned music director Ghulam Haider composed songs for Jehan which led to her early popularity, and he thus became her early mentor. In 1942, she played the main lead opposite Pran in Khandaan (1942). It was her first role as an adult, and the film was a major success. The success of Khandaan saw her shifting to Bombay, with director Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. She shared melodies with Shanta Apte in Duhai (1943). It was in this film that Jehan lent her voice for the second time, to another actress named Husn Bano. She married Rizvi later the same year.
When the partition of India happened in 1947, Noor Jehan decided to move to Pakistan and settled in Karachi with her family. The initial years following the partition were very difficult for her though she was determined to rebuild her career. She got her first big break in Pakistan in 1951 when she appeared in the film, ‘Chan Wey’, opposite Santosh Kumar. She also directed this film along with her husband, becoming Pakistan’s first female director.
Noor Jehan’s second film in Pakistan was Dopatta (1952) which was Produced by Aslam Lodhi, Directed by Sibtain Fazli and assisted by A. H. Rana as Production Manager. Dopatta turned out to be an even bigger success than Chan Wey (1951). During 1953 and 1954, Jehan and Rizvi had problems and got divorced due to personal differences. She kept custody of the three children from their marriage. In 1959, she married another film actor, Ejaz Durrani, nine years her junior.
Durrani pressured her to give up acting, and Noor Jehan’s last film as an actress/singer was Mirza Ghalib (1961). This contributed to the strengthening of her iconic stature. She gained another audience for herself. Her rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s “Mujh se pehli si Mohabbat mere mehboob na maang” is a unique example of tarranum, reciting poetry as a song with superb music of Rasheed Attre in the Pakistani film Qaidi (1962). Jehan last acted in Baaji in 1963, though not in a leading role. Jehan bade farewell to film acting in 1963 after a career of 33 years (1930–1963). The pressure of being a mother of six children and the demands of being a wife to another fellow film actor forced her to give up her career. Jehan made 14 films in Pakistan, ten in Urdu and four in Punjabi as a film actress.
Noor Jehan made her debut exclusively as a playback singer in 1960 with the film Salma. Her first initial playback singing for a Pakistani film was for the 1951 film Chann Wey, for which she was the film director herself. She received many awards, including the Pride of Performance in 1965 by the Pakistani Government. She sang a large number of duets with Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Mujeeb Aalam.
Noor Jehan’s role as a blind singer in the 1956 film ‘Intezar’ was a much appreciated one. She sang some of her most memorable songs for this film including ‘Chand Hanse Duniya Base’, ‘Aa Bhi Ja’, ‘O Janewale R’e and ‘Jis Din Se Piya Dil Le Gaye’. Prominent Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar once said that ‘Intezar’ was one of her favorite Pakistani music scores.
Noor Jehan made great efforts to attend the “Mehfils” (live concerts) of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Roshan Ara Begum. Lata Mangeshkar commented on Jehan’s vocal range, that Jehan could sing as low and as high as she wanted, and that the quality of her voice always remained the same. Singing was, for Jehan, not effortless but an emotionally and physically draining exercise. In the 1990s, Jehan also sang for then débutante actresses Neeli and Reema. For this very reason, Sabiha Khanum affectionately called her Sadabahar (evergreen). Her popularity was further boosted with her patriotic songs during the 1965 war between Pakistan and India. In 1971 Madam Noor Jehan visited Tokyo for the World Song Festival as a representative from Pakistan.
Noor Jehan continued singling throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but the later phase of her career was somewhat disappointing. Jehan visited India in 1982 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Indian talkie movies, where she met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in New Delhi and was received by Dilip Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar in Bombay. She met all her erstwhile heroes and costars, including Surendra, Pran, Suraiya, composer Naushad and others. The website Women on Record stated: “Noor Jehan injected a degree of passion into her singing unmatched by anyone else. But she left for Pakistan”. She gave her final contribution to music with the Punjabi song ‘Ki Dam Da Bharosa Yaar’ in ‘Sakhi Badshah’ (1996).
Awards and Honor
Noor Jehan received more than 15 Nigar Awards for Best Female Playback Singer, eight for best Urdu Singer Female and the rest for Punjabi playback. She has also been given the award for the Singer Of Millennum.
In 1945, she became the first Asian women to sing Qawali in the film Zeenat. American Queen of Pop Madonna Louise Ciccone said that “I can copy every singer but not Noor Jehan”. In 1957, she received President’s Award for her acting and singing in film Intezar. It was the same film for which Khwaja Khurshid Anwar also received President’s Award for Best Music Director.
Noor Jehan was the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Pride of Performance which was bestowed upon her by the Government of Pakistan in 1965.
Death and Legacy
Noor Jehan suffered from heart problems and was diagnosed with angina pectoris after which she underwent surgery to install a pacemaker. She died on 23 December 2000, as a result of heart failure.
Her funeral took place at Jamia Masjid Sultan, Karachi and was attended by over 400,000 people. She was buried at the Gizri Graveyard in Karachi. When she died, President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf said that “She deserves a state funeral”. He ordered her funeral be taken to Lahore from Karachi but her daughters insisted on burying her in Karachi on the night she died. At her death, a famous writer and poet Javed Akhtar in an interview at Mumbai said that “In the worst conditions of our relations with Pakistan in 53 years in a very hostile atmosphere our cultural heritage has been a common bridge. Noor Jehan was one such durable bridge, my fear is that her death may have shaken it”.
Noor Jehan’s film ‘Khandaan’, in which she starred opposite Pran was her first major hit which established her as a much sought after actress cum singer. She portrayed the role of Zeenat in the film which was primarily a musical about a man seduced by a gold-digging woman.