If one were to name just one person from our film industry from the last fifty-eight years who was famous and infamous, popular and yet disliked in some quarters, rich but greedy, benevolent, confident, notorious, royal, well-dressed yet often over done (Read: make-up), it has to be Noorjehan. From 1923 or 1929(her National Identiy Card was tempered turning 1923or 1925 into 1929) to 2000, Noorjehan’s life was full of hangama and hallagulla. She never ever had a quite moment in her life except for the last couple of years during her serious illness at Karachi. Born as Allahwasai, Noorjehan was first seen as child star in PIND DI KURI (1935) and this was followed by HEER SAYAL, SASSI PUNNO, YAMLA JATT, and GUL BAKAOLI, Leaving childhood behind, CHAUDHRY was her major film as a leading lady. She worked in Lahore, Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Bombay (now Mumbai). Shaukat Hussain Rizvi was a film editor in Calcutta who was called in at Lahore for editing and later directing KHAZANCHI. He was a gorgeous hunk and there was no reason why Noorjehan would not fall instantly for this young man. I guess it was love at first sight. This was followed by Shaukat Rizvi turning to direction in KHANDAN and the romance ended up with Shaukat and Noorjehan getting married (which has been explained in spicy details by Minto in Noorjehan-Saroor Jehan). Shaukat and Noorjeahn were to work together as part of a team in DOST, NAUKAR, ZEENAT and JUGNU. Noorjehan’s other major titles from that period as actress/ singer include ANMOL GHARI (directed by Mahboob Khan), LAL HAVELI, GAON KI GORI, BHAI JAN BARI MAA, NADAN, DIL and MIRZA SAHAIBAN. After Independence, the couple migrated to Lahore and together made CHUNWAY (directed by Shaukat but credited to Noorjehan for her overall control in a Punjabi film). Noorjehan’s independent ventures as actress included DUPATTA, GULNAR, INTEZAR, LAKHT E JIGAR, NEEND, ANARKALI, KOEL GHALIB in Urdu and PATEY KHAN, PARDES, NOORAN and CHOOMANTAR in Punjabi. GHALIB was her last film as an actress, followed by a beginning as the most popular, notable, rich and demanding playback singer in Pakistani filmhistory.
Noorjehan was never a good actress and it was her voice, which sustained her till GHALIB. After arriving in Pakistan, the priority for Shaukat and Noorjehan was neither direction nor acting or singing but making a film studio. In 1948 the deserted and burnt-down film studios of Shorey on Multan Road Lahore was allotted to Shaukat and Noorjehan and it came up as Shahnoor and would always hold the prestige of Pakistan’s first film studio. Noorjehan had a wild record of romances and flurting. Her marriages with Shaukat and Ijaz Durrani ended in messy divorces and lengthy child custody battles due to that very reason. It has been reported that Noorjehan was so determined to leave Shaukat that she agreed to trade in a divorce for her share in the Shanoor Studios.Even if one was to skip her infamous and notorious past in Calcutta, Bombay and pre-partition Lahore, Her post – Independence famous affairs with crickerter Nazar (he had to loose one leg and a glowing career in cirkcet by jumping off the window after Shaukat raided the place), producer-distributor Naseem, director Anwar Kemal Pasha, actor Aslam Pervez,director Hassan Tariq, composer Nazir Ali, actor Yousaf Khan, President General Yahya Khan and much more is now part of the history. Now that she has gone, decency and good taste prevents us from going into more details.
Noorjahan was a worldly woman in every sense of the term. She was intelligent, stubborn and foul-mouthed. She was greedy and never ever spared a producer for her astronomical fee as a playbacksinger. Sometimes she would charges it in advance for songs yet to be rendered. Then she would shower that money on her children. The producer may or may not be broke, but Noorjehean would give zakat at her Gulberg residence regularly to poor and needy.
She was monopolistic and would not let any other singer or composer stand in her way (the list of people who faced her wrath ranges from Runa Laila to Nisar Bazmi to Humaira Chunna to Tahira Saeed). She wanted total obedience from everyone in the film trade and outside and those who did not go by her order were the outcasts. She recorded songs in bulk, giving no consideration to her voice quality or her being selective. Once offended by a producer-director-writer-journalist, she yelled at him in the studios, threatening that she would take off his pants right on the fountain of the studios.
Notable Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyer once asked her the number of songs she had rendered. Noorjhena replied”Nayyer Sahab, mei ney apney gano aur gunahoon ka hisaab nahi raka. Mujhey umeed hai key pehley ki liya mujhe aap aur dosrey key liye mujhey mera Khuda maaf kar dey ga (I have not kept account of my songs and sins. I hope you would forgive me for the first and my God would forgive me for the later). She once accompanied actress Zamurd to famous Haji Karim Buksh department store in Lahore. On being attracted by a new tea set with tea cups in different colours, she remarked in Punjabi “kiney soneh lagdey ney wakhrey wakhrey,kangri di aulad vergey”( look so beautiful in different colors like offspsrings of a whore). She was once invited by a Federal Secretary to participate in a music competion in London. She insisted that she must be given two First-class tickets for herself and her son and an economy ticket for her maid and then remarked” people grabbed land in murabas from the government aur mujhey to government sey saeb ka muraba bhi nahi mila(I didn’t even get apple jam from the government) .
Coming to her forte in music, she did have a brilliant voice, comparable only to Lata. The list of her outstanding songs is long and yet she added so much to the mediocrity in film music by singing three songs in a day and charging in cash and often in advance from the downtrodden producer. If one the one hand she would demand her payment in advance or increase her amount at the beginning of a live show abroad, her other aspect is there too. Once in Dhaka, she performed for the dignitaries where the hotel staff was not invited. . The waiters were sad as Madam was leaving for Lahore next day. Madame cancelled all her commitments in the evening and held a special performance in the hotel for waiters and hotel staff and sang her heart out till the early hours of the morning. She did have heart for under-privileged and she would go to any length to bring laughter and pleasure for them. She loved her children more than she loved anything else. She would regularly go to Muree to meet her daughters in the boarding school, not withstanding the difficult journey from Lahore to Muree and her urgent recording commitments-children came first.
When the chips were low for her in the film trade (Read:Mehnaz and Naheed Akhtar ruling the filmmusic scene), she recorded two series of musical programme Tarannum for PTV. She was once asked why she appeared on TV. “Kiya aap ko bura laga”(did you mind my coming on TV). She vividely recalled her duet with Rafi in GUJNO, filmed on her and Dilip Kumar and praised Rafi. She also praised Lata many times. There was a time when she would remember the lyrics by heart in no time and Roshan Ara Begum described her as Siahi Choos (Blotting Paper).In her later years,she re-wrote the lyrics with marker.
Talking about her carrer Noorjehan said, “ I am one of those lucky ones who was able to work with great composers from my childhood and I was able to test their credentials again and again.” She also repeatedly claimed that she loved music and did not have enough time for acting. “I did not work in more than one or two films in a year,” she said. And yet she made it big. It was for her outstanding talent and popularity that somebody remarked “Jehanagiri karey gi yeh Noorjehan ban key”
Going through down memory lane, I have compiled a list of some of her best songs, which I like. One cannot forget her a sad number filmed on her in GUJNO “Aj ki raat” composed by Feroz Nizami.”Terey mukhrey tey kala kala dil” by Feroz Nizami, filmed on her in CHUNWAY “Sagir roey lehreen shor machain” from KOEL and “Ankh sey ankh mila ley” from INTEZAR, composed by Khursheed Anwar were also filmed on her.”Sada hoon apney pyar ki” filmed on her in ANARKALI.”Chun chun bajey payal bajey”composed by Rashid Attrey in NEEND And then come Noorjehan , the playback singer. “Baharo na ab hum ko awaz dena” from QAIDI, composed by Rashid Attrey and filmed in a serene mood on Shamim Ara and Darpan on a boat. “Sub dagh-e-dil chiragh bana ker jala deye”, composed by Master Inayat Huusain and filmed on Neelo in AZRA. “Gaey gi duniya geet merey” composed by Rashid Attrey for his own production MOSIQAR and filmed on the streets on Sabiha.”Lut uljhi suljha ja rey balam”composed by Rashid Attrey in SAWAL and filmed so well by Hassan Tariq on Sabiha. Zeba was seen singing:”Ho tamana aur kiya jane-e- tamna aap heen” composed by Nisar Bazmi for AISA BHI HOTA HAI. “Bari Mushkil sey huwa”,”Chalo acha huwa tum bhool gaey” and “Man mandir key devta” all from LAKHOH MEI EIK,composed brilliantly by Nisar Bazmi and filmed on Shamim Ara. Josh Malihabad ‘s symbolic poetry came with AAG KA DARYA in “Huwa sey moti baras rahey haeen” composed by Ghulam Nabi and filmed in the scenic outdoors on Shamim Ara. Nayyer Sultana is a widow in BAJI and a breeze comes in her sad life with “Dil key afsaney nighaoon ki zaban “ in BAJI. Nighat Sultana was so tragic in SUSRAL as crippled bride crying “Ja apni hasratoon pey ansoo baha key so ja” composed by Hassan Lateef. Noorjehan,Rashid Attrey and Shamim Ara did full justice to Faiz Sahab in Qaidi with “Mujh sey pehli si mohabat merey mahboob na mang” Then there are more Punjabi numbers “Buey dil dey”,composed by Rashid Attrey and filmed on Firdaus in MIRZA JATT or still a popular melody from SALA SAHAB composed by Wajahat Attrey and filmed on Mumtaz and Ali Ijaz in SALA SAHA “Mei tey mera dilbar jani”.
During Pakistan-India 1965 War, famous poet Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum invited Noorjehan that they must together visit Kasoor(where Noorjehan was born). This was during the Indian shelling. Noorjhean said” Sufi Ji, jey tusi tey mei malbey thaley marey miley tey mey tey duniya no mo dhakan jogi nai rawan gi”(if you and me are found dead together under the rubble, I would not be able to show my face to the people).She was asked if Faiz Ahmad Faiz was like a brother to him. “No” said Noorjhean “he was not a brother but a friend.”
WHAT OTHER SAY ABOUT NOORJEHAN
With JUGNO, she gave me popularity and herself left for Pakistan. The film proved my comeback and I owe it all to Noorjehan.
We were together in YAMLA JATT and she was 12 at then. We were together again in KHANDAN. There is no other singer like her and hear all her songs.
Ahamd Nadeem Qasmi
Her patriotic songs during 1965 are heartwarming and these songs still move me.
She made biryani and mango dish for me and gave it to me on the Pak-India border. I would never forget that because this was my favourite dish. I learnt from her and she would always remain my Didi (elder sister)
Received his early education from Aitchison College, Lahore. Earned his BA and MA in Cinema from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He has been writing on films for Pakistani and foreign publications. He has published three books on cinema: LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION (Urdu), FRENCH FILMS (English) and DHUNDLI TASWEER (Urdu). Based in Islamabad, Pakistan.