Jewels in the Queen’s crown
The song Tu kaun si badli mein, composed by Master Ghulam Haider for the film Khandan, changed the very concept of Indian film music. But it was in Bombay that Noor Jehan accomplished her first hat-trick with the success of films such as Zeenat, Anmol Ghari and Jugnu. The song from Zeenat, Bulbulo mat ro yehan conferred upon her the title of Malika-i-Tarannum — Queen of Melody. The duets of Anmol Ghari and Jugnu that she sang alongside Surinder Nath and M. Rafi were on the lips of millionsacross the subcontinent.
Sagar roaey, Lehrein shor machaaein
Film: Koel (1959)
It was in Koel that the Queen appeared her glamorous best, draped in a black sari and wailing in front of the sea waves, crying out for her lost beloved. But immediately after its resounding success, she announced her decision to quit acting. Having now married the young actor Ejaz Durrani, she confined herself to playback singing.If her detractors gloated at the thought of her calling it a day, the smiles were soon wiped off their faces with Madam Noor Jehan delivering non-stop melodies for three successive generations of Pakistani film heroines.
1960s — Raseelay more rassiya najaria mila
Film: Moseeqar (1962)
The innocent-faced Sabiha Khanum moved her feet to the thumping rhythm of the classical playback, with flowers in her hair and kohl in her eyes, setting the tone for a glorious ’60s.
Rahon pe tari main nazrein jamaey
Film: Ghoongat (1962)
A tall and slender Nayyar Sultana draped in a white sari wandered in a misty wilderness, lamenting Koi na jaane kab aaye.
Mun Mundir ke devta, rakho laaj hamari
Film: Lakhoon Mein Eik (1967)
Shamim Ara chanted this bhajan as she swayed in front of the deity with diyas in her hands and a bindiya on her forehead. The singer’s voice, having evolved with age, sounded mature and went well with Shamim Ara’s sobre performance.
Mujh se pehli si mohabbat
Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s magnum opus
It was her golden voice after all that had brought to life the tragic beauty of Faiz’s subtle verse. Inspired by her faithful rendition, he gifted his magnum opus to the vocalist par excellence.
Ae watan ke sajeele jawaano and Ae Puttar hattan te naen vikde
In middle-aged motherhood, she sang these anthems with all her heart and soul, for the sons of the soil fighting the 1965 war. As they returned from the battlefield claiming victory for their motherland, Madam Noor Jehan was granted the status of a national hero.
1970s — Sunn wanjli di mithri taan ve
Film: Heer Ranjha (1970)
The gazelle-eyed dancer-actress Firdaus danced to the tune of the amorous Punjabi melody and straight into the heart of her on screen Ranjha (Ejaz Durrani), who happened to be the real-life husband of the playback crooner. The two not knowing then the consequence of this bare betrayal, both Firdaus and Ejaz were to end up soon in dark oblivion, as was made sure by the hand of the shrewd singer.
Jo bacha tha woh lutane ke liye aaye hain
Film: Umrao Jan Ada (1972)
Forced against her will, Rani dressed up in black and silver and danced, struggling to set herself free of her stifling ankle-bells. At last, compelled by the striking notes of the proverbial song, they broke loose and fell off her feet in a clamour. Proclaiming her freedom, she sang in ecstasy: Ab meri rah mein taqdeer nahin; Paon mein ab koi zanjeer nahin, koi zanjeer nahin!
After having being strained to the highest notes, Madame Noor Jehan’s voice no more sounded as fresh as that of her younger rivals. But then who else could convey, and as astutely, the anguish of a woman struggling to defy her exploitation. Noor Jehan had done it before and she did it again in Pakistans Umrao Jan Ada and Naag Muni (1972).
1980s and ’90s — Jhanjharia pehna do, bindya ve chamka do
Film: Sher Khan (1981)
Anjuman, the doyenne of the Punjabi cinema of the 1980s, rode on a horse carriage holding the reins and pleading with the dancing damsels on the way to lead her to the man of her dreams — the lion-hearted Sultan Rahi, of course!
Ki dum da bharosa yaar, dum aave na aave
Film: Sakhi Badshah (1997)
With Anjuman’s career on the decline, it was now Saima’s turn to seduce the eternally angry-looking Sultan Rahi. Swaying to the tune of the heartrending number, Saima wouldn’t have known that this was to be the Melody Queen’s swan song.
Aandhi chali to naqsh-i-kaf-i-pa, nahin mila
In the mid-80s and then again in the early ’90s, she appeared on the mini-screen for PTV’s musical Tarannum, decked up in glittering diamonds and shimmering silks, and with rejuvenated vocals rendered a whole new repertoire of Pakistan’s poetic best — from Bulleh Shah’s kalam to the ghazals of Mustafa Zaidi and Nasir Kazmi — adding to the jewels in her crown.
Kahan tak suno gay, kahan tak sunaoon
Film: Anarkali (1958)
Seven years after her demise, one wonders which one of her songs pleased the Almighty, so that he blessed her in life with His very best. And when it came to the final call, he chose for her the holiest of His holy nights, when the highway to heaven is said to be paved straight for the chosen traveller.
Was it the innocent plea from the film Anarkali:
Huzoor aap ki ik jahan per nazar hai;
Nigah-i-karam se mujh ko yeh darr hai;
Zamane ki nazroon mein kahin aa na jaon;
Kahan tak suno gay,
kahan tak sunaoon;
Hazaron hi shikway hain, mein kya kya
© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007