Noor Jehan ( born Allah Rakhi Wasai; 21 September 1926 – 23 December 2000), better known by her honorific title Malika-e-Tarannum , was a Pakistani singer and actress who worked first in British India and then in Pakistan. Her career spanned seven decades (1930s–1990s). She was renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of all times and was given the honorific title ofMalika-e-Tarannum (the queen of melody) in Pakistan.
Born into a family with music traditions, Noor Jehan was pushed by her parents to follow in their musical footsteps and become a singer but she was more interested in acting in films. She recorded about 10,000 songs in various languages of India and Pakistan including Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Sindhi.Along with Ahmed Rushdi, she holds the record for having given voice to the largest number of film songs in the history of Pakistani cinema. She is also considered to be the first female Pakistani film director.
Noor Jehan was awarded the Pakistan President’s Award in 1965 for her acting and singing capabilities, especially for singing patriotic songs passionately during 1965 India-Pakistan war.
Noor Jehan was born into a Muslim family in Kasur, Punjab, British India and was one of the eleven children of professional musicians Madad Ali and Fateh Bibi.
Noor Jehan began to sing at the age of five or six years old and showed a keen interest in a range of styles, including traditional folk and popular theatre. Realising her potential for singing, her mother sent her to receive early training in classical singing under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He instructed her in the traditions of the Patiala Gharana ofHindustani classical music and the classical forms of thumri,dhrupad, and khyal.
At the age of nine,Noor Jehan drew the attention of Punjabi musician Ghulam Ahmed Chishti,who would later introduce her to stage in Lahore. He composed some ghazals,na`ats and folk songs for her to perform, although she was more keen in breaking into acting or playback singing. Once her vocational training finished, Jehan pursued a career in singing alongside her sisters in Lahore and would usually take part in the live song and dance performances prior to screenings of films in cinemas.
Theatre owner Diwan Sardari Lal took the small girl to Calcutta in early 1930s and the entire family moved to Calcutta in hopes of developing the movie careers of Allah Rakhi and her older sisters, Eiden Bai and Haider Bandi. Mukhtar Begum encouraged the sisters to join film companies and recommended them to various producers. She also recommended them to her husband, Agha Hashar Kashmiri, who owned a maidan theatre (a tented theatre to accommodate large audiences). It was here that Wasai received the stage name Baby Noor Jehan. Her older sisters were offered jobs with one of the Seth Sukh Karnani companies, Indira Movietone and they went on to be known as thePunjab Mail.
In 1935, K.D. Mehra directed Punjabi movie Pind di Kuri in which Noor Jehan acted along with her sisters and sang the Punjabi song Langh aja patan chanaaN da O yaar which became her earliest hit. She next acted in a film called Missar Ka Sitara (1936) by the same company and sang in it for music composer, Damodar Sharma. Jehan also played the child role of Heer in the film Heer-Sayyal (1937). One of her popular songs from that period Shala jawaniyan maney is from Dalsukh Pancholi’s Punjabi film Gul Bakawli(1937). All these Punjabi movies were made in Calcutta. After a few years in Calcutta, Jehan returned to Lahore in 1938. In 1939, renowned music director Ghulam Haidercomposed 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.Khandaan’s success saw her shifting toBombay, 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.
Acting career in Pakistan
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Rizvi and Jehan decided to move to Pakistan. They left Bombay and settled in Karachi with their family.
Three years after settling in Pakistan, Jehan starred in her first film in Pakistan, Chan Wey (1951), opposite Santosh Kumar, which was also her first Punjabi film as a heroine and playback singer. Shaukat Hussain Rizvi and Noor Jehan directed this film together making Jehan Pakistan’s first female director. 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 thanChan 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. News of Noor Jehan’s several affairs followed, including one with cricketer, Nazar Mohammad. In 1959, she married another film actor, Ejaz Durrani, nine years her junior.
Durrani pressured her to give up acting, and her 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 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, four in Punjabi as a film actress.
As playback singer
After quitting acting she took up playback singing. She 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 1951 film Chann Wey, for which she was the film director herself ! She received many awards, including the Pride of Performance in 1965. She sang a large number of duets with Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mujeeb Aalam.
She had a great understanding and friendship with many great singers of Asia, for example with Alam Lohar and many more singers also. Jehan made great efforts to attend ‘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 Khanumaffectionately called her Sadabahar (evergreen). Her popularity was further boosted with her patriotic songs during the 1965 war between Pakistan and India.
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. 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”.
Noor Jehan married Shaukat Hussain Rizvi in 1942, the marriage ended in 1953 with divorce; the couple had three children, including their singer daughter Zil-e-Huma. She married Ejaz Durrani in 1959. The second marriage also produced three children but also ended in divorce in 1979.
Last years and death
Jehan’s gravesite at the Gizri Graveyard near the Saudi Consulate in Karachi
Jehan suffered from chest pains in 1986 on a tour of North America and was diagnosed with angina pectoris after which she underwent a surgery to install a pacemaker. In 2000, Jehan was hospitalised in Karachi and suffered a heart attack. On 23 December 2000 (night of 27 Ramadan), Jehan died as a result of heart failure. Her funeral took place at Jamia Masjid Sultan, Karachi and she was buried at the Gizri Graveyard near the Saudi Consulate in Karachi.