Singing Star Surendra's Centenary
Bombay, although the movie capital of India, was left behind at the Box Office by Calcutta film makers because the former had no singer to match Saigal's mass appeal. The directors here were desperately looking for a singer to play a lead in their movies when Surendranath, B.A.LL.B, landed in Bombay to start his practice in law-courts, but, as destiny would have it, was picked up by producer-director Mehboob Khan from a party where he was singing some of Saigal's songs . Surendra, as he was credited by Mehboob in his movies, became a part and parcel of Mehboob's Sagar Movietone, after his very first song, "Birha Ki Aag Lagi More Man Mein"(Deccan Queen) became an instant hit. Since the song was inspired by Saigal's hit song, "Balam Aye Baso More Man Mein", Surendra came to be known as Bombay's Saigal. However, when "Tumhi Ne Mujh Ko Prem Sikhaya"(Manmohan), from his second movie with Mehboob, became hugely popular with the masses, Surendra made his place for himself as a very talented singer-actor, independent of the Saigal tag. Then followed Surendra's hit musicals, Jagirdar, Gramophone Singer, Jiwan Sathi, Alibaba, Aurat, Gharib, Jawani etc. and movies made in Bombay were on top of the Box Office charts, the place they had been missing for want of a singing talent. Surendra's peak time of a super popular singing star continued into the 40s when two of his movies became the greatest musicals of that time. "Bhartrihari", a mythological with music by Khemchandra Prakash, and Mehboob's alltime musical hit, "Anmol Ghadi", with music by the maestro Naushad. "Bhiksha De De Maiya Pingla' from film "Bharthari" is still played, after 60 years of its rendering, wherever the classic play on the life of the king-turned-saint is staged every year during the festival season. The duet from "Anmol Ghadi", "Aawaz De Kahan Hei" has immortalized both Surendra and Noorjehan as the most popular singing pair in movies.
It was the era of singing stars. Surendra, brought by Mehboob in the 30s as Bombay's counter- strategy to Calcutta's reigning singer Saigal, was already the most sought after singing star of Bollywood. Noorjehan, the queen of melody, had cast a spell in the country with her melodious voice and hit songs. What more was needed to make a big musical hit than to bring the two together. The ace director Mehboob Khan and the mastreo Naushad Ali did exactly the same to produce one of the greatest musicals of all times, Anmol Ghadi (1946), with Surendra and Noorjehan as the lead pair. The two singing stars had already given a huge hit, Lal Haveli (1944), and though not a great musical, the film proved their potential as a popular pair. Anmol Ghadi put them on the pedestal of great acheivers, the most popular singing pair. The film was unique for the fact that the lovers did not come face to face till towards the end, and yet were able to express their deep emotions of love throughout with their melodious voice, especially, singing from long distance the all time greatest duet, 'Awaz De Kahan Hei'.
After the Partition when Noorjehan moved to Pakistan, the popular pair of Lal Haveli and Anmol Ghadi never got another chance to sing and act together. Surendra did sing some solos in movies thereafter, including the haunting melody, "Teri Yad Ka Dipak Jalta Hei"(Paigam), but eventually switched over to character-actor roles, some of his movies becoming greatest hits of 50s and 60s, such as Baiju Bawra, Waqt, Mughal-E-Azam, Milan, Johar Mehmood in Goa, Dil Deke Dekho, Evening in Paris, Sarswati Chandra, Haryali Aur Raasta etc.. A few years before his death in 1987, Surendra, then better known as Surendranath, started an advertising company and devoted much of his time to making TV commercials for some of the big brands like Colgate and Lyril. His very talented sons, Kailash Surendranath and Jeet Surendranath inherited the business and continue to make hugely popular TV commercials and short films. The all time popular musical short, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, made by the two brothers and directed by Kailash Surendranath, put them on the top amongst their fraternity of short film makers. As a tribute to their father on his centenary, Jeet Surendranath, along with his sister Rohini Pinto, has started a website to commemorate the memory of their father – www.singingstarsurendra.com. You may go to this website if you wish to know more about the veteran singer or like to listen to some of his select songs.