Note: This webpage is dedicated to the singing star of the 30s and 40s. [This page is under construction.]
Remembering veteran of Indian Cinema
Surendra veteran of four decades.
Singing star Surendra Nath as I knew him
by Rustom H Engineer.
Son of Ralia Ram Sharma who was born November 11 1909 at Batala in Gurdaspur District of Punjab and educated in Ambala to acquire the academic distinction of being BA LLB.
He was brought to Bombay by the pioneer film distributor late Lala Alopi Prashad, as an answer to the new theaters singing sensation Kunda Lal Saigal. As a school boy in Punjab, he had an aptitude for singing. This made him popular at school concerts. Thanks to his youthful reputation as a singer, he was given a singing role. The truth is that the studio had been on the lookout for a singer star in Bombay, who would be a counterpart to the great Saigal in Calcutta. He had simply happened to step in at the right moment. He then seriously began to learn classical music under Ustad Khadim Husain but that was not of much use. For films, people preferred the Saigal type of songs and for that singing under music directors like Anil Biswas, this was enough.
Mehboob had just finished his first film “The Judgment of Allah” and had acquired a formidable reputation as a director to watch. Surendra and Mehboob met for the first time in Sagar Movietone. The meeting was pretty historic. Mehboob who had the greatest influence on Surendra as an actor and a singer. They made nine hit films together. With “Deccan Queen” and “Manmohan” he had signed up under Sagar Movietone where Mehboob was the director.
This then is Surendra the great, with melodious voice, singing star of the 30s and 40s. A Star is Born. This was the man who warbled such all time hits
Yaad na kar dil-e-hazeen – Deccan Queen
Tumhine mujhko prem sikhaayaa – Manmohan (duet with Bibbo)
Agar deni thi hamko – Jagirdar
Kyon rovat hai murkh man – Mahageet
main tere gale ki mala – Gramophone Singer (with Bibbo)
Ek sitar ke do taar - Ghareeb
Ham aur tum – Alibaba (with Waheedan)
All the songs by the great composer Anil Biswas. Surendra Nath was incomparable in his ability to charge every word of song with emotion.
This was the man who set many a female heart flutter with his looks and voice, tall handsome but sad moody hero. He was generally regarded as the Bombay edition of Saigal and he projected the “Devdas” image in a more sophisticated urban setting, with curly hair, a soft delivery and with his tragic image. And as there was no playback singing in those early talkie days, the hero and the heroine had to sing their own songs. So all the stars were taught to sing. Of course, Surendra was not one of those needing training. He was already a singer before he came to Bombay. Even the great Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray once said that the golden voice of Surendra resembles that of KL Saigal. The quote is from a magazine named “Island”, September 1944.
He got the best co-stars (Sabita Devi, Bibbo, Maya, Yakub), the best directors (Mehboob, Sarvottam Badami, Nandlal Jaswantlal), and the best music director (Anil Biswas).
His most memorable films of those early years is “Jagirdar”, where he played the title role. It was a beautiful story of a father's love, made most memorable for him by the presence of co-stars Motilal and Yakub and those fine actresses Bibbo and Maya Banerjee. Bibbo was a wonderful singer. The duet in “Manmohan” – Tumhine mujhko prem sikhaayaa, was an instant hit. She was also a wonderful person to work with and her uninhibited laughter cheered up everyone on the sets.
The other heroine of “Jagirdar” was Maya Banerjee. She was a highly intelligent sensitive actress capable of portraying varying shades of emotion with ease. Films like “Dynamite” and “Service limited” are memorable for no other reason than Maya's vivacious presence on the sets. The high spirit of both Bibbo and Maya had an electrifying effect on the entire unit.
Surendra Nath had special regard for Faredoon Irani and Keki Mistry, the cameramen. For Sagar Movietone. Their photography had a charm which despite all the technical advances today has yet to be surpassed. On a short visit to Lahore in his post-star dom days, he was honored with a medal which was awarded by Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan on behalf of the Punjab government.
One incident I remember, once there was a stage show at Cawasjee Jehangir Hall in Bombay. Surendra came before the interval and sang four songs on the stage, arranged by the great Sohrab Modi of Minerva. He public gave him a thunderous applause and shouted “once more”, but Modi requested the public to excuse him as he had to go for shooting.
Mehboob made “Aurat” in 1940 under the National Studios banner and Surendra played a memotrable role opposite Sardar Akhtar, Yakub, Kanhaiyalal, and Jyoti. Anil Biswas scored the music of the film. Like “Alibaba” the “Aurat” songs were played all over the country. In “Alibaba” he had a dual role opposite Wahidan, the most famous singer of the period. In “Aurat” he sang four duets with Jyoti. His role of the elder brother was among the most emotional he had played. “Aurat” was later remade by Mehboob as “Mother India” in 1957 with Nargis, Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar.
Another film that would have brought credit to Surendra was the film “Pooja directed by AR Kardar, but he was replaced by Zahur Raja as he was seriously injured by a riding accident on the set of “Pooja”.
Film “Lal Haveli” was made in the year 1944, music by Mir Sahib, directed by KB Lal , with Noorjehan as the female lead, with Yakub and Kanhaiyalal. It was for the first time in his life that he was turned teamed with Noorjehan, the nightingale. KB Lal and Mehboob were close friends and Lal brought Mehboob into the picture. Mehboob saw where Lal had gone wrong and re-shot large chunks of the film. Once again mehboob was good luck for Surendra. The film was a financial success. His association with him outlasted the Sagar Movietone and National Studios and continued in Mehboob’s own productions “Anmol Ghadi”, “Elan” and “Anokhi Ada”. It was an era memorable for both as well as for the industry, thanks to films like “Jagirdar”, “Aurat” and “Anmol Ghadi”.
When Mehboob first started making “Anmol Ghadi”, Surendra says he started without him. While in Kashmir, Mehboob had discovered a very handsome boy and brought him to Bombay casting him in the lead role. All during the shooting Mehboob kept saying Surendra, it is really Surendra who should be doing the role. Then Faredoon Irani the cameraman said, if you want him why don't you call him. The telephone is here. And that is exactly what he did. Mehboob picked up Noorjehan and Suraiya to play the female leads in the film. So great was his fame as a successful director that every heroine of the day wanted to work with him.
Jale kyon na pavana – Elan
bade bhole bhale – Anokhi Ada
Kyon Yaad aa rahe hain – Anmol Ghadi
Awaz de kahan hai – Anmol Ghadi (with Noor Jehan)
“Anmol Ghadi” has never lost its appeal, having all time hits with the melody queen Noorjehan, music by the great Naushad, who also composed the music for his other hits “Elan”, “Anokhi Ada”. “:Anmol Ghadi” was the most successful musical picture made in 1946.
Unfortunately Mehboob never signed him again, although he had given him many hits. He went to introduce many other artists but he proudly says he never got another Surendra Nath, and, of course, Surendra Nath never got another Mehboob.
Apart from Anil Biswas and Naushad, the other great music director he worked with was the Khemchand Prakash, who scored the popular song hits of the film “Raja Bharthari”, reviving The musical pattern of the New Theaters of Calcutta. (There Prakash had composed for the great Saigal). He also composed for Ranjeet Movietone with Saigal and famous singer Khurshid for the hit “Tansen”.
Later he began playing character roles. His first was directed by Vijay Bhatt’s “Baiju Bawra”. He played Tansen and when he was told he would have a playback singer, he did not know whether to feel sorry or amused. Early in his career he had learned that thorns were just as plentiful and perhaps even more stimulating than bouquets. Beside he had a good role which won praise from critics and the public. It is years since he last sang on screen, yet he sincerely believes that a film gains much when an actor can use his voice and in the songs. Call it vanity of an artist but he knew it was the singer artist who made famous those fine films of the past, no less by their voices then by their acting.
Looking back he feels sincerely grateful to his profession. He has received kindness from film people and public. He does not play leading roles.
So in 1963 he almost resigned from the Hindi screen and founded an advertising firm called Far Productions. The film “Abhi to jee len” made by Mohinder Batra for the concern was Surendra’s last film as an actor. The film was completed in 1973, and has not yet ben released. It has Jaya Bhaduri, Simi Garewal, Kiran Kumar, Danny Denzongpa, and Surendra Nath’s son Jeet.
Although he had bid adieu to acting, he was nurturing his singing till the end. He started making Ad films in the 60s. He sowed the seeds for successful production houses like the Commercials and the Kailash Picture Company, which are now run by his children.
Some of songs he sang may be listened here
Some photos from old magazines are here. Please note that in the first photo, his last name is written as Sen. This is a mistake. According his son Kailash Surendranath, he never used any last name, in any case his last name was not Sen.
Acknowledgements: Kind help from his son Kailash Surendranath is deeply appreciated. The photos have been provided by N Ramaswamy. The magazines have been provided by Har Mandir Singh "Hamraaz" and Lakshmi Priya Pakanati. Songs have come from my own collection and from dozens of friends listed on my website and others not yest listed.