Malika-e-Tarannum Noor Jehan, born in 1926, is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time in South Asia. Her work spans more than six decades and is filled with prolific films and songs. Her versatility as a performer made her one of the biggest names in both India and Pakistan.
On the nineteenth death anniversary of Madam, GVS takes a moment to walk through her legacy. The late actress and singer began to show signs of talent from a very early age, leading to her getting vocal training under Ustad Bade Ghulam Khan. Under his tutelage, she honed her musical skills, learning various forms of classical music.
Before her successful career as a leading lady and songstress, Noor Jehan used to perform at live events with her sister. It wasn’t until ‘Pind Ki Kuri’ in the 1930s when she first appeared on screen, and a song she recorded with her sisters ‘Lang Aaja Patan Chana’ became a moderate hit, landing her other roles in films like ‘Misar Ka Sitara’ and ‘Heer-Sayyal’.
She also contributed to the 1939 film ‘Gul Bakwali’, where a song of hers also became successful. Thus began the long and prosperous career of Noor Jehan. After her roles in these movies, she moved back from Calcutta to Lahore, partnering with musician Ghulam Haider on many successful ditties.
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Her film career had also taken flight by this point. She played her first lead role in the 1942 hit Khandaan, and the success of her movie saw her relocating to the hub of Indian filmmaking at that time, Bombay. Her popularity rose with each lead role, and films like Naukar (1943), Dost (1944), Village Girl (1945), Badi Ma (1945), Zeenat (1945), Anmol Ghadi (1946) and Jugnu (1947) established her as India’s biggest leading lady.
While it seemed like she would continue to rule Indian Cinema for years to come, the partition of Pakistan forced her to make an important decision about where she wanted to spend her life in the coming years. In 1947, at the height of her fame, Noor Jehan and her husband Shaukat Hussain Rizvi decided to move to Karachi.
Together they forayed into the fledgling film industry of Pakistan, co-directing ‘Chan Wey’ in 1951, which became a huge success. In Chan Wey, aside from directorial responsibilities, Jehan also sang her songs and acted in the Pakistani film. She followed Chan Wey with an even bigger hit, 1952’s seminal Dopata.
While she was settling into the new film industry, Jehan and her husband Rizvi began to have serious problems and ended up divorcing in 1954. Her second marriage to actor Ejaz Durrani in 1959, led her to quit acting upon his insistence. And although he asked her to stop playback singing as well, Noor Jehan refused, continuing to sing for renowned filmmakers.
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Her final film role was in Baaji in 1963, in a supporting role. Despite her marriage to Durrani ultimately falling apart, she continued to restrict herself to only playback singing. By the 1960s, Noor Jehan was the nation’s first choice when it came to music. She cemented that status when she sang patriotic songs for Pakistan during the 1965 war and continued to produce hits for other popular Pakistani movies.
Her status as a celebrated singer and actress, lead to great acclaim both in Pakistan and abroad. She was Pakistan’s cultural ambassador and due to her immense popularity, was respected worldwide. She became the first female singer of Qawali in a movie, and her incredible vocal range and command over multiple languages made her an icon in the east.
She represented Pakistan at the Golden Jubilee for Indian films in the eighties and became the first Pakistani to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Her demise in 2000, due to heart failure, left the nation in shock, and decades later, the void her absence has left still has not been filled.
A recipient of 15 Nigar awards, Sitarae-Imtiaz, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, Singer of Millennium, a Gold Medal, Pride of Performance, and many other accolades, she is remembered fondly by generations of Pakistanis for her contributions to film and music in the Pakistani film industry.