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NOOR JEHAN (1926 – 2000)

Noor Jehan was an actor and Hindustani classical singer. She was born Allah Wasai on September 21 to a family of musicians in a small town in the Punjab, the youngest of thirteen children. The family moved to Lahore, where her elder sisters, Aidan Bai and Haidar Baandi, found work in the theatre. She began her musical education under Kajjanbai. Later she became adept in the lighter classical forms such as thumri and khayal under Ustad Ghulam Mohammed. Mukhtar Begum’s husband took Noor Jehan on at his Maidan theatre as a child artiste, but this did not make enough to support her. She managed to get a role in Hind ke Tare (1930), a silent film, and moved to Bombay, where she made 11 silent films in 1931. She sang for Ustad Ghulam Haidar’s Khazanchi, and the following year she switched from Punjabi to Urdu cinema with Khandaan (1942), directed by Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi and shot at Pancholi Studios in Lahore. She fell in love with Rizvi, and this caused animosity among Noor Jehan’s brothers, especially as Rizvi was much younger than her. In Mumbai Rizvi began shooting for Naukar (1943) in Bombay, and he cast Noor Jehan in a small role, giving her the perfect excuse to travel to the city. The film flopped, but the lovers married, though Noor Jehan’s family tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Rizvi. Naukar was followed by Nadan (1943), Dost (1944), Lal Haveli (1944) and Badi Maa (1945). She acted with the young Meena Kumari and the Mangeshkar sisters, and sang in the qawali style with Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki, the first time that women sang a qawali in an Indian film.

In 1946 she appeared in Anmol Ghadi and hit stardom, following this with Jugnu (1947) with music by the young Mohammed Rafi. Her last film in India was Mirza Sahibaan (1947). She and her husband returned to Lahore and set up Shahnoor Studios there in 1951. Noor Jehan was ready with her next film, Chanwey, in which she directed as well as acted. The film was a hit, and was followed by Dopatta (1952), Gulnar (1953), Patey Khan (1955) and Intazaar (1956). Noor Jehan and Rizvi divorced in 1956-57. The breakup was bitter; Rizvi demanded that she sign over Shahnoor Studios to him in return for custody of her children, and she agreed. Amid this turbulence she won the first President’s Award in 1957 for best actress and best singer. Of her three children by Rizvi, her daughter Zile Huma later became a renowned singer.

The next two years saw the release of Nooran (1957) and Choomantar (1958), both Punjabi films, and Anarkali (1958) in which Noor Jehan played the title role. These were followed by Koel (1959), Pardaisan (1959) and Baaji (1963). Pardaisan was produced by her then husband, M. Naseem. She continued with her singing, and recorded songs for a number of films including Jan-e-Bahar (1958), Lakhon Me Ek (1967), Salgirah and Pak Daman (1969) as well as cut albums. She continued to sing in the 1970s, although her voice showed signs of fatigue. She visited India in 1982, when she was introduced to Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, and gave a number of public and private concerts. She returned to Pakistan, and sang for Sholey (1984) and Moula Baksh (1988). In 1996 she finally retired from singing. Four years later she suffered a fatal heart attack and was buried after a state funeral in Karachi.
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