Noor Jehan was the adopted stage name for Allah Wasai (born September 21, 1926 – December 23, 2000) who was a Pakistani singer and actress. She is renowned as one of the greatest singers of her time in the Indian subcontinent and was given the honorific title of Mallika-e-Tarranum (the queen of melody).
Born in a family of musicians, Wasai was pushed by her parents to follow in their musical footsteps and become a singer but she was more interested in acting in films and graced the earliest Pakistani films with her performances. Where she holds an astounding record of 10,000 songs to her singing credits in various languages of Pakistan including Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi languages, she is also considered to be the first female Pakistani film director.
Allah Wasai 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 who was also a native of Kasur. He instructed her in the traditions of the Patiala Gharana of Hindustani classical music and the classical forms of thumri, dhrupad, and khyal. At the age of nine, Wasai drew the attention of Punjabi musician Ghulam Ahmed Chishti, who would later introduce her to stage in Lahore. He composed some ghazals, naats and folk songs for her to perform, although she was more keen in breaking into acting or playback singing. Once her vocational training finished, Wasai 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 film theatres.
The family moved to Calcutta in hope of developing the movie careers of Wasai and her sisters. During their stay in Calcutta, the renowned singer Mukhtar Begum, encouraged Wasai and her two older 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 the Punjab Mail. Wasai would later adopt Mukhtar Begum's way of performance and sari attire.
In 1935, K.D. Mehra directed Pind di Kudhi in which Jehan acted along with her sisters.She next acted in a film called Missar Ka Sitara (1936) by the same company and sang in it for music composer, Damodar Sharma.Baby Noor Jehan also played the child role of Heer in the film Heer-Sayyal (1937). After a few years in Calcutta, Noor Jehan returned to Lahore in 1938. In 1939, Ghulam Hairder composed songs for Jehan which led to her early popularity. She then recorded her first song Shala Jawaniyan Mane for Dalsukh M. Pancholi's movie Gul Bakavli.
Prior to Khandaan Jehan was cast as a child artist. It was in 1942 that she played the main lead opposite Pran.Khandaan's success saw her shifting to Bombay, where she shared melodies with Shanta Apte in Duhai (1943). It was in this film that Noor Jehan lent her voice for the second time, to another actress named Husn Bano. In 1945 Jehan player the lead role, along side Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, in the movie Badi Maa.
In 1945, she achieved a milestone, when she sung a Qawwali with Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki which was "Aahen Na Bhareen Shikave Na Kiye". This was the first ever Qawwali recorded in female voices in subcontinent films.
Noor Jehan's last film in India was Mirza Sahibaan (1947) which starred Prithviraj Kapoor's brother Trilok Kapoor. Noor Jehan sang 127 songs in Indian films and the number of talking films she made from 1932 to 1947 was 69. The number of silents was 12. Fifty-five of her films were made in Bombay, eight in Calcutta, five in Lahore and one in Rangoon, Burma.
Three years after settling in Pakistan, Noor Jehan starred in her first film in Pakistan, Chanwey (1951), opposite Santosh Kumar, which was also her first Punjabi film as a heroine. Shaukat and Noor Jehan directed this film together making Noor Jehan Pakistan's first female director. Noor Jehan's second film in Pakistan was Dopatta (1952) which turned out to be an even bigger success than Chanwey (1951).
In 1957, Jehan was awarded the President's Award for her acting and singing capabilities.
Her penultimate 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 Mujshe pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang is a unique example of tarranum, reciting poetry as a song. Noor Jehan last starred in Baaji in 1963, though not in a leading role. Noor Jehan bade farewell to acting in 1963 after a career of 33 years (1930 to 1963). The pressure of being a mother of six children and the demanding wife of a hero (Ejaz Durrani) forced her to give up her career. Noor Jehan made 14 films in Pakistan, ten in Urdu, four in Punjabi.
In the 1990s Jehan also sang for then débutante actresses Neeli and Reema. For this very reason, Sabiha Khanum affectionately 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 where she met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in New Delhi and was received by Dilip Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar in Mumbai.
In 1986, on a tour of North America, Jehan suffered from chest pains and was dignosed with angina after which she went under a surgery to install a pacemaker. In 2000, Jehan was hospitalised in Karachi and suffered a heart attack. On Saturday afternoon, December 23 2000, Noor Jehan died from 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.
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