Suraiya: A legend and a lonely soul

Suraiya could not marry Dev Anand but loved him all her life. Theirs was one of the most memorable and controversial love affairs of Indian film industry

By Iqbal Rizvi

She started singing for films at the age of nine; she became a film actress when she was just 14 years old. By the time she was 17, the entire country was enamoured by her beauty and charm. She was Suraiya. There was crowd of fans in front of her house and the police had to always make special arrangements for maintaining law and order around the area where she lived in Mumbai.

Life was all hunky-dory until the heart-throb Dev Anand entered her life. Vidya was the first film which had both Suraiya and Dev Anand. It was decided that the film would have a song, which would be shot with Suraiya and Dev Anand on a boat in the river. There was meant to be a long shot of them, which meant the crew was on another boat considerably far away. As it would happen, the boat on which the two were on, suddenly toppled and the others could not even reach to help them. Fortunately, the river was not too deep. But Suraiya did not know swimming at all. And there was the always chivalrous Dev Anand coming to her rescue. The incident left her utterly shaken and scared. Almost like a filmi story, after that accident, Suraiya developed a fondness for Dev Anand.

Suraiya was, however, under the watchful eyes of her family. Her maternal grandmother, who had a strict control over her entire family, remained with her all the time. As a result, their love gradually blossomed through letters. Their friends, Durga Khote, Guru Dutt and Kamini Kaushal took it upon themselves to make this exchange of letters possible.

Friends of both Suraiya and Dev Anand wanted them to get married. On day, they were chatting and in the course of the conversation, the plan of their marriage was charted out. Both were busy shooting for the film Jeet those days. The film had a scene where their two characters were to get married. The plan was that during the filming of the scene, a real pundit would be brought in and marriage rituals would be real. Suraiya’s grandmother who will be present at the set, would take it to be the part of the shooting.

Many artists and technicians of the film were also party to this plan. All the preparations were complete, but nobody knew that a person, who was working as an assistant on the film, loved Suraiya deeply. But it was a one-sided love. This person had a deep-seated jealousy towards Dev Anand. He knew about this plan and he tattled to Suraiya’s grandmother.

All hell broke loose. Her grandmother burst out in anger on the sets and nobody could gather the courage to calm her down. Suraiya was overwhelmed by anger, humiliation and shock. Her grandmother started explaining it to her that she was the biggest star of the country and she had millions of fans. In such a situation, if she got married to a Hindu, it may cause riots in the country and it may even pose a threat to Dev Anand’s life. Suraiya had not thought like that.

The incident upset Dev Anand too and when he could not contain his restlessness and anxiety, he went to Suraiya’s home. As soon as Suraiya’s maternal uncle and actor Zahoor saw Dev Anand, he caught hold of his collar and threw him out of the house. Even then Dev Anand was confident that he will be able to convince Suraiya for marriage.

While the shooting for the film Neeli began, Dev Anand, managed to meet Suraiya when she was all alone. He asked her about her final decision on marriage. Suraiya loved Dev Anand deeply and wanted to spend all her life with him. But she could not gather enough courage to elope with him. Controlling her emotions and suppressing her dreams and desires, she could only say that she wouldn’t marry him. This was the moment that changed Suraiya’s life.

Trembling with uncontrollable rage and sorrow, Dev Anand slapped her hard. After hitting her, Dev Anand felt very embarrassed. He apologised to Suraiya for this with his head bowed in dejection and left.

Suraiya was only 20 years old at that time.

They could not marry and be together, but Suraiya had loved Dev Anand with all her heart. She never married and kept this love alive in her heart all her life. Born on June 15, 1929, Suraiya remained alone and single all her life and passed away on January 31, 2004.

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