Bollywood Pairs – Pran – Noor Jehan
Right from his first film, in which he played villain, Pran was cast opposite some of the most beautiful women in the subcontinent.
Noorjehan was the first of them.
Noorjehan, which means light of the world, went on to become the singing sensation of the subcontinent. About her, the famous author Saadat Hasan Manto wrote: ‘To me, there was just one thing about her that was phenomenal — her voice! [It] was pure like crystal. Even a suggestion of a note was discernible when she sang, being perfectly in command whether the notes she employed were in the lowest range, the middle one or the highest…. Noorjehan only had to strike a note to make you sit up.” Mallika-e-Tarranum (the queen of melody) Noorjehan was certainly a well-deserved title.
However, when Pran met her on the sets of Yamla Jat, she was just a young teenager being systematically introduced to the realities of the world. Still, in keeping with the artifice of her background, she was given the prefix `Baby’.
By the time Khandaan began to be made, the `Baby’ from her name had been dropped. She had graduated to playing heroine. But Noorjehan was still quite short then and Pran remembers that, in their scenes together, they had to make her stand on some bricks in order to make her look taller!
Although during the making of Khandaan she fell in love and eloped with her young director, Shaukat, eventually marrying him, Noorjehan apparently also shared a good rapport with her co-star of three films, Pran. It appears that a common love for Urdu shairee and music was at the foundation of their friendship.
That there may have been some undercurrents of a romantic nature on Noorjehan’s part is revealed in her gesture of running to Pran’s house on the day his baraat was leaving for Delhi.
Jotting down her memories, Pran’s eldest bhabhi, Kuldeep Prem Krishen Sikand, recalled the moment: Pran was looking so handsome, wearing the sherwani specially stitched for the occasion. Sitting there on the mare, with the sehra on his head, he really looked regal.
`Suddenly, Noorjehan came running and asked, “Pran ghodi chad gaya? And the people around said: “Yes.” Apparently, whatever needed to be said would now remain unsaid.
Pran’s firstborn, Arvind, who has lived for many years in London, recalled receiving a telephone call in the early 1970s from the legendary singer: ‘Out of the blue I got a call from a lady who said: “I am Noorjehan and I am here visiting from Pakistan and I would like to see you.”
`I was quite surprised. I mean, I knew that she’d acted in some films with my father. I remember Khandaan was her first role as leading lady and it was also my father’s first role as leading man. But this was rather unusual — she was my father’s first heroine in Lahore, and in the many years that had elapsed since then, we hadn’t had much contact with her.
`She came across to our home one evening. She was very affectionate, and as we were having dinner that night she suddenly said to me: “You know, when I look at you, you could have been my child.”
`I think it must refer to some, perhaps romance, that they may have had at that time. It was very sweet of her, I must say. I didn’t take it at all in any bad way’
Although Pran and Noorjehan had not kept in touch, for Pran never returned to Pakistan, not even to visit, apparently there was at least one occasion on which they had spoken to each other.
Pran’s friend and samdhi, Satish Bhalla spoke about that occasion which took place some years ago: Pranjee had given an interview to the BBC. During the interview he mentioned that, when in Lahore, he had been the hero in a picture opposite Noorjehan. He mentioned that she had been a very famous heroine and a great singer of her time. Then he casually remarked to the interviewer, a trifle regretfully: “She must now be very old.”
`This interview must have been telecast a few weeks later and Noorjehan must have seen it. I remember that day very well because I was sitting with Pranjee in his house. While we were chatting, an overseas call came through.
`It was Noorjehan — and wherever she was, she was p-r-e-t-t-y annoyed! Because she came right to the point and said: “This is Noorjehan speaking. So? I’m getting old, eh? And what about you? You’re not getting any younger!”
Decades later, during the early half of 1982, thirty-five years after she left for Pakistan, Noorjehan and her daughter, Heena, were coaxed to make a visit to India, to be special guests at a music programme in celebration of the golden jubilee of the Indian talkie, which would bring together several living legends of the world of music and which, happily for Pran, fell on his birthday, 12 February. There, she sang her famous song, `Aavaaz De Kahaan Hai…’ from the 1946 film Anmol Ghadi.
Pran recalled that joyous and affectionate reunion: Noorjehan was so nervous about the trip, she called me at least eight—ten times before she boarded the plane, just to be reassured that I’d be waiting for her at the airport with a special bus. It was an evening to remember and she was so thrilled that she’d let herself be persuaded to make that visit to Bombay. I also threw a party in her honour where she could meet many more of her old colleagues and friends.’
That Pran is a fan of Noorjehan’s voice, just as the rest of the world of her listeners are, is clear from this very telling incident that took place many years ago on board an aircraft, high up in the skies.
During the flight, there was some sort of heated discussion going on in the neighboring seats between some Pakistanis and Indians, and the topic was focused on Kashmir which then was, and still is, a flashpoint. One of the passengers asked Pran about his opinion in the matter.
Pran’s reply? ‘You want Kashmir?’ he asked. ‘Well, you take Kashmir!’ he said. ‘But in its place, you will have to give us Noorjehan!”