From an early age, she displayed signs of having a melodious voice, which became more apparent by the time she was four or five years old. She could pick up just about anything - be it a folk song or a popular number from a theatrical drama - she could imitate it to perfection. Realizing her immense talent, her mother began to believe that her daughter had something exceptional to give to the world. So, the family moved to Lahore, where Noor Jehan's sisters, Eidan Bai and Haider Bandi, began their stage careers. Her mother arranged for her to begin her training in singing and dancing. She received early music lessons under Kajjanbai (a singer between 1920 and 1930) who made her do "riyaz" up to 12 hours a day. After her morning "riyaz", a teacher would come and teach her to read and write. She received early training in classical singing under Ustad Ghulam Mohammed who instructed her in classical music and voice production within the framework of classical forms of thumri, dhrupad, and khayal. From Lahore, the family moved to Calcutta, in hopes that Eidan Bai and Haider Bandi would break into films. However, this did not happen, yet they continued their stage careers. In around 1930,
Noor Jehan won a part in a silent feature film called Hind ke Tare (1930), produced by Indian Pictures. Thereafter, the family moved to Bombay where she acted in 11 silent films in 1931, launching herself as a prominent child star of the 1930s in both silent and soon sound films. Her first talkie feature film was Sassi Punnu, released in 1932. She joined Kohinoor United Artists and appeared in some of their films. Later, she was employed by Seven United Artists and played the lead in some of their films opposite Khalil. She took up singing at six years of age and began making stage appearances with her elder sisters for rural theatre companies called the Taka Theatre. Later, she joined Sharda Film Co. and played important roles in several of their films. She did not sing original songs but the famous hits of the day. She then went to Lahore with her sisters and took part in zinda nach gana (live song and dance) which usually preceded the actual film show. She was only nine years old when the great Punjabi musician, G. A. Chisti, introduced her to the stage in Lahore. He composed some ghazals, naats and some folksongs for her and she was paid 7.5 annas for each song. She also received some classical music lessons under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. The sisters then proceeded to Calcutta. During their stay in Calcutta, Mukhtar Begum, the sisters' ideal and a famous singing star in the 1930s, encouraged the three sisters and recommended them to various producers. She also recommended them to her husband, Urdu drama writer, Agha Hashar Kashmiri's Maidan Theatre, where Noor Jehan received the stage name Baby Noor Jehan. In later life, Noor Jehan adopted Mukhtar Begum's style of performing and wearing of a sari. The sisters were offered permanent jobs with one of the Seth Sukh Karnani Companies, Indira Movietone. Their popularity grew as they became known as Punjab Mail.
1935 - 1941
At this time, director K.D. Mehra, was in the process of making a Punjabi film, and persuaded his producer to cast the three in Pind Di Kudhi (1935). At this time, Baby Noor Jehan was beginning to be known as a singing actress of some merit. In this film, Baby Noor Jehan sang and recorded her first film song which was Lang Aaja Pattan, Channa Da Yaar. 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). The role of Heer in this film was played by Balo, mother of former Pakistani actress, Sabiha Khanum. After a few years in Calcutta, Noor Jehan returned to Lahore in 1938. There, it was Master Ghulam Haider who realised her immense talent as a singer and composed songs that made her famous overnight. Baby Noor Jehan hit the nationwide with Gul Bakavli (1939) for renowned Bombay producer, Dalsukh M. Pancholi, where she recorded her first hit film songs, Shala Jawaniyan Mane and Pinjray De Vich. Baby Noor Jehan's first box office hit was the Punjabi film, Yamla Jat (1940). Chaudhry (1941), though not as successful as Yamla Jat, followed. Master Ghulam Haider then introduced Baby Noor Jehan as a playback singer in Pancholi Art Productions' film Khazanchi (1941). It was the first film which was without actress Noor Jehan on screen and her songs were picturised on other actresses.
Baby Noor Jehan's appeal changed from a child struggling to play minor roles into a young woman with immense potential ready to launch her singing and acting career. When it was decided to cast her as a heroine the basic problem with the producer and director was how to erase the impression of her being a child in public perception. They feared that she would not be accepted as a heroine by the audience that had billed her a few years of being a child star. The first step was to remove the "Baby" prefix from her name, and though she was young, she was burly and appeared older than her age. Her image on screen posed no problems to the director, and so was born Noor Jehan, set to enter the adult world, barely in her mid-teens.
1942 - 1947
Noor Jehan was first cast as a heroine in the Urdu film Khandaan (1942) opposite Pran (who later became one of India's most popular villains) as the hero. The film was also a debut for director, Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. Pancholi had recently involved Rizvi in the editing of Gul Bakavli (1939), Yamla Jat (1940), and Chaudhry (1941). The songs of Khandaan (1942), composed by Ghulam Haider, became instant hits and established her as one of the four leading singers of films in India (the other three being Kanan Devi, Shanta Apte and Khursheed)
Khandaan's success saw her shifting to Bombay, where she shared melodies with the singing star Shanta Apte in Duhai (1943). After that, there was hit after hit with songs from Naukar (1943), Nadan (1943), Dost (1944) and Lal Haveli (1944). By now her popularity outsripped all others. She was the darling of masses, recognized and adored both for her singing and acting. After taking the leading role in Nadan (1943), she was presented with second lead in Naukar (1943), while Shobhana Samarth took the lead opposite Chandramohan. Dost (1944), directed by Rizvi, had the extremely gifted Motilal as the leading man opposite Noor Jehan with Rizvi playing her brother. It was in this film that Noor Jehan lent her voice for the second time, to another actress named Husn Bano. It was in Lal Haveli (1944) that Noor Jehan starred opposite singing star Surendra. Lal Haveli was also noted for the fact that Meena Kumari then a child star, played Noor Jehan's role as a child.
The year 1945 was a turning point for Noor Jehan. In Master Vinayak's Badi Maa (1945), she played lead with "Baby Lata Mangeshkar" and "Baby Asha Mangeshkar" in supporting roles. During breaks in shooting, she would ask the then unknown Lata to join in, in impromptu singing sessions. Once at leisure, after having Lata sing a song she had immortalised, Mere Liya Jahan Me, from Khandaan (1942), Noor Jehan said to Master Vinayak, the director of the film, Meri baat note kar leejiye. Iss ki yeh alag tarike ki aawaz ek din poori duniya se apna loha manvaayegi. Noor Jehan's influence on the early songs of Lata are still discernible. Lata has always respected Noor Jehan and considers her one of her favourite singers. In fact, Lata (Noor Jehan's dearest "Latto")'s early singing was inspired by Noor Jehan, though the latter's weighty vocals were far car from Lata's sweeter and lighter voice. The year 1945 also brought Noor Jehan her first superhit in Bombay, Zeenat (1945). It was her inimitable rendition of the music that gained her the title Mallika-e-Tarranum or Queen of Melody. She dethroned reigning singing star Khursheed and rendered the obsolete nautch girl style of Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki. She also achieved another milestone, when she sung a Qawwali with Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki which was "Aahen Na Bhareen Shikave Na Kiye" - the first ever Qawwali recorded in female voices in subcontinent films.
In 1946, Noor Jehan acted in the enduring classic Anmol Ghadi (1946). The title was a fitting description of the magical moments in this film with superhit songs composed by Naushad making her the undisputed queen of films if there was any doubt left about her being a diva. Composers and lyricists vied to have their creations rendered by Noor Jehan. In the film Anmol Ghadi (1946), she played a poetess named Lata (going by the name Renu) caught in a love triangle, featuring the other two singing stars of the era, Surendra and Suraiya. So popular was the film that Noor Jehan's other three films released that year, Dil (1946), Humjoli (1946), and Sofia (1946) were pale in comparison. In Jugnu (1947), she starred with the then rising star Dilip Kumar. The music of the film catapulted the then struggling Mohammed Rafi. Noor Jehan had very few duets as her voice did not require the support and enhancement of others. Her effortless emotive capabilities and fluid grasp over the substance and essence of the lyrics is amazing, even to this day. Noor Jehan's last film in India was Mirza Sahibaan (1947) which starred Prithviraj Kapoor's brother Trilok Kapoor opposite Noor Jehan and the film brought some of her last musical hits.
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.
1947 - 1963
The Partition of India was the partition of the film industry. During the partition in 1947, Noor Jehan decided to migrate to Lahore in newly created Pakistan, despite Bombay being the real centre of show business. What was then the heartbeat of India was that Noor Jehan became Pakistani. This must have been a momentous decision for her. She was undoubtedly at the height of her career both as an actress and a singer and she did not foresee any competition of any kind in the near future. The reason she opted to go to Pakistan was because she loved her hometown, Kasur, and wanted to be in the country of her hometown. Dilip Kumar told her to stay in India but she said to him Jahan paida hui thi wahan hi jaoon gi (I will go back to the place I was born). Her husband, Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, did not hail from that part of the subcontinent. He was from Uttar Pradesh and there was no compulsion to shift to Pakistan. Movement in the opposite direction was led by Dalsukh Pancholi who had to abandon his beloved Lahore and move to Bombay. Noor Jehan was not a struggling artiste who found her rise to the top blocked by popular stars. She had found her place at the top. She needn't have come to Pakistan. She could have stayed in India and enjoyed her reign at the top. Yet she opted to come to Pakistan along with her husband. This can only be attributed to her commitment to the new country.
So, Noor Jehan and her family left Bombay and settled in Karachi. There, Rizvi purchased a house in Garden East. Rizvi decided to change his profession and was interested in buying what later became the Hyeson's factory, a manufacturer of light bulbs. Noor Jehan, however, insisted that he should only follow the line of work of which he had experience and for which he was qualified. So, they moved to Lahore. There, Rizvi bought the abandoned Shorey Studios and converted it into Shahnoor Studios.
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. The film was a runaway hit. Most of the songs rendered by Noor Jehan and composed by Feroze Nizami became instant hits, not only in Pakistan but also in India. The film itself ran to packed houses in major cities in East Punjab, proving that Noor Jehan was still loved by millions of cinegoers and listeners of film music on both sides of the border. Indeed, the three year gap in her career did not make a dent whatsoever in her popularity. Noor Jehan's second film in Pakistan was Dopatta (1952) which turned out to be an even bigger success than Chanwey (1951). Such was the popularity of musical score that no song based programme on Radio Pakistan, All India Radio or the newly introduced Hindi Service of Radio Ceylon, seemed complete without 1 or 2 of the film's numbers. In 1953 another Rizvi produced film, Gulnar (1953), directed by Imtiaz Ali Taj, though a well made film, proved to be grosser at the box office. However, its songs, penned by Qateel Shifai and composed by Ghulam Haider were highly appreciated by music connoisseurs.
After a years break, Noor Jehan returned with another Punjabi film, Patey Khan (1955) opposite Aslam Pervez, which was another hit. Composer Akhtar Hussain scored some of his finest compositions of his career, all faultlessly rendered by Noor Jehan. In fact, Indian music director O.P. Nayyar was so moved when he heard "Kali Kali Jaan Dukh" that it brought tears to his eyes and he insisted on hearing it again and again. Two films released in 1956 with Santosh in the main lead. One was Lakht-e-Jigar (1956). The film faired below average at the box office but the film's music is considered to be the best of composer G.A. Chisti's long and illustrious career. Composing for a Noor Jehan starrer for the first time, Chisti nonetheless managed to come up with one of the most captivating tunes he ever scored. Noor Jehan immortalised Chisti's compositions. The second Noor Jehan starrer of 1956, was undoubtedly one of the most significant musicals in the Pakistani film industry. Directed by Masud Pervez, Intezar (1956), had music composed by Khwaja Khurshid Anwar who made his first release in this film after he came to Pakistan in the early 1950s. This film was also the first time Noor Jehan worked with the musical giant and what a combination that was to be. Almost every song he composed for her and she rendered became a rage. Lata Mangeshkar, while recording an interview for the Urdu Service of All India Radio in the 1970s, referred to Intezar (1956), as one of her favourite Pakistani musical hits. Small wonder then that Noor Jehan was given the first President's Award in 1957 for best actress and best singer.
Compared to 1956, the following year was much less eventful. The one release was Nooran (1957), another Punjabi film, with Sudhir playing the main lead. Though the film had some enchanting numbers, the film failed to click at the box office. The year 1958, brought Noor Jehan two superhits. The first was a Punjabi film, Choomantar (1958), with Aslam Pervez as the leading man, that had excellent songs rendered by Noor Jehan under the direction of Rafiq Ali. The next release was Anwar Kamal Pasha's Anarkali (1958) in which Noor Jehan played the title role opposite Sudhir who played Prince Salim. Despite the miscasting for both central roles, the film went on to be a jubilee hit solely on the popularity of Noor Jehan's songs composed by two music composers. Master Inayat Hussain, the original composer of the film, opted out of the film as the result disagreement with the director after the recording of just three songs. The task of composing the rest of the film's music was handed to Rashid Attre who composed some of the most memorable hits.
Her last films after 1958 were the musical hit Koel (1959), Pardaisan (1959), Neend (1959), Mirza Ghalib (1961), and Baaji (1963). In Koel (1959), a memorable hit is Mehaki Fizaayen (lyrics: Tanvir Naqvi). She struck new working relationships with Master Akhtar Hussain and Ustad Nazar Hussain, among others. Some of her most challenging and beautiful songs of her career as an actress/singer belong to the 1950s. In Neend (1959), she worked with music composer Rasheed Attre for the second time. Songs like Tere dar par sanam chalay aai, demonstrate how her voice had matured. Her daily riyaz and complete dedication to the music shone through. Her penultimate film as an actress/singer was Mirza Ghalib (1961). In this she sang the ghazals of Ghalib, the greatest Urdu poet. This proved to be a bridge between her past and her future. She had developed a love for poetry and now started recording works of leading Urdu poets, classical and contemporary. 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. She was shown sitting and enjoying the dance in the song - Sajan Laagi Tori Lagan Man Maa, sung by Farida Khanum. She was still looking her usual gorgeus youthful self. 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.
1960 - 1996
After she quit acting she took up playback singing. She made her debut as a playback singer in 1960 with the film Salma. Her first initial playback for a Pakistani film was for Jan-e-Bahar (1958), in which she sung the song Kaisa Naseeb Layi Thi, picturised on Musarrat Nazir. She was soon the most famous playback singer through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. She also made albums and even though she wasn't acting, she was still a hit. She received many awards, including with the highest Pakistani honour in entertainment, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (The Pride of Performance) in 1966, Pakistan's top civil award and countless cultural awards.
In the 1960s, she sang for heroines such as Sabiha Khanum (Mauseeqar (1962), Daman (1963) and Pak Daman (1969). Long after Sabiha retired, Madam Noor Jehan as still singing for debutante heroines such as Neeli and Reema until the 1990s. For this very reason, Sabiha affectionately called her Sadabahar (evergreen). During the 1960s, Noor Jehan's voice was seen evolving. It sounded mature and matched well with the sober performances of heroines such as Shamim Ara. Year after year, they stood side by side on stage. Winning smiles on their faces, shining Nigar Awards in their hands. 1966 - Aaj Ka Darya, 1967 - Lakhon Me Ek, 1969 - Salgirah, Shamim Ara - best actress, Madam Noor Jehan - best singer.
In the 1970s, she sang for Shabnum in Dosti (1971), and the film is still remembered today for Noor Jehan's memorable songs echoing in the picturesque Kaghan Valley. Dosti was followed by Rani's Anjuman (1970), Umrao Jaan Ada (1972) and Naag Mani (1972). This was the time when Noor Jehan gained weight and her voice started showing signs of fatigue, due to overuse in Punjabi songs, which had to be sung in a higher pitch. Composers like Nisar Bazmi started looking for younger voices such as Runa Laila and later, Naheed Akhtar. Yet, only Noor Jehan could bring to life the agony of a dancing Rani in Umrao Jaan Ada - dressed in black and dancing to set herself free of the binding chains of her ankle-bells in Jo Bacha Tha, Woh Lutane Ke Liye.
In the 1980s, the production of Urdu films declined. Noor Jehan's rejuvenated vocals made all the dancing mutyars of Punjabi cinema, dance their hearts out to her tunes from Anjuman (Sher Khan (1981)), to Neeli (Kale Chor (1991)) to Saima (Sakhi Badshah (1996)). Not even the impish Babra Sharif was to be left out (Mukhra (1988)). Rasheed Attre composed the tune of her ever-famous Gayegi Duniya, Geet Mere for Mauseeqar (1962)'s village singer Sabiha. Rasheed's son, Wajahat Attre, composed fast-paced Punjabi songs for her all through the 1980s and 1990s. She sang them in equal panache.
Her popularity was further boosted with her patriotic songs during the 1965 war between Pakistan and India. She talked once about the stirring songs with Khalid Hasan. "Let me tell you about those days. No one asked me to sing. I myself phoned Radio Pakistan one morning and said I wanted to come and sing. They did not believe it, just kept asking, 'Is that Madam Noor Jehan?'. They thought it was some kind of hoax. Finally, I said 'You think I am joking with all these bombs falling, these shells exploding? I first had to get a pass to get out of the house because there was a curfew in the city. When I arrived, they were happy and surprised. 'It is really you', they kept saying. 'Well, you can see for yourself', I said. There were no musicians around but I said it did not matter. I had taken four of my own, one of them Mubarak who played the santoor. I set the lyrics to music myself. Merya dhol sipahaya, Mera sohna shehr Kasur ni and Aai puttar hattan te nahin vikday are all my own compositions. It took me literally minutes to compose the tune for Aai puttar. I was accompanied on the tabla by Sabir and the sarangi was played by Nizam sahib. The recording was done by Azam sahib and there was, of course, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum who wrote the words. I used to load her musicians into my car and off we would go to the Mall where the recordings were done. Once, as my car moved into the studio, a shell fell, killing the sentry that had just waved us in. It could have been me. I had three little girls at the time. They were all ill and there was nobody to take care of them. Hina, the eldest, took care of the younger ones even though she was a child herself. I used to cook for them at five in the morning and then be on my way. When the siren sounded, I would push them into the trench we had dug. My musicians used to tell me to get into the trench when our session was on and the siren sounded. I would tell them 'If we have to go, let it be in front of the microphone, singing. Think of the boys who are out there fighting'. When I sang Merya dhol sipahaya, it was not pre-recorded. I sang it straight into the microphone and it went live because the tape recorder was not working. It was a very poignant moment for me and I cried a lot. Then I sang. Hassan Latif, who was like a brother to me, helped me in those days. He said to me 'You have done something beautiful'. He gave me a lot of encouragement. He said I was like Umme Kulsum. I never forgot his words for they made a deep impression on me."
The diva revisited India in 1982 to attend a function celebrating the golden jubilee of the Indian talkie. It was the first time she had visited India since the Partition. The Mallika-e-Tarranum, enthralled her fans on this side of the border with her evergreen voice. She was granted an audience by the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at New Dehli's magnificent Rashtrapati Bhawan and was received by Dilip Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar in Bombay. They had kept in touch through meetings at the Wagah Border (1951), London and New York. She performed live on stage for the show Mortal Men, Immortal Melodies on February 11 of that year. As she sang Anmol Ghadi (1946)'s Awaz De Kahan Hai, all grievances were forgotten and the performer and her audience wept together. Noor Jehan-ji, aap jitney baras hum se door rahi hain, theek utne hi baras humne aap ka intezar kiya hain (All these years that you were away, we have waited for you, counting each year as it passed by), remarked Dilip Kumar. That night, she achieved what no ambassador had ever achieved before. She returned home to give glittering performances for PTV's musical Tarranum.
In 1986, on a tour of North America, her mild chestpains recurred with severity. Her doctors diagnosed angina and an immediate operation was advised. The American surgeons performed a smooth surgery and Noor Jehan returned to Lahore with a winning smile while hiding her ticking pace-maker. She looked slimmer and prettier and flaunted a band around her neck that changed colours with ever-changing saris. Even her voice sounded fresh. Her facelifts in London were perhaps already known and perhaps also a minor surgical manipulation of her "singer's nodules" which are known to occur with voice overuse.
In 1996, Noor Jehan recorded her last song in Pakistan which was "Ki Dam Da Bharosa?" for the film Sakhi Badshah (1996) and stopped singing due to failing health and newer trends in music. Noor Jehan stayed away from the limelight for four years - a period which seemed like ages for fans, and during which she received treatment at various hospitals. Fans and family, friends and foes, all prayed for a magical cure. Her ex-husbands, sons, daughters and grandchildren waited in attendance. Admirers carried fragrant bouquets and well-wishers sent get-well-soon wishes. Dilip Kumar visited from Bombay and General Musharraf from Islamabad. But none could stop her ailing heart from its downslide. It had taken much and could take no more.
Noor Jehan's last days were painful. Once, she almost died but came through. She said that God had spared her life so that while she was alive, she could divide her property among her children because if she had not, after she was gone, there would be disputes and that would make her very unhappy. She was not to be disappointed. Her large home in the Liberty Chowk of Lahore's Gulberg Town which she had been smart enough to get declared commercial property by the Corporation was sold for Rs. 20 crore. She gave each of her six children Akbar, Asghar, Zile Huma, Hina, Shazia, Nazia Rs. 2.5 crore each. She was truly happy and relieved after she did that.
Noor Jehan had been suffering and fighting off a terrible protracted illness concerning her ailing heart as well as several other ailments. She was sent to Karachi for treatment, where she suffered a heart attack. On Saturday afternoon, December 23, 2000, Noor Jehan died from heart failure. She died on the night of Laylat al-Qadr (27th Ramadaan), which is a very important night for Muslims. The funeral prayers were offered at Jamia Masjid Sultan, Karachi. She is buried in the Left Side of Gate 2 at the Gizri Graveyard near Saudi Consulate in Karachi. Her grave is built of golden marble and is a grave of striking beauty. In death, Noor Jehan dissociated herself from those she kept her company all her life, and left in the company of taraweeh prayers. When news of her death spread, people could not resist and turned on their TVs in the middle of the holy night's prayers for one last look of that smiling, dimpled face - that magic, charisma, that legend they called Mallika-e-Tarranum Noor Jehan.
Another source describes her death as: Allah Wasai of Kasur died in the arms of her loving daughters in Karachi - the daughters she had brought up as a single parent. Leaving behind millions in gold and cash for her children and thousands of immortal melodies for her fans, she had embarked on her last journey. The falling night of December 23, 2000, was the holiest night of the month of Ramadaan, a night when sins are forgiven and when the doors of heaven are flung wide open. Noor Jehan, who never sang in her life without advance payment, was leaving for the Hereafter with booked promises.
* Noor Jehan and Lata Mangeshkar were very good friends from the time they first met on the sets of Badi Maa (1945). At that time, Lata was an upcoming singer and a fan of Noor Jehan's. Noor Jehan commented her and praised her. She said:
Log kahate hain ki Lataji tumhe itna manti hain, Lataji tumhe Ustad samajhti hain, tumhe pyaar karti hain. Yeh sab main samajhti hoon unka badapan hain kyon ki Lata to Lata hain. Lataji ki tarah meri nazar mein to koi aaj tak paida nahin hua, Lataji ko Allah ne awaz di hain, ilm unhe unke Wallid sahab se mila, khuda ki taraf se unpar karam hain. (People say (to me) that Lataji believes in you so much, Lataji considers you to be her mentor, she loves you. All this I understand, it is their elevation (of appreciation) because Lata is Lata. Nobody in the likeness of Lata, in my eyes, has been born to this day. Allah has given Lataji her voice, she received her knowledge from her father. She has been bestowed on by God).
Both queen of melody Noor Jahan and Lata Mangeshkar are the jewels of the subcontinent. Both are the greatest singers of the 20th century. Both are the brightest stars on the horizon of music. Both have been singing and entertaining music lovers uninterrupted for more than half a century. Both are equally melodic, equally well-versed in classical music. Both are the daughters of musicians, but of mediocre rank and both rose to eminence by dint of their hard work and devotion to music. Both were forced to make early debut to support their ailing parents and large families. Both influenced the music pandits of their time in a way that they had to recognise their talents. Both succeeded in carving room for themselves as talented singers in the presence of giants like Sehgal, Begum Khurshid, Shamshad, Surayya, Uma Devi and Anwari Bai Agraywali etc.
Both ruled the film industry of the subcontinent and without them the Industry would not have flourished to the present position. Both won acclaim of the prominent contemporaries like Feroz Nizami, Syed Kamal Amrohi, V M Viyas, S. Mukerji, Mirza Musharraf, Vermaji, Chawla, Rafique Ghaznavi, Rai Bahadur Chawanni Lal, Nanu Bhai Desai, Giyan Mukerji, Sohrab Modi, Shantosi, Hamansoo Rai Kaldip Kore, Shiyam, Sharmaji, Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore, Mehdi Hassan, Malka Pukhraj, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and many others. Both have become legends in the subcontinent winning laurels and a large number of prestigious awards. Noor Jahan was recently awarded Nishan-e-Imtiaz.
Both have sung every kind of songs, ranging from low-pitched soft and sad songs to the high-pitched songs, from anthems and milli naghme to the war songs, from children's lulabi to delirious dance songs, from Rag Vidhya to Dhurpad and from Khiyal Thumri, proving their talents in every field of singing. Both have shown variety, novelty and diversity of the greatest quality. Their melodious voices, sweet mellowness and artistic maturity and cadence are unparalleled and unprecedented. Their voices have been haunting and entertaining the hearts of the subcontinent for so long that they have become timeless legends. Their art have broken all barriers. Lata's songs are listened to in Pakistan, Noor Jahan is loved in India. Both started their career from Bombay, but Noor Jahan made her debut a bit earlier in Lahore. Both have reached the height of their artistic career step by step maturing gradually and finally touching the culmination of fame.
But their domestic life had been different. While Lata remained unamarried, Noor Jahan led a full matrimonial life, enjoying conjugal bliss, marrying more than once and giving birth to four children.
It is very difficult to make comparison between the two queens. Both are the genius of the age, both sing with equal ease and have command of classical music. While both are the artistic paragons of perfection it is not easy to say who is the better of the two. Lata has a voice that is soft and mellow, while Noor Jahan's voice is strong. Lata represents the softness, decency, inhibition and introversion of Delhi and Lucknow, while Noor Jahan represents the openness, strength and extroversion of the Punjab. Lata's voice is so soft and so alluring that it penetrates the listeners' heart. A cuckoo might have been enthralled by Lata's cooing in the song: Nindya Sey Jagi Bahar/Aisa Mausam Dekha Pehli Bar/Koyel Kookey Galy Malhar. -- such softness and naturalness is not found in Noor Jahan's voice. Lata's softness seems to be innate and natural as she does not sing in "Ragi", while Noor Jahan sings in "Ragi" meaning that she strains her vocal cords, thus rendering her voice an artificiality. In this respect she seems to be less gifted than Lata. But here is the difference which makes Noor Jahan more varied, more novel and more versatile. And this shortcoming of "Ragi" , if it is, in any way a shortcoming, has turned into a real "something" in her throat. She is able to change, vary, strain, snap, twist and swing her vocal cords according to the demand of the song. Lata with her soft voice has her limitations. It seems to be a chain, curbing her versatility and novelty: making her suitable only for sad songs. There is always lurking sadness in Lata's voice. Even when she is singing a happy song, she conveys a subtle sadness. Noor Jahan's God-gifted capability to strain her vocal cords wherever and whenever she desires, has really made her a unique artist. Even in Alaps (prelude modulation), Taans (a stretched key note), Pulteys (Turned-over modulation) and Murkis (sudden metrical zigzag), she is able to produce variety. All the great master musicians like: queen of music Roshan Ara Begum, Amanat Ali Khan, Fateh Ali Khan, Nazakat Ali Khan, Salamat Ali Khan, Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan and Nazar Hussain Shami paid rich tributes to Noor Jahan's versatility. When Noor Jahan rendered "Murkis" even the great Ustads like Bundoo Khan Sarangi player, Abdul Aziz Khan flute player, Fateh Ali Khan Sitar player etc had to be extra careful in following the rise and fall of her voice.
Noor Jahan is also able to produce the effects of deep sorrow and sadness which seems to be only Lata's speciality. In their song: Jo Bacha Tha Woh Lutaney Key Liyay Aai Hain/Akhri Geet Sonaney Key Liyay Aai Hain -- while she alaps a couplet in alto as prelude to the song, she is able to produce the heart-rending effects of a last-cry of a dying beloved. Similar is the song: Jeo Dhola, Jeo Dhola/Tut Gai Aj Hunjwan Di Mala/Ghar Aya Naeen Karmanwala/ Kher Howay Shala/Jeo Dhola. Her songs in the film Anarkali bear out Noor Jahan's novelty, diversity, versatility and maturity of the heighest rank. In the song: Banvari Chakori Karay Dunya Sey Chori Chori/Chanda Sey Peyar, the artistic Murkis in the song will always be alive for all future singers as model. Like Lata, Noor Jahan, too, seems to be capable of giving effect of lurking sadness in the song: Aa Bhi Ja/Aa Bhi Ja/Dekh Aa Kar Zara/Mujh Pey Guzri Hae Keya/Teray Peyar Main -- and Sayyoo Ni Meray Dil Da Jani/La Key Neon Tor Gaya Jay/Sayyo Ni Merey Dil Da Jani.
Noor Jahan is capable of producing atmospheric effects with the help of her "Ragi". In the song: Rim Jhim, Rim Jhim Parey Phowar/Tera Mera Nit Ka Peyar/--, it seems that it is drizling, outside when she is singing In the song: Sikhre Dopahri Piplee Dey Thaley/Mein Chankayan Wangaa -- Noor Jahan's voice also contributes to the situation. The hearer himself feels the scorch of the mid-summer long blazing noon. Even the chink of the bangles can be felt in the throat of Noor Jahan. Her song: Sadey Ghar Aai Barjhai/Lakhan Khushian Naal Leai -- denotes general and collective happiness in bride-groom's house full of near relatives. Here she pronounces the word "Bharjai" instead of "Parjhai" making one of the multi-faceted differences. In the song: Aj Qaidi Kar Liya Mahi Nooh/Main Chaj Patashay Wandan -- she communicates full-blooded happiness. When she gives alaps and skrill-shouts in
between the Asthai (first verse) and the Antra (the following verses), she is able to produce the heightened happy effects in the song. Lata, on the other hand, inspite of her many a happy song, has never succeeded in communicating delirious gladness like it because of the limitation of her over-softened voice. Noor Jahan while in the songs: Sanoo Nehar Waley Pul Tey Bula Key/Khawray Mahi Kithey Rah Geya/-- and Lat Uljhi Suljha Ja Rey Balam/Main Na Lagaoon Gi Hath Rey -- she is pert and coquettish, but she is equally able to communicate the contrary feelings of dire hopelessness and total disappointment in the songs: Ja Apni Hasratoon Pey/Ansoo Baha Key So Ja -- Zinda Hain Kitney Loag Muhabbat Keyay Baghair/Hum Sey Badal Geya Woh Nigahain Tu Keya Howa -- . In the songs: Yar Sadqey, Dildar Sadqey-- and Tum Jug Jug Jeo Maharaj Rey/Hum Teri Nagarya Mein Aaey -- she seems to be in the state of trance. She takes the audience to the height where they feels dissolved into her song. Lata, herself, a number of times, has recognised and acclaimed this novel quality of Noor Jahan's voice. Thus it seems to be a settled fact that, doubtless, Late is greater than any of her contemporaries yet Noor Jahan is the greatest.
* Mirza Ghalib (1961)
* Koel (1959)
* Pardaisan (1959)
* Neend (1959)
* Anarkali (1958)
* Choomantar (1958)
* Nooran (1957)
* Intezar (1956)
* Lakht-e-Jigar (1956)
* Patey Khan (1955)
* Gulnar (1953)
* Dopatta (1952)
* Chanwey (1951)
* Mirabai (1947)
* Abida (1947)
* Jugnu (1947)
* Mirza Sahibaan (1947)
* Maharana Pratab (1946)
* Jadoogar (1946)
* Sofia (1946)
* Humjoli (1946)
* Dil (1946)
* Anmol Ghadi (1946)
* Bhaijaan (1945)
* Badi Maa (1945)
* Gaon Ki Gori (1945)
* Zeenat (1945)
* Dost (1944)
* Lal Haveli (1944)
* Naukar (1943)
* Duhai (1943)
* Nadaan (1943)
* Khandaan (1942)
* Faryad (1942)
* Dheeraj (1942)
* Chandani (1942)
* Susral (1941)
* Umeed (1941)
* Red Signal (1941)
* Chaudhry (1941)
* Yamla Jat (1940)
* Sajni (1940)
* Pyam-e-Haq (1939)
* Imandaar (1939)
* Gul Bakavli (1939) (as Baby Noor Jehan)