Media has long been used as a mechanism of propagation for society’s norms and
codes which include its treatment of women. Songs, especially film songs, can be
considered as one of the most influential forms of media in recent history. In a
country such as Pakistan, with its rich artistic history as part of the Indian
subcontinent, songs and films hold the power to instill or reinforce certain
ideologies in the minds of the viewers. This reinforcement multiplies
exponentially if the artist performing in these works holds a significant position in
the cultural hierarct.
Noor Jehan started singing at the age of five or six year`s old and showed varied styles, including traditional folk and popular theatre. Realizing her potential for singing, she was sent her to receive early training in classical singing under Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan who was also a native of Kasur. There, she was instructed in the traditions of the Patiala Gharana of Hindustani classical music and the classical forms of thumri, dhrupad and khayal. The Punjabi musician Ghulam Ahmed Chishti noted Wasai only at the age of nine and composed some ghazals, naats and folk songs for her to perform. However, she was more interested in acting or playback singing.
Eventually her family shifted to Calcutta, (Kolkata) with the expectation to develop 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 and also recommended them to various producers. It was in Calcutta 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. Jehan later adopted Mukhtar Begum`s style of performance and sari attire
Film: Ghoongat (1962)
A tall and slender Nayyar Sultana draped in a white sari wandered in a misty wilderness, lamenting Koi na jaane kab aaye.
Mun Mundir ke devta, rakho laaj hamari
Film: Lakhoon Mein Eik (1967)
Shamim Ara chanted this bhajan as she swayed in front of the deity with diyas in her hands and a bindiya on her forehead. The singer’s voice, having evolved with age, sounded mature and went well with Shamim Ara’s sobre performance.
Mujh se pehli si mohabbat
Noor Jehan, Pakistani/ Indian singing star, Mallika-e-Tarranum
Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s magnum opus
It was her golden voice after all that had brought to life the tragic beauty of Faiz’s subtle verse. Inspired by her faithful rendition, he gifted his magnum opus to the vocalist par excellence.
Ae watan ke sajeele jawaano and Ae Puttar hattan te naen vikde
Madam Noor Jehan never claimed to have mastered singing by herself; she always insisted Allah had blessed her in a special way, which was true. Today, on her death anniversary, TV channels air special transmissions about her, artistes sing her famous ditties and media people flock to the events; all for a woman who died six years ago to this day.
Every person will write history differently where Noor Jehan is concerned, but the ultimate tribute to the Melody Queen is being paid by Oxford University Press. They are including Malika-i-Tarranum in their upcoming edition of Oxford Companion to Pakistan History. It is certainly commendable because Noor Jehan’s place in Pakistan’s history is undisputed.