Aijaz Gul’s Noor Jehan – The Melody Queen is an interesting albeit insufficient look into the diva’s personal and professional life.
Pakistan’s film industry will be forever indebted to Noor Jehan for being a lifelong source of entertainment to the country. As an actress par excellence, a singer with amazing range and control and the first female film director from Pakistan, Noor Jehan mesmerized her fans and followers till her death exactly 19 years ago. She was crowned ‘Mallika-e-Tarannum’ for her services to arts and entertainment and if there was ever a time to read about her and reminisce the golden era that she ruled, it would be now when Pakistani cinema is trying to awaken from years of slumber.
Unfortunately not many books have been written on the virtuoso known as Noor Jehan. Aijaz Gul’s Noor Jehan – The Melody Queen is one of the few books that cover the life and times of the queen, however, it reads more like an essay than a biography. He does a commendable job as he begins with the birth of Allah Wasai and ends when Noor Jehan passed away on December 23, 2000. How Allah Wasai transformed into Noor Jehan is mentioned in detail.
The way the author uses surnames of most of the people written about in the book, including Allah for Allah Wasai and Rizvi for Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, however is irritating trivia. The book, on the other hand, does impart information such as the importance of two music composers named Ghulam Mohammad and Ghulam Haider on Madam’s career, where she rated Khawaja Khursheed Anwar and that Shah Noor studios was a mixture of Shah (from Shaukat Hussain Rizvi) and Noor (Noor Jehan), as the couple was behind its creation.
Aijaz Gul is a veteran film critic but it would have been better had he taken a little more time to write this book. The chapters are divided chronologically when it would have been better had they been classified subject-wise. Yes, he quotes journalists who had met and spent time with Mallika-e-Tarannum but that’s not enough. To cover a lady of Noor Jehan’s stature, one book isn’t the answer as everyone has something to add, be it journalists, music composers, actors and actresses besides her contemporaries, successors, and directors who worked with her.
The book lacks the class of a quality publication as pictures are inserted without any specific order or sequence; many things, like finer details of her life, are either missed out completely or come across as vague mentions; one misses important insights into the background of Noor Jehan’s siblings as well as her children, who aren’t discussed much. In fact, Pakistan’s legendary hockey player Hassan Sardar, who was Noor Jehan’s son in law, is named Hassan Akhtar for some odd reason. There is a lot of detail regarding her relationship with her two husbands but at times it comes out as a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. In one instance, where Ejaz Durrani whom she married after leaving her first husband Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, claimed that Noor Jehan married the actor when she should have been observing her iddat.
No proof supporting the matter is provided in the book and it leaves this instance and many other similar stories to an unsatisfactory conclusion. Noor Jehan’s rumored fondness for Santosh Kumar, her affair with Test Cricketer Nazar Mohammad and why she didn’t address Ejaz Durrani’s alleged affairs (while married to her) at a time when she was the most powerful woman in Pakistan.
Noor Jehan’s issues with many people including music composers Nisar Bazmi, Master Abdullah, singers Runa Laila and Mussarat Nazir to name a few are mentioned. However, the details of these incidents are one sided, without providing a holistic and fair picture of what actually must have happened. The same goes for the photographs; it would have been great had some pictures from the archives of film buffs been curated and used to give the book the uplift it is missing.
A revisit would do the fans and followers a great service as there are people out there who want to know about Noor Jehan, their Mallika-e-Tarannum.