Runa Laila sang everything between pop and devotional, but she began her career with a *ghazal.*
The track 'Unki Nazron Se Mohabbat Ka', sung for the Pakistani film Hum Dono (1966) at the age of 14, showcased Laila’s young, trained and promising voice. The song’s success sent out a clear message about the growth of the child artist, and the maturity of her voice put her in the same bracket of experienced singers such as Noor Jehan.
Laila became a sensation across the subcontinent in 1972 when she sang 'Mera Babu Chhail Chabeela' for the Pakistani movie Mann Ki Jeet. The hugely popular song made a reappearance in the Hindi film Ghar Dwaar (1985).
Born in Sylhet in Bangladesh in 1952, Laila was trained by her parents to be a dancer. Singing happened by accident, while she was learning kathak and bharat natyam. “My elder sister Dina was learning classical music. I picked up whatever she was taught quite easily and her teacher decided to teach me too,” Laila said in an interview. “My father, Syed Mohammed Imdad Ali was a civil servant posted in Karachi. My sister and I went to school there and she was selected to represent the school at an inter-school competition. On the day of the competition, Dina developed a sore throat so my parents made me participate instead. I won the competition...”
Laila began visiting India in 1974 and was soon singing for many music composers. Jaidev was impressed with the quality of her voice, which differed from the Mangeshkar sisters who had monopolised playback singing. He gave her a chance to sing for Doordarshan. The movie Gharonda (1977), for which he composed the music, had two tracks by Runa Laila, both of which remain popular: 'Tumhe Ho Na Ho' and 'Do Deewane Sheher Mein'.
For all her diverse experience, the ghazal form has been closest to Laila, and she holds the Guinness world record for the maximum number of recordings in a single day. “Concorde Records wanted me to rerecord the album Ghazal Aur Geet, which was originally recorded in Karachi, ” Laila told Filmfare. “We recorded 30 songs in three days at Western Outdoors. I remember Daman Sood was the recordist. These weren’t live recordings in the true sense. We could take breaks but yes, it was with live musicians.”
She considers her version of Mehdi Hassan covers her favourite. Laila has studied music from Ghulam Qadir, who was Mehdi’s elder brother. Qadir had also composed music for Hassan's ghazals. Laila learnt from Qadir the art of rendering a ghazal as well as of conveying the melancholic mood of such songs as Ranjish hi sahi with the same passion as Hassan.
Of all her songs, her favourite still remains her first ghazal, which she prefers to include in her live performances. It simply gets richer with age.
– This article was originally published at Scroll.in, and has been reproduced with permission.