Bangladeshi singer Runa Laila is a veteran with more than 50 years of singing and she continues to rule the hearts of her fans.
On her 69th birthday on November 17, the star who has recorded some of the biggest hits in Hindi and Bengali music, received effusive greetings from her friends and admirers across the world. In the past she has sometimes released new songs to mark the occasion but this time she has preferred to spend a few quiet moments with her family.
She told the media earlier that she had no special plans for her birthday this time. “I will spend the day with my family. Whenever my birthday comes I recall the days of my childhood. My parents used to organise special programmes on my birthdays. Now, by the grace of the Almighty, I have earned all the credits in my music career. I am very happy with that. Now I want everyone to keep me in their prayers,” she said.
Well known personalities from showbiz hailed her achievements. “Artistes like Runa are few and far between. She has taken Bangladesh to new heights. She is the ‘Magician of Melody,’” said Gazi Mazharul Anwar the renowned film director, lyricist and music director of Bangladesh while paying tribute to Runa Laila.
“Runa and Sabina Yasmin sang for my film Pratinidhi. The song was called Tumi Boro Bhaggoboti (You are very Fortunate). I wrote the lyrics and the song has remained an evergreen hit,” he said.
Another celebrity who greeted Runa Laila on her birthday was singer Ferdausi Rahman (also known as Ferdausi Begum) who comes from an illustrious family. Her father was the well-known singer Abbasuddin who had worked with the poet Qazi Nazrul Islam, national poet of Bangladesh. Ferdausi too has sung in Pakistani films. A recipient of several awards from the Government of Bangladesh, she greeted Runa and said: “It is a matter of pride that we have a singer like Runa Laila in our midst. She has set an example for the others. I wish her all the best and I hope that she continues with her singing career. I have known her since her childhood and I love her like a sister.”
Runa Laila’s talent showed up early in her life. At the age of 13 she sang two songs in the Pakistani film Jugnu. The first was Gudiya si Munni, Meri Bhaiya ki Pyari and the second was Marna Bhi Nahin Aasaan. A year later she established herself with another song in the Pakistani film Hum Dono titled Unki Nazron se Mohabbat ka Paigham.
As she grew in confidence, she became a fan of Pakistani playback singer Ahmed Rushdi who was born in Hyderabad (India) and learnt his music here before his family moved to Pakistan. Runa considered Rushdi her “guru”. She tried to emulate him in style and on-stage performance. At around this time she also began training in Hindustani classical music along with her sister Dina. Unfortunately Dina passed away at an early age. Runa used to perform regularly on PTV and soon her talent caught the eye of Bollywood film makers. Her first concert in India was in 1974 in Mumbai (then called Bombay).
She worked with the famous duo of Kalyanji-Anandji for the title song of the film Ek Se Badhkar Ek in 1976. The other songs were recorded by India’s top notch artistes such as Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle. So Runa’s name became well known in India. Her version of Dama Dam Mast Qalandar became a big hit because of the energy she brought into the song and so too Mera Babu Chhail Chhabila.
Meanwhile, she was making an impact in Bengali language songs too. Her song Shaadher Lau is immensely popular even today in Bengal as well as Bangladesh. Her rendition of the famous Bengali folk song Allah Megh De Pani De is heart-wrenching. The lyrics are a prayer to Allah to provide rain to bring an end to the drought that has gripped the land.
Very quickly she rose to the top of the popularity charts and was in great demand in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The people of the Indian subcontinent living abroad also did not want to miss out an opportunity of listening to her and she was often invited to perform in the USA, UK and Australia. She has performed in famous venues like the Madison Square Garden, Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Sydney Opera House.
Not many are aware that she even designs her own clothes. She is an amateur dress designer. She also holds a Guinness Record for recording 30 songs in only three days. In 1982 her album Superuna composed by Bappi Lahiri sold more than one lakh copies on the very first day which was a record. In fact Bappi Lahiri and Runa have collaborated on many projects.
Now, as she nears her seventh decade of life, she can look back with pride at her accomplishments. She has embellished more than 10,000 songs with her mesmerising voice, she has won the National Film Award several times in Bangladesh, and she has sung songs in multiple languages which have remained ensconced in the hearts of music lovers all over the world.
It is not just Indian languages that she has sung in. She has also sung in 15 foreign languages including Arabic, French, Spanish and others. Her ability to render all types of songs ranging from Pop to classical to ghazals and folk, make her a special performer. Her fans all over the world are hoping that she will continue to provide any more hits.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.