Singers

A BIOGRAPHY OF RUNA LAILA

A BIOGRAPHY ON RUNA LAILA

Bangladeshi playback singer and composer

(17 November 1952 – Present)

Introduction

Born on 17 November 1952, in Sylhet, East Bengal, of the then East Pakistan, now in Bangladesh, Runa Laila is one of the prominent singers of not only Bangladesh but also of the Indian subcontinent. She has mesmerized audiences, over the years, beyond the borders, with her melodious voice.

She belonged to a middle-class family. Her father, Syed Mohammed Imdad Ali, was a civil servant and worked in Karachi, Pakistan. That is why Runa had spent her childhood there. Her mother, Amina Laila, was an Indian music artist. Also, Runa’s maternal uncle is a famous Indian singer. So it is seen that music runs in Runa’s blood. Runa’s elder sister, Dina Laila used to practice singing from a musical teacher. That time, Runa would just loiter around her sister and could pick up songs and tunes that she had just heard. Seeing her natural talent and interest in music, her parents got her admitted to music school. She then learned classical music. She once won an inter-school singing competition in Karachi, when she was a student in Karachi.

Runa’s career started rather by coincidence than planned when in a singing event, her elder sister was supposed to perform but could not due to sickness. Then Runa was asked to sing there. She was a little but brave girl to perform a ‘Khyal’ on the stage.

When she was 12 years old, she received her first singing offer for the movie Jugnu, to sing the song Gudia Si Munni Meri.  Then, in 1966, she sang a song named Unki Nazron Sey Mohabbat Ka Jo Paigham Mila for an Urdu film Hum Dono. That is how she entered the Pakistani music industry. Later, in the 1970s, she appeared in different Pakistani tv shows to perform. She was quite popular at that time.

After the independence of Bangladesh, she returned to Bangladesh and started to sing Bangladeshi songs. Her first Bangla song was O Amar Jibon Shathi for the movie Jibon Sathi in 1976. Her other popular Bangla songs are: “Shilpi ami, tomaderi gaan shonabo”, “Bondhu Tin Din Tor Barite Gelam”, etc.

In 1974, in Mumbai, India, she held her first ever concert.She gained all the fame in India mainly for the songs O Mera Babu Chail Chabila and Dama Dam Mast Qalandar. She had also sung for a few Indian movies and performed at some Indian music events. She also recorded and released some songs and albums in India.

Runa has achieved many awards, and recognitions in her entire life. She has a name in the Guinness World Records Book for recording 30 songs in just 3 days. In 1982, her album “Superuna” sold more than 1 lakh copies. That is why she got the Golden Disk Award. Runa won seven Bangladesh National Film Awards for Best Female Playback Singer. Her other Bangladeshi awards include Independence Day Award, Bangladesh Music Journalists Association (BMJA) lifetime achievement, etc. From India, she received awards like the Radio Mirchi Music Award and the Saigal Award. From Pakistan too, she was awarded several times. Runa, as the first ever Bangladeshi, was titled as the SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors for HIV/AIDS. In 2013, she visited New Delhi on her first trip as the SAARC Ambassador.

She got the honor to be a judge in singing reality shows in both Bangladesh and India.

Though Runa got some offers to return to Pakistan and sing for the Urdu music industry, she rejected all those offers. Rather she dedicated herself to the Bangladeshi music industry. From Madison Square Garden (in NYC, the USA) to Sydney Opera House (Australia), and from Europe to Africa – the veteran singer has stepped on proudly carrying the legacy of Bangladesh. After Runa’s elder sister died in 1976 from cancer, Runa held charity concerts in Dhaka and money raised was donated to a children’s hospital in Dhaka to build a cancer ward in Runa’s sister’s name.

Because of her outstanding performance in the song “Damadam Mast Kalandar,” she has been crowned as the Damadam Girl. Runa has sung over 10,000 songs, in 17 different languages for about five decades.

Runa has always been a bold diva in the case of fashion or style and till today, she often designs her own clothes. In marital life. Runa has been married four times and has a daughter named Tani Laila. Currently, she is the wife of famous Bangladeshi actor Alamgir. She has a step-daughter, Akhi Alamgir, another famous Bangladeshi singer, daughter from Alamgir’s previous wife.

In 1995, she was seen just once in a movie named “Shilpi” directed by a Bangladeshi film director Chashi Nazrul Islam. But she is not interested in acting.

Runa has and had a good relation with legendary Indian singers like late Lata Mangeshkar, Bappi Laheri, Asha Bhosle etc. Runa calls Lata and Asha as her sisters. Runa has also worked with many different renowned Bangladeshi singers like Sabina Yasmin, etc.

Life of “Runa Laila” At a Glance

  • Real Name: Sadia Islam

    Birth Date: 17 November 1952

    Birth Place: Sylhet, East Bengal, Dominion of Pakistan

    Father’s Name: Syed Mohammed Imdad Ali

    Mother’s Name: Amina Laila (Amita Sen)

    Siblings: 2

    ➢ Dina Laila (elder sister)

    ➢ Syed Ali Murad (younger brother)

    Education:

    ➢  Saint Lawrence Convent, Karachi, Pakistan

    ➢  Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts, for dancing

    ➢  Graduation, University of Dhaka

    Professions:

    ➢ Playback singer

    ➢ Music composer

    Married to:

    ➢  Khawaza Javed Kaiser

    ➢ Ron Daniel

    ➢ Maidul Islam

    ➢ Alamgir

    Children: 1 daughter, Tani Laila

    Religion: Islam

    Awards and Achievements: 

    ➢ Radio Mirchi Music Award presented by Radio Mirchi at Nazrul Mancha in Kolkata (2015)[31]

    ➢ Independence Day Award, Bangladesh

    ➢ Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer (1976, 1977, 1989, 1994, 2012, 2013 and 2014)

    ➢ Sheltech Award, Bangladesh

    ➢ Lux-Channel I Lifetime Performance Award, Bangladesh

    ➢ Saigal Award, India

    ➢ Nigar Award, Pakistan (1968, 1970)

    ➢ Critics Award, Pakistan

    ➢ Graduate Award, Pakistan

    ➢ Firoza Begum Memorial Gold Medal, Bangladesh

    ➢ Bangladesh Music Journalists Association (BMJA) lifetime achievement award, 2020

    ➢ Guinness World Records

    ➢  Golden Disk Award, 1982

    ➢  SAARC Goodwill Ambassador, for HIV/AIDS

    ➢  Judge, in the Indian show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa

    ➢  Judge in Channel I’s Shera Kontho and Channel 9’s Power Voice talent hunt

    ➢ Judge, in Indian show Sur Kshetra, in 2012

    Nickname: The Damadam Girl

Early Life and Education

Sadia Islam or popularly known as Runa Laila, was born on 17 November, 1952 at Sylhet, East Bengal, Dominion of Pakistan or East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh. She belonged to a middle class family. Her father’s name was Syed Mohammed Imdad Ali. He was a civil servant and worked at Karachi, Pakistan. Her mother’s name was Amina Laila. She was an Indian music artist, whose real name was Amita Sen. It is said that when Imdad Ali was doing a job in Kolkata, he met Amita, fell in love with her and later got married with her in 1947.

In Runa’s childhood, she was admitted to Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts by her mother to learn dancing. She had learnt different dancing styles like: Kathak, Bharatanatyam, and Kathakali. But Runa was always more attracted to music than dancing. Also, in her childhood time, a music teacher used to visit Runa’s home, to teach classical music to her elder sister Dina Laila and Runa used to loiter around during the practice session. She could easily capture any song’s tune and instantly began to sing the song she had just listened to. Seeing this talent of Runa, her parents were overwhelmed and as a result sent her to learn music with her sister.

Her early music training was done in 1960 when her family was living in Karachi’s Federal B area due to her father’s job posting.

She was not pampered as a small child while training for music. Manzur Hussain, one of the music teachers of Runa, used to show her the flaws where she needed to work on to do better instead of just praising her good voice.

Runa had started learning classical music from a very early age and received vigorous music training from Ustad Habibiddin Khan.

The famous Pakistani playback singer Ahmed Rushdi was her great means of inspiration as she used to follow his way of expressing emotions or singing style during singing as well as the way he used to perform on the stage. She calls him her “Guru”.

Not much information was found about her academic education besides her musical education.  Only it is known that she was a student of Saint Lawrence Convent, a school in Karachi, Pakistan. At that time, she had won an inter-school singing competition in Karachi in the then-West Pakistan. Also, it is said that she completed her graduation from the University of Dhaka.

Career

Interestingly, Runa’s career as a singer started off by an accident or coincidence. In a singing show, Runa’s elder sister Dina was supposed to sing a song. But, on the day of the event, she had a sore throat and so could not perform. That time, Runa was asked to perform. Being a courageous girl, she sang a ‘Khyal’, a form of Indian Classical music. She was so little at that time that she could barely even hold a ‘Tanpura’, a musical instrument. She held it horizontally, which is the wrong way.

Later in her entire life, she sang numerous songs in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (after the independence). That is why, she is equally in all these 3 countries, beyond the borders.  She is equally famous for singing various kinds of music like: Ghazal, Pop, Filmi, Fusion, and Sufi.

When Runa was 12 years old, she received her first singing offer from the silver screen industry. It was a playback offer for the movie Jugnu, where she had to sing the song Gudia Si Munni Meri. During that time, the film industry was not an ideal place for building a career. So, there was some rejection from her family. Nonetheless, seeing Runa’s deep passion for music, her family finally permitted her to work in that industry. Then, after a month’s preparation, in June 1965, Runa recorded her very first playback and thus created a history, and there was no stepping back from there.

Then, in 1966, she made a breakthrough in the Pakistani film industry by singing a song named Unki Nazron Sey Mohabbat Ka Jo Paigham Mila for an Urdu film Hum Dono. In the 1970s, she sang for various Pakistani films. In 1972, in a superhit Pakistani film named “Umrao Jan Ada”, she sang all the playback songs. From 1972 to 1974, she was seen in a Karachi (Pakistan) TV stage show named ‘Zia Mohiuddin Show’. She also performed on PTV in a show called Bazm E Laila.

In 1974, in Mumbai, India, she held her first ever concert. Also, in the same year, she recorded the song Shaadher Lau in Kolkata, India. She gained all the fame in India mainly for the songs O Mera Babu Chail Chabila and Dama Dam Mast Qalandar. In 1976, she sang in the title song of a Hindi movie called Ek Se Badhkar Ek. The song was composed by renowned Indian music composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji. At the inauguration of Doordarshan, an Indian public service broadcaster, she got the opportunity to perform there. In October 2009, in India, she released an album named Kala Sha Kala, which was a collection of Punjabi wedding songs.

After Runa returned to Bangladesh in 1974, she started to sing Bangladeshi songs. Her first Bangla song was O Amar Jibon Shathi for the movie Jibon Sathi in 1976.  In 2014, she collaborated with Sabina Yasmin, another famous Bangladeshi singer, on a song for a television play named”Dolchut Projapoti”. It was the first time that they worked on a song together. In Bangladesh, Runa is popular for the songs like “Shilpi ami, tomaderi gaan shonabo”, “Bondhu Tin Din Tor Barite Gelam”, “Ganga Amar Ma, Padma Amar Ma”, “Ei Brishti Bheja Raate”  etc.

Contributions

When Runa had moved back to independent Bangladesh (from Karachi, Pakistan) along with her family in 1974, she was given many lucrative offers of returning to Pakistan or singing for the Urdu music industry. However, Runa had rejected all those offers. She then dedicated herself for  the betterment of Bangla songs and the Bangladeshi music industry. This shows her love and loyalty for the nation.

After Runa’s elder sister died in 1976 from cancer, Runa held six charity concerts in Dhaka in memory of her. The money that was raised from the concerts was donated entirely to build a cancer hospital in Dhaka. It is said the money was sent to a children’s hospital in Dhaka to build a cancer ward which has been named after her sister, Dina.

From Madison Square Garden (in NYC, the USA) to Sydney Opera House (Australia), and from Europe to Africa – the veteran singer has stepped on proudly carrying the legacy of Bangladesh and mesmerized her audience in India and Pakistan. That is how she has represented our country in front of the whole world.

Awards and Achievements

In her entire life and career, Runa has achieved many awards, and recognitions, not only from Bangladesh but also globally.

When Runa was only 9 years old and a student of  Saint Lawrence Convent, Radio Pakistan organized an inter-school music competition. She sang a Gazle and picked up the first prize.

Every day Runa used to record ten songs from a composer, and thus in three days, she had recorded a total of 30 songs. This is indeed a really hard task to do. Because of this accomplishment, her name has been placed at the Guinness World Records Book.

Runa was titled as the SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors for HIV/AIDS. She is the first Bangladeshi to achieve this post. In 2013, she visited New Delhi on her first trip as the SAARC Ambassador. That time, she met with India’s External and Health Ministers.

In 1982, her album “Superuna”, which was composed by the famous Indian music composer and singer Bappi Lahiri, sold more than 1 lakh copies on its first day of release. This earned her with the Golden Disk Award.

Runa won seven Bangladesh National Film Awards for Best Female Playback Singer for her playbacks in the movies named: The Rain in 1976, Jadur Banshi in 1977, Accident in 1989, Ontore Ontore in 1994, Devdas in 2013, and Priya Tumi Shukhi Hou in 2014.

She received the Best Music Composer Award in 2018 for the movie Ekti Cinemar Golpo.

Also, she has received few other awards from Bangladesh like Sheltech Award, Lux Channel I Performance Award (Lifetime achievement), Independence Day Award,  Firoza Begum Memorial Gold Medal, Bangladesh Music Journalists Association (BMJA) lifetime achievement award in 2020.

She was given the honor to be a judge in Channel I’s Shera Kontho and Channel 9’s Power Voice talent hunt programs.

From India, she received the Radio Mirchi Music Award presented by Radio Mirchi at Nazrul Mancha in Kolkata in 2015, and the Saigal Award. She was selected as one of the judges in an Indian show for amateur singers, Sur Kshetra in 2012. She served as one of the main judges in another Indian reality show for singers, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.

In 2022, Runa attended an award ceremony as the Chief Guest which was organized by Starplus Communication, India.

From Pakistan, she was awarded several times like: Nigar Award (twice, in 1968 and 1970),  Critics Award, Graduate Award (twice), National Council of Music gold medal.

Personal Life

Besides her mother, her maternal uncle named Subir Sen, was also a notable Indian playback singer. That is how her family was a music-oriented family.

Runa has been married four times and has a daughter named Tani Laila. She first married Khawaza Javed Kaiser, then secondly Maidul Islam, thirdly a Swiss citizen named Ron Danieland and lastly one of the famous Bangladeshi actor Alamgir.

She has a step-daughter, Akhi Alamgir, another famous Bangladeshi singer, whose father is Alamgir from his previous wife.

Among all the songs sung by Runa, she said that her favorite still remains her very first ghazal song. Its name was Unki Nazron Se Mohabbat Ka. This was sung for the Pakistani film Hum Dono in 1966, when she was just 14 years old.

Because of her outstanding performance in the song “Damadam Mast Kalandar,” she has been crowned as the “Damadam Girl.”

Runa has always been a bold diva in the case of fashion or style. When she was in her twenties, she did not hesitate to show up on her own show titled Bazm E Laila wearing shirt-pants or maxis. This was such a bold move for the conservative mindsets of the TV show organizers at that time. Nonetheless, her confidence had won over all the criticism and thus broke the walls of cultural conservatism. Till this date, Runa often designs her own clothes as fashion designing has become a hobby for her.

With a combination of hard work and natural talent, Runa has managed to sing over 10,000 songs, in 17 different languages like Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Pashto, Baluchi, Arabic, Persian, Malay, Nepalese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, and English. She has relentlessly sung songs for about five decades.

Even though Runa had received numerous offers for acting from several Indian and Pakistani film directors and producers, including the renowned Indian actor, film director and producer Mr Raj Kapoor, she had always refused them. Just one time, in 1995, she was seen in a movie named “Shilpi” directed by a Bangladeshi film director Chashi Nazrul Islam because it had connections and resemblances to her real life. She acted there with Alamgir, her present husband. She has said in an interview that “To be honest, acting is hard. I won’t dare to act. I’m a singer and this is my identity. I truly love that”.

She had developed a beautiful relationship with many famous Indian playback singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Bappi Laheri etc. After Lata’s demise, Runa recalled the good memories and laughter that the duo had shared together. Runa claimed that Lata had thought of her as a younger sister and that she loved and respected Runa immensely. In Runa’s FaceBook post, she wrote about Lata that “We exchanged messages on a daily basis. Had long telephone conversations, talking about music in general. With her permission I even dared to send her jokes, which she enjoyed immensely. Didi had a great sense of humor and would tell me some of her experiences and we would have a good laugh. Every year on my birthday she would send me a sari.”

Runa also had a good relationship with Lata’s younger sister Asha Bhosle. Runa called Asha as her sister. The duo formed a good bond while serving as judges in an Indian singing show.

She continues to sing until she realizes that her keys are not hitting straight and bold, and that time she will consider resting her voice that is retired from singing. The height of popularity never got Runa over the clouds, that is, she has not become arrogant. Rather, her love for music has increased over time.

Conclusion

Bangladesh is really lucky to have such a talented singer like Runa Laila, who is representing our country positively in front of the world. According to Runa, if the future singers can be consistent and have vocal techniques, ready to accept their faults and rectify those, then they can also flourish in their lives. That is how Bangladesh might get another Runa some day.

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