I’m still learning: Runa Laila

Ershad Kamol | Updated at 10:21pm on August 17, 2018


A file photo shows Runa Laila renders a song. Courtesy: Mohsin Ahmed Kawsser

After her professional music career spanning over 54 years since the recording of a playback for the film ‘Jugnu’ in 1964, Independence Award winning singer Runa Laila says she is still learning.
Since the beginning of her music training at the age of six, the 65-year-old singer, who has vast experiences of performing in different languages across the globe, said that her learning process would continue till the end of her career as a singer.
‘It will be the end of my career as an artiste on the very day when I will think I’ve learned everything,’ said the celebrated singer Runa Laila in an interview with New Age.
‘I’m satisfied with my achievements as a musician and thankful to Allah for blessing me with such honour in life. Still I believe my learning process that began at the age six has not yet come to an end,’ says Runa, who performed in major venues across the globe and got around 300 awards in different countries including Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
‘Though my career as a singer began by chance when I had to perform as the replacement for my elder sister Dina, I took music very seriously from the day. Gradually, I tried to develop my skill and have been practising music, especially classical, since then, says Runa, adding that there is no option but to practise regularly.
She received rigorous training from Ustad Habibuddin Khan and Abdul Quader Piarang. She also trained in Ghazal under Ustad Ghulam Qadir, the elder brother of legendary singer Mehdi Hassan.
The absence of such determination and integrity among singers these days is what pains her most.
‘Though there are many talented singers in the country, most of them do not give much time and attention to developing their skills. Many of these artistes are just after fame and money and do not realise that nothing happens overnight and their stardom will not even sustain for long if they do not take care,’ Runa says.
Actually the singer finds a huge difference between the music industry in her time and the present time.
Hundreds of songs are still being produced every year but very few of them touch emotion, she observes.
Sharing her experiences of recording a song two decades back and now, the singer said, ‘A few decades ago, a singer would require rehearsing a song alone for some days and then at least for two days with the musicians. The musicians and singers would then record the song live in the studio. As a result, songs used to be produced in those days had strong touch of passions and emotions. That’s why many songs of yesteryears are still very popular. But, these days, everything is done hurriedly, in a mechanical way. So they lack emotion and devotion.’
Runa Laila says she does not find the present situation comfortable for rendering songs. ‘As a result, I occasionally record songs or playbacks only when I’m satisfied with the quality. But that does not mean that I do not practise music regularly,’ she said.
Runa Laila also informed that she was also busy with composing songs and had a plan to get them recorded by some talented young singers.
‘After getting appreciations for composing a song Golpo kothar o kolpolokey jani [a playback of Alamgir’s latest film ‘Ekti Cinemar Golpo’ (2018) rendered by Ankhi Alamgir], I worked on composing a few more songs. And so far, I have almost finished composing four songs. I want to get them recorded by some talented young singers. But, I will not disclose their names until everything is finalised,’ Runa Laila said.
If the project becomes successful, Runa wants to compose more songs and promote talented young singers.
The singer believes that the talented young artistes need to be nurtured, guided and promoted in the interest of continuing the rich music tradition of the country.
‘The TV channels should promote more young singers. But, the way the channels organise the reality shows is not ideal,’ said the singer urging for initiating a holistic measures from all concerned to revive the lost glory of the music arena of the country.
She believes that more good films need to be produced for producing quality playbacks. ‘The government also needs to be more supportive to boost the music and film industry,’ Runa Laila suggested, adding that the situation would improve only through effective collaborative measures.
Explaining the reason behind recording songs in different languages in her music career spanning over five decades, Runa Laila said that since her early age she had a dream of rendering songs in different languages.
‘Whenever I found any interesting song in any language, I tried to render it. Thereby, I learned and rendered songs in 18 languages including Bangla, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujrati, Pashto, Baluchi, Arabic, Persian, Malay, Nepalese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French and of course, the English language,’ she said.
The singer said she would continue her music career till the last day of her life and present more songs for her fans. ‘Pray for me so that I can present more songs in my life for my fans,’ the singer urges.
Born on November 17, 1952 to parents Emdad Ali and Amina Laila in Sylhet, Runa Laila started learning music at the age of six in Karachi in the then West Pakistan.
At the age of nine, she won the interschool music competition. At 19, Runa hosted her own television series fortnightly in Pakistan called ‘Bazme-Laila’ which was widely acclaimed by critics and audience.
This was the moment where the concept of performing alongside singing was introduced and Runa made it her unique style. She could do it as she had a brief training in dance at a tender age.
A household name in Bangladeshi music arena, Runa Laila earned equal popularity by rendering patriotic, playbacks and contemporary songs like Pratidin tomay dekhi surja ragey, Swadhinata ek golap photano din, Bhashar janya jara diye gechhey pran, Shilpi ami, Station-er rail garita, Paan khaiya thot lal korilam, Bondhu tin din, Ei bristi bheja ratey and many others.
Her first ghazal Unki nazron se mohabbat ka', sung for the Pakistani film ‘Hum Dono’ (1966) is still very popular. ‘Jaan-e-mann itna bata do’, ‘Hoey hoey dil dharkay mein’, ‘Kaatey na katay rattia’, ‘Dinwa dinwa mein ginuun’ and ‘Hamein kho kar bahut’ are titles of some very popular playbacks that Runa rendered for Pakistani films.
She was an overnight hit when she made a sensational entry into the Hindi film world through ‘Ek se badkar ek’, a playback of Helen (1974). And she got enormous popularity for rendering Dama dam mast qalander, which gave her the fame as ‘Mast qalander girl’ in India. She also rendered playbacks for Hindi films like Jaan-e-Bahaar (1979), Yaadgaar (1984), Ghar Dwaar (1985) and Agneepath (1990).
Till the date, Runa Laila has sung and recorded over 10,000 songs in 18 different languages and had held concerts at the prestigious venues like Kennedy Centre and Madison Square Gardens in USA, The Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Conference Centre in UK, historic Bandra Fort and Netaji Stadium in India, Karachi Stadium in Pakistan, Sydney Opera House in Australia and in different venues in Bangladesh, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Nepal, Malaysia, Netherlands, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Sweden, Oman and Qatar.
She has received around 300 awards in various countries including Saigal Award in India, Nigar Award (twice) and Kalakaar Award in Pakistan, and Independence Day Award and National Film Award in Bangladesh, which she won a record six times in 1976, 1977, 1989, 1992, 2012 and 2014.
Runa Laila found her place in the Guinness Book of Records for recording the largest number of songs in a single day.
‘This happened in Mumbai, when I recorded 30 songs in three days as part of releasing my four albums featuring 40 songs. I consider it a milestone in my career as a singer,’ Runa recalled.
But, among her awards and recognitions, she considers Independence Day Award as the highest honour she ever received.
‘It is the highest civilian award given by the Bangladesh government and I felt really proud to receive it in 1977,’ the singer said.
Runa Laila is also involved with charity activities. She was a SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis alongside Bollywood superstar Ajay Devgan.
Her two albums, ‘Super Runa’ won gold and platinum discs while ‘Loves of Runa Laila’ got double platinum.