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Suraiya was independent India's first big movie star.

Someone who moved Indians to frenzy, like no other star had done in her time. By her ethereal beauty and her stunning voice. 'You have brought Mirza Ghalib alive,' Nehru told her, after watching Mirza Ghalib.

Then, abruptly, Suraiya said sayonara to the limelight.

For more than 40 years after her retirement from show business, she lived the life of a recluse, only occasionally venturing into the public gaze, to accept an honour from her countless admirers.

And through all those years, Suraiya remained the movie star she was.

She lived in a house full of stuffed dolls, dressed up like a queen even when she visited a neighbour next door and was graceful in real life as she was on celluloid.

For most of her life she lived a few metres from the Arabian Sea, on Mumbai's famed Marine Drive. Few Indians knew that, and many came to know what a huge star she was only after she died quietly, almost unnoticed in a Mumbai hospital, last week.

Dhimant Thakkar knew Suraiya for over 30 years. He, his wife and daughters Amee and Camy saw her almost every day. For Suraiya, they were family.

One of Indian cinema's greatest legends, as seen through the eyes of three people who knew her best.

Words: A Ganesh Nadar
Photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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