Suraiya's 'heir' stakes claim to slice of history

Read more below

  • Published 10.02.04

Feb. 9: The search for the rightful heir to Suraiya, who ruled the silver screen in the 1940s and 50s, has crossed the borders with a Pakistani citizen preparing to submit evidence that he is her cousin.

Mehfooz Ahmed told The Telegraph over phone from Saudi Arabia that his father M. Zahur and Suraiya’s mother were siblings.

They lived together in Suraiya’s flat in Mumbai’s Marine Drive for 17 years, Mehfooz said, adding that he and his father migrated to Pakistan in 1963. Mehfooz, 60, later went to Saudi Arabia, where he is now working with an American company.

Dismissing reports that he wants to inherit Suraiya’s property – some put the value at Rs 50 crore — Mehfooz said: “All I am interested is in her personal effects. There is so much history, so many memories attached to the flat. I know what is there in each and every cupboard.”

Mehfooz, who met his cousin last in 1976, said he wanted to visit her more often but visa restrictions prevented him from doing so. However, he said he kept in touch and spoke to her last on her birthday in 2002. Suraiya died on January 31, this year.

Mehfooz said his friends in India would soon arrange legal representation for him. “I have documents to prove my relationship with Suraiya. Besides, several renowned music directors of the time should remember me as a boy,” he added.

Maharashtra administrator-general M.K. Patil, however, is unaware of Mehfooz’s claim. “So far, nobody has approached us and we have received no application,” he said. “Ahmed can either forward his claim to the court or me. The court will take the final decision on the matter.”

Patil has obtained orders to seal some of Suraiya’s properties after he petitioned Bombay High Court, saying he was empowered to take up Suraiya’s real estate as she died without making any nomination or appointing legal heirs.

The tussle over Suraiya’s property broke out soon after her death, prompting the government to step in. Her flat in Krishna Mahal was sealed on Saturday and three other flats — at Suraiya Manor in Worli went under lock and key on Sunday. Patil said the government is also planning to lock her sprawling bungalow in Lonavla.

Ashwin Shah, the landlord of the flat near Marine Drive that the actress was living in, and Dhimant Thakar, her attorney of 30 years, had laid claim to her property. “The flat should go back to the landlord as she died intestate (without leaving a will),’’ Shah said.

Thakar, on the other hand, said he has known Suraiya for the last 30 years and looked after her during the last six months of her life. “We were like family,” Thakar said.