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Runa Laila is Still The Super Star
Ras H. Siddiqui San Francisco

27th July 2003 - The premier Bengali or “Bangla” monthly magazine on the West Coast of the United States celebrated the second anniversary of its publication by holding a formidable night of entertainment which included the now legendary Runa Laila. Uniquely named “Porshi” (www.porshi.com ) the magazine organized this event for its growing nationwide Bangladeshi or Bangla speaking readership, but the rest of the South Asian community was also heartily welcomed by it on Friday, July 18 2003 at the Spangenberg Theatre of Gunn High School in the San Francisco Bay Area City of Palo Alto (known the world over for its elite Stanford University).
Walking into the theatre at this show was like visiting the past for this writer whose affection and appreciation of the Bengali language is the same as it was before 1971 but whose abilities of understanding it have diminished considerably over the years. But none the less it felt like visiting amongst old friends, as the program got off to a start with a short speech by Mr. Sabri Majumder Porshi’s Managing Editor who elaborated on how the magazine was trying to create a bonding amongst the speakers of Bangla and the representatives of the Bengali culture in this country by opening many avenues of communication amongst them
Next the competent emcees who alternated between Bengali and English and started things off the music segment by introducing the opening act Jo Jo. This young talent from Calcutta moved the audience in Bengali and Urdu plus Hindi songs. Her routine songs and dazzling “Sharara” finale were quite good and well received by over audience. Jolly Mukerjee a show biz veteran of sorts from Mumbai was also applauded but performing after Jo Jo was indeed a tough act to follow in the energy department. Jolly appeared to be a bit serious in comparison. But now let us move on to the reason why most of the audience came from miles to attend this show.
Whether you are from Bangladesh or Pakistan (or even India), which one of us is not familiar with Runa Laila? Who does not remember that cherubic young girl in bell bottoms and the jacket with “Oh No” printed on the back lighting up the Zia Mohyeddin Show in the 1970’s? Runa with that melodious voice who brought female Bengali and Urdu Pop to Pakistan and could sing a difficult Ghazal in almost the same breath to the delight of the classical oriented. And now the Runa that has recorded well over 5000 songs in three South Asian countries and far beyond and in more languages (17 Plus at last count?) then one can remember. One never knows what Runa Laila will perform next because it somehow appears that she has done it all. But now back to the show.
In a dark grey/black sari walking through the hall and audience appeared this graceful middle aged lady to whom the years have been very kind (no offense, but we are at that stage in life too). And once on the stage she greeted everyone with the same radiant smile that has been her signature on stage and the TV screen for years. She started off with a Bengali number and next with “Kab Ayain Ge Sanwaria” in Urdu. But it was with “Dayyara Dayyara Kaanta Chubha” the memories of an era gone bye were revised for many a Pakistani fan.
Throughout the first half of the show the Runa’s stage finesse coupled with some rare showing of that old naughtiness appeared, talents that once enabled her to compete and hold her own in an era when Noor Jehan reigned as queen of Pakistani female vocalists. Young Runa once gave every female singer in Pakistan some serious competition. Today she is a veteran of South Asian show business and as entertaining as ever. Bengali songs dominated the evening but her Urdu-Hindi-Punjabi numbers were much appreciated too. Her songs from her “Super Runa” Album are always extremely well received as was the one just at intermission but just a few parts sung of “Allah Meg Day Pani Day” broke many memory barriers for me.
Thanks to Porshi Magazine for their hospitality and to Runa Laila for still being “Super”. My regrets for having to leave at intermission (the three hour drive back to Sacramento always cuts into this reporter’s entertainment). But that drive back is also a time to reflect and think on ones life. Runa spoke briefly about the need for international harmony on stage. We all wish that sometimes that the world could somehow oblige us better in that department. I removed some of my old cobwebs from those little used memory cells relating to 1971 Pakistan that night. That crimson time may be over for most, but artistes like Runa continue to remind some of us of who we once were and of the treasures of old friendships, culture and the arts that we once lost in Bangladesh. 

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