She arrived in Bombay (Mumbai) at the age of 23(Born on 11th July 1923), having run away from home, and knocked on composer Naushad Ali's door. She told him that she could sing and that she would throw herself in the ocean if he didn't give her a chance. He auditioned her, and hired her on the spot. She made her debut as a solo playback singer in Nazir's Wamiq Azra (1946).
With the song "Afsana Likh Rahi Hoon Dil-e-Beqarar Ka" she became popular and became household name.In fact, a gentleman from Delhi was so mesmerized by her song "Afsana Likh Rahi Hoon", that he stayed with her in Bombay. They got married, and the couple had two daughters and two sons; her husband, whom she called Mohan, died in 1992.
The success of Dard meant that she next received Mehboob Khan's Anokhi Ada (1948), which again had two hit numbers, "Kahe Jiya Dole" and "Dil Ko Lagake Humne Kuch Bhi Na Paya". This brought her into the league of highly rated playback singers.She reached her peak as a vocalist in director S.S. Vasan's Chandralekha (1948) made by Gemini Studios, Chennai. Her seven songs, which include hits such as "Saanjh Ki Bela" remain her most accomplished work in her singing career, though signing for the film also meant a breach of contract with producer-director Kardar, which led to her dwindling fortunes in the industry
.Uma's career as a singer was short-lived. New singers entered the industry. It was impossible to keep pace with Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. "Rakhi"-brother Naushad used to compose songs to suit her range. But that could not have continued for long.
It was Naushad who encouraged her to start acting because he felt that she had a very bubbly personality and wonderful comic timing.He also knew that she was a great fan of Dilip Kumar he in fact asked Dilip Kumar to cast her in one of his films, and she appeared in Babul (1950) with him, which had Nargis as the lead actress; it is he who renamed her "Tun Tun" to suit her comic persona,the name stayed with her, and a comedic legend was born.
She had a fan in Guru Dutt and acted in almost all his films. Her favourite role too was from Guru Dutt's Mr and Mrs 55 in which she played a Christian lady.She acted in nearly 200 films.She died on 23 November 2003 in Andheri, Mumbai, after a prolonged illness at the age of 80 and is survived by her four children and four grandchildren.
In her career spanning five decades, she acted in Hindi/Urdu and other languages like Punjabi etc., pairing with top comedy actors of her times such as Bhagwan Dada, Agha, Sunder, Mukri, Dhumal, Johnny Walker and Keshto Mukherjee. She was last seen in Hindi films in Kasam Dhande Ki (1990).
Owing to her popularity, the name Tun Tun has become synonymous with fat women in India.