Who is Begum Akhtar| Life and Career
Begum Akhtar was a well-known Ghazal singer. She was also well trained in Dadra and Thumri. She was honored with the title of Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals). She was an awardee of Padma Shri and later, Padma Bhushan, posthumously by the Government of India.
She was born on 7th October 1914 as Akhtaribai Faizabadi in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, to Asghar Hussain and his second wife Mushtari. She was one of a set of fraternal twins named Akhtari and Anwari. However, Anwari lost her life very early just when three years old. Her father Asghar was a lawyer who disowned the family. Thus, Akhtari had little or no contact with him and was raised entirely by her mother. Mushtari Begum was a well known courtesan in Lucknow who left for Faizabad shortly before the birth of her daughters. Akhtari grew up in Gulabbari, Faizabad and was fondly called Bibbi at home. She was mischievous as a child and was never interested in formal schooling.
At the age of about seven or eight years, Akhtari started receiving her initial training by the Sarangi maestro Ustad Imdad Khan. Mushtari Begum then moved to Gaya along with Akhtari, but they continued to visit Faizabad often. Durging such visit, Ustad Sakhawat Hussain Khan, who was himself a well know Sarod player, suggested that Akhtari train under Ustad Ata Mohammed Khan of the Patiala gharana.
Once Khan sahib heard Akhtari sing, he willingly agreed to teach her and even took the decision to move to Mushtari and Akhtari’s home. Around the late 1920s or early 30s, Mushtari Begum along with Khan sahib and Akhtari moved to Calcutta. She performed in public for the first time in Calcutta at the mere age of 15. She sang at the Alfred Theatre in Calcutta in 1934 in a music festival organised to raise funds for the victims of the Bihar earthquake. This performance of her was acclaimed by Sarojini Naidu. Akhtari proceeded to sing and act on stage at the Corinthian theatre in Calcutta as a part of a theatre company.
She featured in the capacity of a singing actor in films like Ek Din Ka Badshah (1933), Nal Damayanti (1933), Mumtaz Begum (1934), Ameena (1935), Naseeb Ka Chakkar (1935) and Jawani Ka Nasha (1935). She played lead in Mehboob Khan’s Roti (1942). She also contributed in films such as Dana Pani (1953) & Ehsaan (1954) as a playback singer. She played a cameo in Jalsaghar (1958) directed by legendary Satyajit Ray.
In 1945, Akhtari Bai married a Lucknow-based barrister, Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi, and became known as Begum Akhtar. But after her marriage, she could not sing for almost five years due to her husband’s restrictions. Subsequently, she fell ill. To remedy this, in 1949 she returned to the recording studios. She sang three ghazals and a dadra at Lucknow All India Radio station. She sang publicly in Lucknow, in a women’s only concert in aid of the war, which was held in 1962. From the early 1960s until her death in 1974, Akhtar sang in newly-established concert halls in major centres throughout the country. She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. She was a regular performer on All India Radio.
During her last concert which was held in Ahmedabad, she had raised the pitch of her voice as she felt that her singing that day had not been as good as she had wanted it to be. The additional demand and stress she put herself under resulted in her falling ill and being rushed to the hospital. She passed away on 30th of October, 1974.