11 comments on “Glimpses of Begum Akhtar

  1. Begum Akhtar came from the tawaif community–I have this thesis and I mentioned this on Memsaab’s blog once, that many of the early Indian Bollywood actresses were from such backgrounds because as professional entertainers they just swithched mediums. Actiing was probably seen as disreputable by many Indians. and they wouldn’t have let their daughters do it. In the silent cinema days, they had western gials but with the coming of sound, they needed Indians.
    Kudos then to Begum Akhtar. Most people I know are very reverential when they speak of her.

  2. Begam Akhtar, I feel, was the best ghazal singer ever, followed by Mehdi Hasan. Her rich voice and clear diction are such a delight.

  3. That is one fantastic clip! Like all deluded people I was convinced that Begum Akhtar was born old (and musical, of course)!!! ;-) Also, this looks like one 40s Hindi film that I wouldnt mind seeing. In the few 40s films that I have seen before, the heroines drove me nuts with their womanly sacrifice and “nobility”. Begum Akhtar looks like she could restore my faith in 40s womanhood – “Darling” notwithstanding!

  4. Sophy, I’ve seen Begum Akhtar mentioned as the “last of the tawaifs.” That’s how she is referred to here:


    Ava, I know Begam Akhtar is referred to as Mallika e Ghazal. I don’t feel advanced enough in knowledge of ghazal singers or the ghazal itself to say who is the best, and I guess “clear diction” would be lost on me. I have found her song clips to be enjoyable, and I have also enjoyed clips of Mehdi Hasan. But for the voice alone and my associations with it, I guess I still don’t enjoy hearing Mallika e Ghazal quite as much as Mallika e Tarannum :) …

    Bollyviewer, I’m glad you enjoyed the clip. Some of it is lost on me since I can’t understand Hindi (outside of a couple of handfuls of words at this point, learned mostly from Bollywood movies :) … It would seem that Begum Akhtar’s character is somewhat unconventional for an Indian woman as compared to many ’40s films. But maybe Sitara Devi’s character is even more unconventional, since she comes from a tribe that, according to one plot summary that I have seen, “believes in free love and no private property.”

  5. Sita-ji, thanks for the link for old time’s sake. :) I admit, though, that I haven’t been much in the mood to listen to Maya lately. In my listening tendencies outside of Indian film music (which means a rather small portion, of course), I have actually returned to a woman who far preceded M.I.A. for me. Her name is Lisa Gerrard, from the group Dead Can Dance…

    Closer to the subject matter of this blog, I also sometimes return to another fusion artist who far preceded M.I.A. for me (by about ten years or so). She’s often sung ghazals and her name is Najma Akhtar (hmm, it would be interesting if there were some relation here)…

  6. Thanks for the acting clip. The scene is very intriguiging and I immediately wonder about Begum Akhtar’s role in the film.
    The tawaif background and all that is commented on by Sitaji.
    One of the rumours about a “jealous rival” being mentioned in Master Madan’s poisoning implied her (rumour only!). Now that was one fantastic ghazal singer, and his hit ghazals were recorded when he was 9-10 years old.

    She is a very fine ghazal singer, but I also like Mallika Pukhraj and many others. According to my Dad, the first hit ghazal singer of Hindi cinema was Kamla Jharia, with this ghazal (which I also have come to love, when I finally heard it)

    which, according to him, was played everywhere. She sang quite a few songs in the 30s and 40s.

    I will have to watch ROTI, Sitara Devi & Begum Akhtar in one movie- that I have got to see.

    Re: tribes: My sister did her degree in Sociology in India, and she sometimes would read out tribal and regional customs across India – real stuff, not Hindi film imagination- and I guess no director would ever dare potray most of them on screen.

  7. P.S. to Sita-ji: I couldn’t listen to that M.I.A. song before because my paranoid computer anti-virus mechanisms were blocking use of the Windows Media add-on thing and I had to get around it (hope the site is “safe”!)… Well, anyway, the most interesting thing about that song is that M.I.A. is sampling a 1977 song by the pioneering NYC synth-punk duo Suicide called “Ghost Rider.” And here’s a blog post that I found about that song:


    (Everybody else, sorry for going so far afield… :)

  8. Bawa, thanks for the mention of all these ghazal singers and that one clip. I am going to put all of these singers that you mentioned on my listening list.

    By the way, I guess you mean that Sophy commented on Begum Akhtar? (Sitaji started me into a somewhat different direction by linking to an M.I.A. clip that sampled Suicide.)

    That is interesting re. your sister… I should have done a degree in sociology. I did my BA in English many years ago because I was writing a lot of fiction at the time, and that route just made it easier for me to spend a lot of time doing something that I liked to do. Outside of that, I took an odd assortment of courses in both sociology and communications (the communications courses were at a mostly-graduate sub-school of communications), and I almost worked that out into an odd double major in the sociology of communications. But I had thoughtlessly taken a few advanced courses without taking the school’s required basic courses, and I would have had to stick around at college several more months to make up for that, which I didn’t want to do. Anyway, so much for my ancient history…

    Regardingthe tribe in Roti… This apparently was one of Mehboob Khan’s anti-capitalist movies, and from plot summaries that I’ve seen, the point wasn’t to depict real tribes as they might have existed in India but to show a fictional tribe that practiced ideal primitive communism, to be contrasted with the nasty capitalism of present modern society…

    Just another reason that I have to see this film. :)

  9. exactly! Begum Alhtar first seems to be fighting for the rights of that assortment of characters at her back opposing her husband?, and then seems to be cheating the pair at the end and turning them into workers for her.
    have to see this!

    p.s. looking forward to what you think of the ghazals. Do try and listen to the older versions: sometimes they are available only on audio.

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