The enigma that is Begum Akhtar

Vocalist Vidya Shah and actor-writer Danish Husain attempt to reveal less-known facets of the queen of ghazals with their tribute, Akhtari

While her famous ghazal, Aye Mohabbat Tere Anjaam Pe Rona Aaya that depicts the ache in love, remains one of Begum Akhtar's most iconic works, few are aware that she also sang the unreleased naughty, fun song, Patli Kamar, Lambe Baal.

Storyteller Danish Husain with singer Vidya Shah
Storyteller Danish Husain with singer Vidya Shah 

This and many other unknown facts will form part of Akhtari, vocalist Vidya Shah and actor-writer Danish Husain's tribute. As part of Stage42 Festival, this show, combining music with storytelling, will be staged for the first time in Mumbai this evening.

Shah, who was trained for a few years under vocalist Shanti Hiranand, one of Begum Akhtar's senior disciples, says, "Through her, I could understand Begum Akhtar because they spent a lot of time together.

Besides being the most amazing musician, she was also a charismatic personality, full of life and joy. I was curious about how she translated that into her music. So, in her centenary year, I wanted to pay her a tribute, to celebrate her persona and her music. I got Danish Husain on board to weave a narrative."

Besides reading up on the published and archival material, the duo met those associated with the singer in order to reveal those aspects of Akhtar that are not part of the public domain. "We met historian Saleem Kidwai in Lucknow, who was her groupie in his younger days.

He and poet Agha Shahid Ali would hang out with her when she would visit Delhi for performances; they were privy to inside jokes and conversations. We also got access to her radio interviews and unreleased recordings," informs Husain.

Shah adds, "For someone perceived as a diva, she was so overwhelmingly modest; it was inspiring." Shah will represent Akhtar's repertoire including lighter Classical genres of thumri and dadra, her film songs, and her iconic ghazals. "We hope people will rediscover her music," signs off Husain.

On Today, 8.30 pm
At Experimental Theatre, NCPA.
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