Begum Ahktar has sung a great many ghazals, but could she act? Before she became a singing legend, she acted in films in the 1930s, though without much luck. She is billed as Akhtaribai Fayzabadi in the credits.

She appeared in over half a dozen films when Mehboob Khan cast her as Darling in Roti (1942). With her character simply referred to as Darling, and with no songs to sing, she looks rather displeased throughout the film, holding a one-note expression.

This could also be because she sang six songs for the film but none of them could be used owing to a contractual issue with the record company. You can listen to the rare songs here.

Despite the film’s success, her interest in films waned and she continued to focus on her career as a singer. On Satyajit Ray’s insistence, she appeared in his film Jalsaghar (1958) in a mehfil sequence, singing a thumri. Perhaps this was the space that she wanted to explore on film. Unfortunately, this is the last time she graced a film.


Here's a short documentary on her. Ignore the jarring English narration dubbed over Hindi. Note how her famous nosepin sparkles throughout, with a befitting end shot for one as radiant as Begum Akhtar.