Shunned as a baby by her own father, poisoned by her scheming relatives when she was four, the enigma that was Begum Akhtar continued to defy the odds and go on to become India's Ghazal legend.
Paying tribute in her birth centenary year, the Dubai-based Malhaar is staging a musical odyssey, as it unravels the mystery behind the woman who grew up to earn the tag of 'Queen of Ghazals' in India.
Creative directors of 'Haaye Akhtari' (from left to right) Jogiraj Sikidar (Founder and Director, Malhaar), Sanjeev Dixit (Theatre Director, Haaye Akhtari), Vaishali Mhaisalkar (Choreographer, Haaye Akhtari) and Somdatta Basu (Music Director, Haaye Akhtari) sharing a light moment. (Supplied)
'Haaye Akhtari' will be staged on Friday and Saturday (September 18 and 19, 2015) at Madinat Jumeirah Theatre, taking viewers on the lonely and poignant journey of Begum Akhtar with the Ghazals, Thumris and Dadras that she left behind as her legacy.
Jogiraj Sikidar, the person behind the show concept as well as the Founder and Director of Malhaar, told Emirates 24|7: "After our show 'Draupadi' last year, we are recreating the Nawabi era of Lucknow to narrate the story of a woman whose tale was lost in the sands of time.
"Begum Akhtar earned the tag of 'Malika-e-Ghazal' in India, but behind her public persona lay the story of a lonely and emotionally insecure woman.
"Malhaar is telling her story to audiences of a new era with the aid of theatre, music and dance as we pay tribute to the legend in her birth centenary."
'Haaye Akhtari's' technical team taking stock of the facilities at Madinat Jumeirah Theatre. (Supplied)
Sikidar says this never-been-told story is peppered with personal anecdotes from Begum Akhtar's life, narrated to him by his own teacher, Rita Ganguly, who in turn was a disciple of the Ghazal queen herself.
Sikidar continued: "Here was a woman who achieved career accolades and was loved by many adoring fans, but few knew of her struggle with loneliness.
"Begum Akhtar had a twin sister, whom she adored as a child; but their journey together was short-lived after their four-year-old selves were fed poisoned sweets by scheming relatives shortly after their father abandoned them."
After her sister died, the family's home was set ablaze, prompting Begum Akhtar’s mother to take the young Bibi and flee to Gaya.
It was on the insistence of her uncle that young Bibi received musical training.
Many would have broken by such tragedies, but the ghazal maestro soldiered on to taste success, be it in the Indian film industry as an actress and singer or with her only love, singing.
The theatrics of 'Haaye Akhtari' is directed by Sanjeev Dixit, which features a contemporary remastering of Begum Akhtar’s repertoire of ghazals (the music has been directed by Dubai-based artist Somdatta Basu).
The dances themselves have been choreographed by Dubai-based Kathak artiste Vaishali Mhaisalkar.
Quiz Sikidar on the reason for choosing Begum Akhtar’s story to be told, he says: "Because it's the truth. And it's a universal story.
"All successful artists over the decades, have seen their art flourishes from the pain inside them. Be it M.F. Hussain or Michael Jackson. There was loneliness inside them.
"Except in Begum Akhtar’s case, her loneliness was part of greater story that needed a retelling to a new generation of music lovers."
The musical will be staged twice at the Madinat Jumeirah Theatre, Dubai, on Friday 18 and Saturday 19, September, 2015.
Tickets are priced at Dh75 for bronze, Dh100 for silver, Dh200 for gold, Dh350 for platinum.
(Haaye Akhtari painting is by Malhaar's Dubai-based artiste Nivedita Saha.)