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Amirbai Karnataki was an actor and singer in Hindi films. She was born in the village of Bilgi, in the district of Bijapur in Karnataka into a middle class family. Amirbai later stated that she came from the Kalawant tradition of musicians from Rajasthan; however, her family disapproved of her singing and acting on screen and she became estranged from them in later life. She had five sisters, of whom one of the elder ones, Gauharbai, preceded her into films. A brother, Raj Mohamed Kuntoji, became a police officer in Belgaum. Amirbai finished school in Bijapur and went to Bombay at the age of fifteen. She came to the notice of talent scouts from HMV. She impressed them by singing a qawwali song. This record proved a hit. Gauharbai helped Amirbai get a role in the film Vishnu Bhakti in 1934. She followed this with Yasmin (1935) and Narsi Bhagat (1940). In the 1930s, she was linked with, and probably married to, a man called Himalaywala; some sources claim he was abusive to her. Later, she married Badri Kaanchwala, the editor of Paras. Amirbai’s first few films did not get her noticed, until she sang Anil Biswas’s songs in Kismet (Bombay Talkies, 1943. She reached her peak by 1947, singing both onscreen and as a playback singer. She continued with Haqdar (1946), Vidya (1948) and Sipahiya (1949).

She also composed music for Shehnaaz (Wahab Pictures, 1948). However, the rise of Lata Mangeshkar caused her to leave playback singing and continue with acting, doing character roles as she got older and also acting in Gujarati and Marwari films. Her later films were less successful; Lav Kush (1951) and Bedardi (1951). She appeared in Deewana in 1952 followed by Mashooka (1953), Mr X (1957), Boy Friend, Dark Street (both 1961). She had a paralytic attack in 1965, died four days later and was buried in her hometown. She was known as Kannada Kokila. Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent fan of her song ‘Vaishnav Jan’.
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