Geeta Dutt – A Forlorn Star

In this series of articles, so far I have not written about women music stars. Though this was not deliberate, many women readers have written asking me about this. There are many international women music stars in my personal liking list. But this is something I cannot confirm with any degree of certainty when it comes to Indian women music stars. If I sit down to list Indian women composers no name immediately comes to my mind. And this is an unvarnished fact.

In the 1930s when Indian filmdom was just sprouting, Saraswati Devi was a famous composer. She was a Parsi woman and her real name was Khurshid Minozar Homji. Compared to her contemporary male composers, it must be admitted that she was indeed a successful composer. One can easily recollect famous songs like ‘Main Ban Ki Chidiya Ban Ke’ enacted and sang by Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani as her achievements. She was the composer for many hit movies of Bombay Talkies.

Then in 1959, a barely 16 years old Usha Khanna blazed the Hindi screen in ‘Dil Deke Dekho’ with 10 superhit numbers. Thereafter, she went on to compose for many films but there were not many mentionable songs of note. Then, suddenly, she composed songs for a Malayalam film, ‘Moodal Manju’ in 1970. It had brilliant compositions like ‘Nee Madhu Pagaru’, ‘Manasa Manivenuvil’ and ‘Unaroo Vegam Nee’. She is still composing, but after almost five decades in the industry, she can hardly be called a successful composer. As for the film music in South India, there is none who can find even this bare mention.

Alright. Let us list the successful singers of Hindi film industry. Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle..... and then? It is not that there are no other names. Actor-Singers like Devika Rani, Rajkumari, Amirbai Karnataki, Noorjahan, Khursheed, and Suraiya...... Playback singers like Begum Akthar, Zohrabai Ambevali, Mubarak Begum, Shamshad Begum, Meena Kapur, Sharda, Sudha Malhotra, Suman Kalyanpur, Parul Ghosh, Sandhya Mukherjee, Meena Mangeshkar and Usha Mangeshkar (sisters of Lata and Asha) come to mind.

This is not to say, all these singers were great. Only that even the famous among them were quickly burnt out and were forgotten. It is sad that all talks of Hindi filmdom’s women singers begin and end with Lata and Asha.

Lata Mangeshkar was not the first singing superstar of Hindi films, as many believe. Geeta Roy, with the splendor of her voice and fine expressions, was the first on that throne. She had an unusually deep voice with a rare capacity to emote an entire range of emotions. She ruled the Hindi film female songs in from 1947 to 1950. She was not merely a music star with fame and recognition, Geeta Roy was a soulful singer without peer. She had an incomparable voice that was different, attractive and ever capable of pleasing the listeners.

What attracts our attention every time we listen to Geeta’s song is the effortless ease with which she swings and flies through the songs given to her. Among her contemporaries, she was the one with least training in music. Her natural singing style was not familiar with techniques of singing. But she was able to bring to all the songs that she sang a rare feel. Her liaison with the beat was total and incomparable. The twinkle in her eyes and her classical feminine beauty made her the most beautiful singer among Indian singers.

Raju Bharatan, the famous Hindi film music critic (originally from South India) wrote, remembering her song in the film Mr. & Mrs.55 ‘Tandi Hawa Khali Ghata Aahi Gayee Jhoom Ke’ (cool breeze and rain cloud have moved in dancing) that Geeta’s voice was a fresh breeze and rain cloud combined. Continuing, he wrote,” As her voice arose, her fans rose on their dancing legs. Geeta was the only singer Lata Mangeshkar secretly feared. Lata was far ahead of Geeta in training and musical techniques. But in the recording room, the liveliness of Geeta negated all that. That was why Lata avoided singing with Geeta to the extent possible. Lata herself admitted as much on 20th July of 1972.”(Page 89 of Film Fare issue of February 1985).*

No one can deny the fact that it was Geeta, the singer, who brought important changes to singing in Indian film music. In the 10 important years of her musical career when she was on top, she sang around 5000 songs, mostly in Hindi and Bengali. Later singers like Asha Bhonsle shaped their singing styles around Geeta’s singing.

Geeta was born on 23rd November of 1930 in Faridapore of East Bengal – today’s Bangladesh. Born in a family of big landlords, she was the first-born of ten children. She was fondly called ‘Ranga’. Her parents Debendranath and Amiya Roy Choudhury were deeply involved in music and literature. Geeta’s childhood passed pleasantly in music and literature. But the ‘Quit India’ movement of 1942 took the shape of an anti-landlord movement and greatly affected the fortunes of Geeta’s family. They had to leave their native place in a hurry with whatever came to hand. Geeta was twelve when the family started life afresh in Bombay. They stayed in a small room of a crowded colony in Dadar. The family of ten children struggled to come to grip with the poverty in the new unfamiliar surroundings.

It was in such dire state that the music composer Hanuman Prasad, who was passing by, heard the melodious voice of Geeta singing from the common balcony of her tenement. He had Geeta brought to his studio and made her sing in his film ‘Bhakta Prahalad’ which was released in 1946. She only sang a few couplets and part of the chorus in the film. Couplets sung by Geeta stood apart and was noticed by all in the recording studio. It was also heard by the great composer S.D. Burman. He called Geeta and made her sing in his next film ‘Do Bhai’ in 1947.

It was S.D. Burman who recognized the magical attraction of Geeta’s voice. He insisted that producers at Filmistan should give Geeta a chance to sing. Producers agreed to it on the condition that even if the song was recorded, it will be released only if it was good. The song ‘Hame Chhod Piya Kis Desh Gaye’ was recorded. The rest, as they say, was history.

‘Mera Sundar Sapna Beeth Gaya’ sung by her in the same film was a super hit song. With this she climbed the ladder of fame instantly. The film ‘Do Bhai’ was a huge success because of the success of Geeta’s songs. Thus with just this one film, Geeta overtook and left behind famous singers of that time like Rajkumari.

In her early days, Geeta Roy mostly sang sad songs and bhajans. For example, in Jogan (1950) she sang 12 solo bhajans. But in 1951 when ‘Baazi’ was released, the situation changed. In this film, composer S.D. Burman took a novel track and created a new base for Geeta’s voice. Songs like ‘Tadbeer se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer Bana De’ became big hits. Geeta’s voice which negotiated the western tunes with a rare verve and zing, sounded young and glamorous in these songs. They spawned emotions of love with ease. This created a situation where Geeta became the automatic choice to sing for love songs and dance numbers. It was left to S.D. Burman to get her to sing light music numbers with a classical touch in all-time great films like ‘Devdas’ and ‘Pyaasa’. The ‘Devdas’ number ‘Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Laga Lo’ is an immortal song that lives in our mind to this day.

No other singer had managed to internalize the musicality of S.D. Burman’s tunes to sing his delicate numbers like Geeta. The priceless jewels that emerged from their combine adorn Hindi film music to this day. One can go on listing numbers like ‘Woh Sapnewali Raat’ (Pyaar 1950), ‘Aan Milo Aan Milo’ (Duet with Manna Dey in ‘Devdas’), ‘Hawa Dheere Aana’ (Sujata 1959), ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam’ (Kaagaz ki Phool 1959) and the list is long. She has sung 72 songs, 43 of them solo numbers, under S.D. Burman’s baton. Her last number with S.D. Burman was 1964 ‘Ziddi’ number ‘Main Tere Pyaar Me Kya Kya Na Bana’.

Geeta’s voice was a snug fit for O.P. Nayyar’s songs with his typical fast beat. He was able to grow the jazziness of her voice. Under his baton she grew to be a multi-faceted singer. She sang an entire range of soft, fast, emotional, sexy and dancing numbers for O.P. Nayyar. Some of all time hit songs of O.P. Nayyar sung by Geeta are ‘Zara Samne Aa’ (Baaz, 1953), ‘Babuji Deere Chalna’ (Aar Paar, 1954), ‘Thandi Hawa Khaali Ghata’ (Mr. & Mrs. 55, 1955), ‘Jab Badal Lehraya’ (Chhoo Mantar, 1956), ‘Mere Zindagi Ki Humsafar (Smt.420, 1956), ‘Chhor Lutere Dakoo’(Ustad, 1957), ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo’ (Howra Bridge, 1958) and so on.

O.P. Nayyar had this to say about Geeta: “Who can deny that her songs are unique and incomparable? Give her a solo western song and an Indian classical song to sing one after another, she will render them both with the unique distinction due to them flawlessly. She will enliven them with emotions innate to them. Her voice can impart greatness to highly demonstrative and flambuoyant songs with fast beat and lively background music. She has a range of delicate, rare and surprising turn of rendering that makes her songs intimately personal. She is the best choice if you want to impart an intoxicating enchantment to a song. She is a treasure trove to any composer.”

Geeta has achieved similar successes with other composers. Her songs in Anand Mutt (1951), Bahu (1954), Ek Jhalak (1957) and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) under the baton of composer and singer Hemant Kumar are even today a feast for connoisseur’s ears. She has sung great songs like ‘Baanki Adayen’ (Amanat 1955) for Salil Choudhury. Her song ‘Ai Dil Mujhe Batha De’ in Bhai Bhai (1956) for composer Madan Mohan is an all time hit.

Her song ‘Ro Ro Ke Suna De’ for K.Dutta in Meri Kahani (1948) is an immortal one. ‘Zara Tum Ja’ in Jogan (1950) for Bulo C. Rani, ‘Main Tho Rahi Aaj Akeli Re’ in Majboor (1948) for Ghulam Hyder and ‘Darsan Pyaasi Aaye Dasi’ in Sangdil for Sajjad Hussain were all super hit songs remembered to this day. She has sung for Shankar Jaikishen and others too, but not for Naushad. He did not have anything of note for Geeta. For that matter, he did not have anything for Kishore Kumar, either.

Lullabies sung by Geeta are worthy of special kudos. ‘Nanhi Kali’ in Sujata (1959) is one example. While selecting her Top 10 songs in the beginning of 1957, Geeta had this to say about her music: “I believe that a good song should express human emotions in the simplest possible way. The song’s score must be such as enables a singer to fully bring out the feelings and emotions. I trust the songs I have selected here are simple enough to be enjoyed by people of all age groups.”

Geeta Roy stayed at the top, till the super hit songs of Raj Kapoor’s blockbuster Barsaat took Lata Mangeshkar to new heights of fame. Geeta’s voice was ideal in median pitch. Lata’s voice was a delicate one which at the same time could effortlessly negotiate notes from lowest to the highest pitch. It was but natural that she reached the top and Geeta had to be satisfied with 2nd place.

Geeta worked hard to steady her position against the victorious march of Lata Mangeshkar. At that time Asha Bhonsle was still struggling unable to find her feet. And she could not succeed as long as Geeta stayed in the race. Lata and Geeta ruled the roost in Hindi film-music world as the top two.

Geeta never entertained any thought of rivalry in profession with anybody. Asith Roy had written in his memoirs that Lata and Geeta who had come to sing at composer Hemant Kumar’s Calcutta residence sat side by side, hugging each other and chatting away like sisters. Geeta always remained a simple and sweet tempered woman. She wore simple saris and very little jewellery, even when she was at the top of her fame and wealth.

Geeta’s daughter, Neena Memon, reflects on the memories of her mother thus: “My mother was full of child-like naughtiness. She was fun-loving and loved to chat away in the company of friends. I have rarely seen my mother alone. She loved to stay at home. She had this habit of sitting with her harmonium and singing Hindi and Bengali songs.”

Guru Dutt was among the front-line Directors in Hindi film world. He was from Karnataka and his real name was Shivshankar Padukone. He spent his younger days in Bengal. A lover of music, he was devoted to Bengali folk music. During the song recording of the song ‘Tadbir se Bigdi Hui Taqdir Bana De’ for the film Baazi directed by him, Guru Dutt fell deeply in love with Geeta. Geeta Roy married Guru Dutt on 26th May, 1953 and became Geeta Dutt. They had three children, Tarun, Arun and Neena.

Geeta has sung some of her all-time great hit songs in her husband’s film. ‘Jaane Kya Toone Kahi’ from Pyaasa is a song of rare and unforgettable beauty. In another song ‘Aaj Sajan Mohe’ from the same film, S.D. Burman, innovatively using the Bengali accent in Geeta’s pronunciation, had converted the Bengali devotional song into a beautiful Hindi song in the Raag Desh. In the film, as Waheeda Rehman was expressing her love to Guru Dutt through a combination of gestures and expressions, this song was picturised on a women street singer.

In most of Guru Dutt’s films like Pyaasa, Aar Paar, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, he gets into difficulties by falling into love with two women at the same time. Devoted to poems and music, the film world genius Guru Dutt got entangled with two women in real life too.

It had long been rumoured that Guru Dutt and Geeta Dutt were not a couple with balance and understanding and that Guru Dutt was not particularly inclined to shoulder the responsibilities of a family man. He was a creative workaholic. It was natural that the relationship with wife Geeta was strained. It was at this time that he deeply fell in love with Waheeda Rehman. The already strained family relations worsened.

To placate Geeta, Guru Dutt launched the film Gowri in 1956 with Geeta as the heroine in a singer’s role. It was slated as the first Cinemascope film to be made in India. But the strain between husband and wife continued into the floors of the film. The film was abandoned after two days of shooting. This was the period when complaints floated around film music circles that Geeta was erratic in reporting for rehearsals and recording.

Geeta’s marriage with Guru Dutt, had already greatly affected her musical career. Guru Dutt had started laying down conditions that Geeta should not sing in the films of other Directors. He expected that Geeta should be at home to greet him when he came back from his day’s work. His restrictions began to strangulate Geeta and she became depressed. Slowly she started seeking refuge in alcohol. As she was not in a condition to regularly attend her recording sessions, Asha Bhonsle was able to grab those opportunities.

Composer Hemant Kumar has written in his article in Bengali about not being able to record songs as Geeta often played truant, not attending the rehearsals. In fact in 1957, when S.D. Burman had his differences with Lata Mangeshkar, he wanted to establish Geeta as his principal singer. But as Geeta was, in those days, tied hand and foot in her domestic quarrels, he had to choose Asha Bhonsle in her place. Asha was, then, yet to mature, but Geeta was already a well cut singer. But she was not in a frame of mind to train hard to achieve mastery over music to satisfy the perfectionist in S.D. Burman. Asha, on the other hand, had the motivation to dedicate all her efforts to take up S.D. Burman’s call.

Geeta compelled Guru Dutt to give O.P. Nayyar a chance as the Music Director in his film Aar Paar. He was struggling then O.P. Nayyar without any big success to his name. This was the film that made O.P. Nayyar’s future as Music Director. But he, out of his infatuation with Asha Bhonsle, began to establish Asha as his principal singer.

It was O.P. Nayyar, realizing the jazziness of Geeta’s voice, who made her sing the best jazz song ever of Indian film music ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo’. But when he started avoiding Geeta, she is supposed to have called him up to ask him, “Why did you not call me? What wrong have I done?” Later, when O.P. Nayyar explained with a sense of guilt all he could say was: “At a particular age, love knows no reasons.” But it also needs to be pointed out that when he called Geeta to sing ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo’ number, he was already head over heels in love with Asha Bhonsle.

In Guru Dutt’s film Kaagaz Ke Phool, Geeta sang all the female songs under the baton of S.D. Burman. The saddest part of it was that in the film it was picturised on Waheeda Rehman cooing to Guru Dutt in a daze of love. At that time, Guru Dutt was madly in love with Waheeda. As Wahida lent her lips to the sad songs in the film, it appeared that Geeta herself was crying out the tragedy of her heart-break. In the end, Guru Dutt abandoned Geeta and went after Waheeda. And Geeta walked out of his house with children.

Waheeda did not support this ‘love’ of Guru Dutt, in any way. She was aware that he was married and had children. Guru Dutt found himself in an unbearable hell of his own creation, without his wife who loved him and not accepted by Waheeda he loved. He chose an easy way out of this. Guru Dutt committed suicide on 10th of October in 1964. Death resulted from a surfeit of sleeping pills downed with generous pegs of liquor. Guru Dutt’s death remains an intriguing subject of speculation to this day. Some say he might have taken sleeping pills, one too many, only to catch the eluding sleep. But many argue that it was indeed a suicide, pointing out some of his earlier attempted suicides.

Guru Dutt’s death devastated Geeta. She had loved Guru Dutt with all her heart. A broken Geeta became even more of an alcoholic. She tried to regain her music career which was in tatters and attempted a new life for the sake of her children. But she failed. In 1967, she even acted as a heroine in a substandard Bengali film, Bodhu Baran. But she was unable to undertake regular rehearsals or attend song recording on time. Alcohol ruined her health. Her finances were in dire straits. Her neighbours remember Geeta shouting at servants and money lenders coming to recover their money.

Later, her eldest son Tarun Dutt reminisced on Geeta singing on stage for small sums of money, to meet the expenses of running the family. A stage had reached where nobody called her for recording for films. A fan recollects Geeta slumping on the harmonium half-way through a song at a music show.

At the height of her depression, even with her collapsing health, she has sung some of her best songs in the film Anubhav in 1971. ‘Meri Jaan Mujhe’ and ‘Koi Chupke Se Aake’ are eternal songs.

In 1971, a music stage event was organised in Bombay’s Shanmugananda Hall in memory of the late lyricist Shakeel Badauni. Even though big stars like Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh were there, the real star was Lata Mangeshkar. Every one was waiting for Lata to sing. Musicians and technicians were ready for her songs. When she mounted the stage, the audience erupted in applause in excited anticipation. As usual she gave a great performance. After Lata had sung and left Geeta Dutt’s name was announced. It elicited no response from the audience. There was no applause even when Geeta mounted the stage with her harmonium.

Geeta began to sing, playing on her harmonium. Her face was a picture of disappointment and sorrow. Most of the time her eyes remained shut even as she was lost singing Shakeel Badauni’s ghazals that expressed deep emotions. But there was no favourable reaction from the audience. She did not elicit even half the response that Mukesh, Rafi and Lata received. It appeared that Geeta was singing for herself. One felt that oblivious to every thing around her, her soul sang all alone.

She began to drink with a vengeance, in a suicidal fury. On 20th July, 1972, All India Radio played her immortal song ‘Yaad Karoge Ek Din Humko Yaad Karoge’ (You will remember me one day......your will remember) as it announced her passing away. When she died of cirrhosis of liver she was all of 42 years of age.

Before the 10th anniversary of her death, her beloved first-born son Tarun committed suicide. The room where he was found dead was littered with photographs in which Guru Dutt and Geeta Dutt were together. In the photographs taken in the happier days of the family, Geeta Dutt with her innocent smile was holding the sweet little Tarun in her lap.

Mera Sundar Sapna Beeth Gaya

Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata

To know more about Geeta ji visit www.geetadutt.com maintained by Parag Sankla