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Millennium Post

The Intoxicating, Sensuous Voice

Despite a tragic end in untimely death — Geeta Dutt continues to reign hearts with her evergreen melodies of the golden years.

A star was born when India became independent in 1947. And the one to spot that star was SD Burman,who made his debut in Bombay with Filmistan's Shikari (1946). The following year he was signed by Seth Chandu Lal Shah of Ranjit Movietone to compose for film Do Bhai. Burman da wanted to introduce a new voice, but Seth Saab was not in favour. Nevertheless, he complied.

When the teenager started singing, Seth was mesmerised and right away nodded his head in affirmation. The singer was Geeta Roy, and the song, Mera sunder sapna beet gaya, was an instant hit. Another hit song of this movie was Ek din humko yaad karoge.

Born on November 23, 1930, in Faridpur, Geeta's father Devendra Nath Roy Choudhary was a wealthy land owner. There was no inclination for music in the family, though her mother was fond of poetry. Perhaps, that got her interested in art and culture, and Geeta started singing at an early age. On realising her proclivity towards music, her parents arranged a tutor for her, honing her musical skills.

Geeta moved to Bombay from Calcutta with her parents in 1942, at the time of Quit India Movement. Given her formal training, now she could play the harmonium and sing. By sheer chance, composer Hanuman Prasad heard her. He was so impressed that he offered her to sing a few lines in film Bhakt Prahlad. This is when Burman also heard her and rest is history.

Geeta was on cloud nine. After Do Bhai, her number in Har Har Mahadev, Kankar kankar se main poochhun, composed by Avinash Vyas, became a household song.Now, she was noticed by other composers like Ghulam Haider, Bulo C Rani, C Ramchandra and Hansraj Behl. Ghulam Haider took her in Padmini to sing Sapera been bajaye gayo re. The same year Geeta created a stir with bhajans of Meera Bai in Dilip Kumar-Nargis starrer Jogan. Bulo C Rani composed several bhajans of Meera which are considered to be the best sung devotional songs in films. Geeta's soulful bhajans, Aeri main to prem deewani, Main to girdhar ke ghar jaun, Ghoonghat ke pat khol sakhi re,Pyare darshan deejo aaj, and her own favourite Jogi mat ja became all-time classics.

Burman da preferred Geeta even after Lata's Aayega aane wala. When he composed for Baazi (1951), which was Guru Dutt's directorial debut,Geeta sang a rage number in western style, Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le. Other hits of Geeta in Baazi were: Suno gajar kya gaye, Ye kaun aaya ki mere dil ki duniya mein bahar aayi. Guru Dutt would be present at the time of these recordings. He fell head over heels in love and married Geeta on May 26, 1953.

Interestingly, Burman da took both Geeta and Lata in Jaal (1952). Geeta's club song, a solo, Soch samajhkar dil ko lagana, and two duets with Kishore, Chori chori meri gali aana and De bhi chuke hum became extremely popular. Though Lata sang Ye raat ye chandni, the same number in Hemant Kumar's voice became much more popular.

There have been many such instances when the same number was sung in both male and female voices, but somehow the male version became more popular. But Geeta was the sole exception, as her rendering of Kaise koi jiye in Baadban composed by Timir Baran and SK Pal became more popular then Hemant Kumar's. Another composition of Hemant Kumar sung by himself, Na ye chand hoga, in film Shart, was less popular than Geeta's.

In 1952, another composer from Amritsar, OP Nayyar, made his debut with film Aasman, wherein Geeta sang melodious numbers: Dekho jaadu bhare moorey nain and Dil hai deewana. But the film flopped and Nayyar didn't repeat Geeta in his next film Chham Chhama Chham. He replaced her with Asha Bhosle, but this film, too, met the same fate.

Not withstanding her rejection by Nayyar, Geeta introduced him to Guru Dutt for film Baaz. She sang three contrast numbers – an intoxicating composition, Taare, chaandni afsaane, another with political fervour, Aye watan ke naujawan, besides a sensuous song, Zara saamne aa zara aankh mila.The film flopped at box office, but Guru Dutt started his own banner, and Geeta and Nayyar achieved a hat trick in Aar Par, Mr & Mrs 55 and CID for Guru Dutt Films. In Mr & Mrs 55, Nayyar used his private composition, Preetam aan milo (originally sung by CH Atma), in Geeta's voice. Other chartbusters of Geeta were,Thandi hawa kaali ghata, Neele aasmani, and duets with Rafi, Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji, Chal diye banda nawaz and Udhar tum haseen ho idhar dil jawan hai. In CID, Geeta sang a solo, Jata kahan hai deewane, and two duets with Rafi, Aankhon hi aankhon mein and a light number, Ae dil hai mushkil.

Burman and Geeta were at their best in Pyasa, as the composer exploited the singer's potential in three different songs. A dream sequence romantic number, Hum aapki ankhon mein with Rafi, brought back the college nostalgia. A mischievous number, Jaane kya tune kahi and Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo, which had shades of eroticism to ultimate spirituality. According to Burman, Geeta did full justice with this number. Later he composed an immortal gem for Geeta, Waqt ne kiya kya hanseen sitam, and she conveyed that feeling of restlessness and wistfulness with absolute perfection.

Geeta sang with almost all the composers of her time, but some of her popular songs were composed by unknown composers, i.e. her classical number, Baat chalet mori chunri rang daari by Dhani Ram in Ladki; a softer melody, Chaand hai wahi, by Arun Kumar in Pareenita and Thehro zara si der by Shailesh Mukherjee in Savera. Maestros like Anil Biswas and Sajjad Hussain got the best of Geeta for their compositions. Geeta sang lesser number of songs compared to her contemporary playback singers due to certain reasons. After her marriage to Guru Dutt, he wanted her to sing only for his home productions, and not even for Burman and Nayyar. Thus, Burman opted for Lata and Asha became Nayyar's first choice.

But both of them opted for Geeta's voice whenever a song came up, which only she could sing. In Howrah Bridge, Nayyar gave one solo to Geeta, Mera naam chin chin choo, which made it to the top of the charts.

It was because Geeta kept on singing surreptitiously for others despite Guru Dutt's instructions that it caused bitterness in the family. And, of course, Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman's proximity also added fuel to fire, though he tried to make things cordial with Geeta. He announced a film Gauri in Bangla. Geeta was to play the lead in the film. After shooting several reels, Guru Dutt abruptly shelved the project, and Geeta couldn't bear it. She went into depression and alcohol became her constant companion.

Guru Dutt's Kagaz Ke Phool was a disaster at the box office. It was his most ambitious project and he had put everything at stake. He came under heavy debts but recovered some money in Chaudvin Ka Chaand and produced Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Geeta gave playback for Meena Kumari, and her evocative melody Koi door se awaz de chale aao, and seductive number Na jaao saiyyan chhuda ke bayyian, became unforgettable numbers. Guru Dutt committed suicide in 1964 and this was the last blow for Geeta Dutt. She had a nervous breakdown. After recovery, she requested composers to help her resume her work. She started performing live shows on stage. But she had become a recluse and excessive drinking had damaged her liver. Just a few days before her demise she rang up Nayyar and requested him that he should record a song with her. Nayyar promised but it never materialised.

Geeta's life could be summed up in her best solo, Waqt ne kiya kya hanseen sitam, as she was in and out of hospital, and breathed her last on July 20, 1972. She was just 42. Her death reminds us of another classic number, Kaise koi jiye zahar hai zindagi…, that she sang living her pain.

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