Geeta Dutt would have been 84 years old today. This post is a tribute to one of the most versatile singers in the Hindi film music scene. Born in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh, as one among ten children, Geeta Dutt (nee Roy) moved to Bombay with her family in 1942. There is a well-known story about her entry into the music world. A famous music director of that time, Pt Hanuman Prasad heard a very young Geeta sing a song. She was in the balcony of her apartment. He liked her voice and then groomed her leading up to her debut in Bhakt Prahlad (1946) at the age of 16. Her first breakthrough was in 1947 film Do Bhai. Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya, picturised on Kamini Kaushal, topped the charts. Till Lata Mangeshkar “arrived” with the songs of Mahal and Barsaat in 1949, Geeta Dutt was the number one. In this initial phase of her rather short lived career, she was famous for her bhajans and devotional songs. In the 1950 film, Jogan, she sang 12 bhajans for Nargis. It was the 1951 Navketan superhit Baazi that was to change her image as a singer – (and her life – as she met Guru Dutt during the song recording for this movie.). S.D. Burman set Sahir Ludhianvi’s ghazal (much to the poet’s horror) to a jazzy tune and Tadbeer Se Bidgi Hui Taqdeer happened! (If Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu kind of cabaret number is all what Geeta Dutt is known for now, this is where it started!).
Geeta Dutt had a distinct, melodious voice that was modulated and infused with the apt emotion required for a song. In the words of Raju Bharatan, the music critic, “she could be sensual and sensitive at the same time.” This was her strongest point. Geeta Dutt was right there at the top, holding her own against the Lata wave, till the time her marital problems affected her career. She is known to have become unavailable for rehearsals and recordings. This was the time when O.P.Nayyar and S.D Burman (two music directors who worked with Geeta Dutt extensively) took the then struggling Asha Bhosle under their wings and groomed her. (Asha Bhosle modelled her style on Geeta’s singing style).As things worsened in her personal life, Geeta Dutt’s career hit rock-bottom and by the mid 1960s, she was no where on the musical scene. A brief revival of sorts did follow in the late sixties and early seventies (including Anubhav, where she sang three memorable songs but this was to be her swansong.) She died in June 1972 – she was but 41.
Geeta Dutt’s is the only female voice I could recognise for a long time. I would get confused while trying to identify Lata and Asha in the songs of the early fifties; but Geeta never! Yes I am an Asha fan – but my appreciation of Asha Bhosle probably stems from my deep admiration for Geeta’s singing. Lata sounded too perfect, too classical, to appeal. It was Geeta who was relatable – no matter the type of song, her voice conveyed the right emotion – true and relatable.
I tried to come up with a Top 10 songs of Geeta Dutt’s and was not able to. There are too many numbers that have given me much joy over the years. So here they all are – very subjective, momentary favourites and restricted to solos.
1) Ja Ja Ja Bewafa (1954, Aar Paar, OPN): This was my introduction to Geeta Dutt the singer. This sad number from Aar Paar is probably less popular than its tandem – the frothy, light Rafi-Geeta Duet, Sun Sun Sun Zaalima. But I prefer this plaintive number more – the heartbreak, pathos and sadness – what a sweet song! And Shyama looks lovely. The music of Aar Paar is memorable – There are two other lovely Geeta solos in the movie – the simply superb Babuji Dheere Chalna and the amazing (and one of my personal favourites) Hoon Abhi Main Jawan!
2) Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De (1956, Bhai Bhai, Madan Mohan) : Another Shyama number. Perhaps the only song by the composer Madan Mohan on this list. A happy, vivacious number, I first heard and saw this on Doordarshan.
There is another Aye Dil song that I am very fond of. Aye Dil Aye Deewane (Baaz, 1953, OPN) has the singer/ character wondering why she has destroyed her life all for love. Since this list may just have more sad songs than happy ones, I picked this peppy one from Bhai Bhai.
3) Koi Door Se Awaaz De, Chale Chale Aao (1962, Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Hemant Kumar): Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam is one of my favourite movies – strong story, memorable performances and brilliant music. While I like all the songs, this would be my favourite Geeta number (though I admit that Bhanwara Bada Nadaan and Meri Baat Rahi Meri Man Mein come close – but those are Asha numbers). It is haunting, poignant and very beautiful. A little bit of trivia: this was the phase when her marriage was at its worst. He even tried to stop her from singing in this film and Geeta had to go to court to get herself reinstated. Looks like she has poured her pain and loneliness all into the numbers she sang for Meena Kumari in this movie. The other two numbers are the melancholic Na Jao Saiyan and the beautiful Piya Aiso Jiya Mein.
The film version of Koi Door Se is a shorter one than the full song that you can listen here.
4) Nanhi Kali Sone Chali, Hawa Dheere Aana (1959, Sujata, SDB): This is on this list cos it has some personal memories attached to it. It was a cold night in Amsterdam and my son who was hardly some months old then was very cranky and restless. I remember humming this song and he quietened and slept. To check whether it was this song or just my voice, I played this song for the next few days – and the effect was the same. Till about the time he turned two, this was what he would sleep listening to.
5) Jaata Kahan Hai Deewane (1956, CID, OPN): What a nice movie this Dev Anand-Shakeela starrer was! And such brilliant music by O.P. Nayyar – Geeta did get to sing some particularly nice songs. This number was unfortunately edited out after the first week because the Censor Board objected to the lyrics… (quite ridiculous considering “fiffy/ fifty” is such an innocuous word! And more so in today’s context when Honey Singh’s songs for example have such bad lyrics!) A pity! Incidentally, this marked Waheeda Rehman’s debut into Hindi films.
6) Jaane Kya Tune Kahi and Rut Phire Par Din (1957, Pyaasa, SDB): A Geeta Dutt list without any mention of Pyaasa? Not possible. What can one say about the songs of that masterpiece? Each song is a gem – the lyrics, music and singing were spot on. Was unable to pick one Geeta song from this movie and so here you go: the teasing Jaane Kya Tune Kahi picturised on a beautiful Waheeda Rehman and the melancholic Rut Phire Par din hamare that was not in the movie.
7) Meri Jaan Meri Jaan Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho (1971, Anubhav, Kanu Roy): This romantic number was one of the last songs she sang. With very little background music, this song focusses entirely on her vocals – and such a sweet voice she had! The other two numbers, Koi Chupke Se Aake and Mera Dil Jo Mera Hota are equally melodious! Surely a perfect swan song…
8) Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam (1959, Kaagaz Ke Phool, SDB): Unlike Pyaasa, this was not a film I enjoyed. It was too depressing. But yes, the music, as with most Guru Dutt movies, was brilliant! This Geeta number is among my favourites. Such a haunting, intense number, Geeta Dutt pours life into each and every word in this beautiful song (the story of her life, I guess!) . The picturisation is equally good – Waheeda looks beautiful and the cinematography is amazing.
9) Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui (1951, Baazi, SDB) : I had to list this number! This was the song that transformed Geeta Dutt’s career and life – from a singer of devotional hymns, she became a happening, versatile singer. Sahir’s words, Burmanda’s music, Geeta Dutt (then Roy’s) singing and Geeta Bali and Dev Anand on screen. Uff! Magical.
10) Chand Hai Wohi Sitaare Hai Wohi Gagan (1953, Parineeta, Arun Kumar): Ending the list with one of her sweetest songs. This melody is from the 1953 Bimal Roy classic Parineeta. The lyrics penned by Pt. Bharat Vyas are set to music by Arun Kumar Mukherjee. Listen to this lovely song!
This list does not do the great singer any justice at all! There are countless number of songs (and I am just talking about Hindi songs) that should have featured here… but well. Besides Hindi and Bengali, she also sang in Gujarati, Marathi and Maithili as well. As a singer, she truly was unparalleled – just listen to the range and the melody of her voice.
It is a pity that such a talented singer’s career was cut short due to her personal issues. And ironical that her first super hit song was to be eventually prophetic about her short, tragic life – Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya, Main Prem Mein Sab Kuch Haar Gayi, Bedard Zamaana Jeet Gaya!