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23 November 2019

The Legends: Geeta Dutt

23.11.1930 - 20.07.1972
This post has been a long time in the coming. Which is strange, considering she is one of my favourite singers. This was not the case when I was younger, however. I was weaned on Lata Mangeshkar. [And while my father liked a whole host of other singers, this was the one place where I remained singularly obstinate.] I still remember the day I realised that I was on the slippery slope to idol-infidelity – back in the day, Vividh Bharati on AIR had a programme known as ‘Vishesh Jayamala’ – a programme for the armed forces, presented by an actor, singer, or music director (among others), who chooses the songs they like for our listening pleasure.

Sometime in the mid-70s [or was it the late 70s? I’m not sure; I was a wee child, then], the Vishesh Jayamala was hosted by Amitabh Bachchan. One of the songs he chose, a song that was his favourite, he said, was Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam from Kagaz ke Phool. There was something about the song I liked – apart from the fact that it was Amitabh Bachchan’s favourite! – something I couldn’t quite explain.

Then, sometime in the eighties, Bhaskar Ghosh, then-director of Doordarshan, decided that the hoi polloi needed culture. He held retrospectives of various directors – Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Alfred Hitchcock, etc., and we film lovers got a feast of good films to watch late at night. One such screening was of Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. Now, I’d heard several songs from the film before this, but I hadn’t yet watched the film, my father not being a fan of Guru Dutt. When the movie began, and the first notes of Koi door se awaaz de, chale aao… filled the room, I fell in love.  The song was achingly haunting, and the voice seemed to hold a wealth of pain and longing. I had never heard this song before, but that night, watching the story of Chhoti Bahu unfold on our tiny TV screen, and sensing rather than feeling the unfulfilled desires implicit in singer’s voice, I fell utterly, completely in love.

Geeta Dutt’s voice continued to mesmerise me and I began to pay more attention to her songs amidst my father’s vast collection of Hindi film songs. (and the pathos in her voice was the perfect expression of my teenage angst),

Geeta Dutt [née Ghosh Roy Choudhary] was born in Faridpur, East Bengal in 1930. In 1942, the family moved to Bombay where the young girl was ‘spotted’ by music director K Hanuman Prasad. Her earliest training in music was under him, and she credited him with teaching her the nuances of singing, especially for films. Four years later, the teenager sang her first few lines for a film named Bhakta Prahlad (1946), under her mentor’s baton. A few inconsequential movies – Kashmir ki Kali, Rasili, Circus King, Pujiya Gandhiji, etc. – followed, but her voice was just maturing. During this time, one of her biggest films was Milan (1946), where Geeta sang two solos under Anil Biswas’s baton. The very next year, SD Burman gave her Do Bhai (1947) – overnight, it seemed, a fresh new voice had become the rage. Mera sundar sapna beet gaya was a bonafide hit. ‘Geeta Roy’ had arrived.

She was extremely busy for the next couple of years. In 1948, for example, Geeta worked in at least 12 films, while in 1949, that number more than doubled. There were no close competitors, though a young Lata Mangeshkar was already waiting in the wings. Andaz, Barsaat and Mahal were all released in 1949 – the runaway success of all three films and their music scores catapulted Lata Mangeshkar to the top.

But Geeta couldn’t be written off so easily; her voice was distinctive and filled with emotion. She continued to work through 1950, singing for music directors from SD Burman (Afsar) to Sajjad Hussain (Khel), Bulo C Rani (Jogan) to Khayyam (Biwi), Gyan Dutt (Dilruba), Hansraj Behl (Kisi ki Yaad), Khemchand Prakash (Jaan Pehchaan), Husnlal-Bhagatram (Nishana), and Vasant Desai (Sheesh Mahal), among others.

1951 would prove to be a milestone year in Geeta’s life – Nav Ketan, the Anand brothers’ fledgling banner had launched Baazi. According to Dev Anand, Baazi was a make-or-break situation for everyone; the banner needed to recover from the box-office failure of Afsar, their first venture; it was Guru Dutt’s debut as director; Sahir Ludhianvi was still trying to get a foothold in the industry; SD Burman hadn’t yet become the force he would be in the coming years – everyone needed a hit. Dev Anand categorised Baazi as a ‘group of young people who were coming together’ to create something. The soundtrack of Baazi showcased Geeta’s voice in a completely different way, and its resounding success changed the trade’s perception of Geeta as a singer of tragic songs. Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le became an overnight rage, and Dev Anand recounts how many in the audience would repeatedly watch the film just to watch Geeta Bali perform, and walk out after the song ended.

Baazi also introduced Geeta to the man who would become her husband – Guru Dutt. The next few years would prove to be the highpoint of her professional and personal life. She married Guru Dutt in 1953, but soon, her responsibilities as wife and mother interfered with her career. However, professional relationships with SD Burman and OP Nayyar gave her some of her career’s best songs during the 50s.

By then, however, her personal life was in turmoil. Differences arose in her marriage, and it began to affect Geeta’s professional life as well. A separation from her husband in 1963, and his subsequent death in 1964 took its toll on the talented singer. A few last-ditch efforts to resurrect her career didn’t quite pan out, and on July 20, 1972, the world of Hindi film music lost one of its finest talents. Geeta Dutt was 41 years old.

As with all the other singers I have profiled, I’ve chosen a bare handful of songs that showcase Geeta Roy/Dutt’s immense talent. My choices are eclectic, not necessarily her most popular numbers, and as always, I do not subscribe to ‘the best’ list. My only criterion was that I wanted to include as many of the music directors she worked with as possible. Please feel free to add your favourites in the comments below.

Jogan (1950) / Music: Bulo C Rani / Lyrics: Himmat Rai Sharma
This film about a female mendicant and an atheist who falls in love with her was replete with devotional songs, mostly bhajans composed by Kabir and Meera Bai. This song, however, is one of two solos (with chorus) where a young girl is celebrating the monsoons. However, she’s asking the rains to cease awhile – to let her lover journey forth, so she can coax him out of his sulks. To that end, she sings:
Odhni pe bijliyaan ki got main lagaaungi
Pees ke kali ghataaen kajal banaaungi
Garaj badal ki apne dil ka dhadkan mein basaaungi
Teri nanhi phuhaarein goonth ke mala banaaungi

Except for two songs sung by Shamshad Begum (for Purnima), all the female solos were sung by Geeta Dutt, who had once listed Mat ja mat ja jogi as a personal favourite.

Khel (1950) / Music: Sajjad Hussain / Lyrics: Aarzoo Lucknowi
Sajjad Hussain had used Geeta Dutt extensively in both Kasam (1947) and Mere Bhagwan (1947) earlier, but by the time 1950 rolled around, he had transferred his attention to Lata Mangeshkar. Saajna din bahut hamar is the only Geeta number in the film, which boasted of two Lata solos and two Shamshad Begum ones. No videos exist of the songs from this film but this song has always been a prime favourite. Once again, Geeta’s voice holds pathos, the ache of separation, and the longing to be with her beloved.

Baaz (1953) / Music: OP Nayyar / Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Apart from SD Burman, no other music director has used Geeta Dutt’s voice so effectively as OP Nayyar. Baaz was Guru Dutt’s third film as director, and OP Nayyar’s third film as music director. This has been a perennial favourite of mine; the music is fabulous, but it is one of those films which had better music than it deserved. Geeta Dutt got to voice pathos, be romantic, instil patriotism, sound sultry, etc. As a well-established singer by this time, she shouldered all the female solos in this film, singing for heroine, Geeta Bali as well as for Kuldeep Kaur.

Anarkali (1953) / Music: Basant Prakash / Lyrics: Jan Nissar Akhtar
Ae jaan-e-wafa  is one of my absolute favourites from a score that had such Lata gems as Aaja ab toh aaja, Mujhse mat pooch, Dua kar gham-e-dil, and O Aasmanwaale, not to mention Ye zindagi usi ki hai – the sad version would remain in any list I make of ‘My ten favourite Hindi songs of all time’. But Ae jaan-e-wafa has its own pride of place – for one, Geeta’s voice is absolutely fabulous in this song, soaring high, especially towards the end, as clear as a bell.

Geeta had only one solo in this film which was considered C Ramchandra’s tour de force. The story goes that the makers wanted C Ramchandra as the music director with the caveat that the female voice would be that of Geeta Dutt’s. The composer, who couldn’t think beyond Lata Mangeshkar at the time, refused. Filmistan, the producers, then signed Basant Prakash. He composed and recorded Ae jaan-e-wafa, but his ill-health (or a disagreement with Filmistan) left the film without music. It is said that Hemant Kumar was then signed on as composer; while he isn’t credited, it would stand to reason that if he did compose any songs for the film, they would be his two solos, Zindagi pyar ki do char ghadi hoti hai and Ae baad-e-saba zara ahista chal. No one seems to know for certain why the producers went back to C Ramchandra, but they did, and the composer composed one great melody after the other for his muse.

Baadban (1954) / Music: Timir Baran /SK Pal / Lyrics: Indeewar
A heart-rending melody, sung in Geeta’s inimitable style, Kaise koi jeeye doesn’t usually appear on lists of Geeta Dutt’s songs. The pathos in her voice tugs at your emotions, and you can’t but feel the despair of the heroine on screen. Directed by Phani Mazumdar, Baadban was the sensitively-drawn story of a man (Dev Anand) torn between his love for his lovely wife (Meena Kumari) and the passion he comes to feel for a young woman (Usha Kiron) in his hometown.

Amanat (1955)
Music: Salil Choudhury
Lyrics: Shailendra
Amaanat was one of Salilda’s earliest films in Hindi. Produced by Bimal Roy and directed by Arvind Sen, the film starred Bharat Bhushan and Chand Usmani. Baanki adaayein, however, is lip-synced on-screen by Asha Mathur. Geeta Dutt is at her playful best, and the music by Salilda, with the trumpet, mouth organ and of course, the piano. (Please don’t watch Chand Usmani torturing the poor instrument on screen.) This song used to be quite a favourite with my younger son.

It’s strange – and sad, that Salilda didn’t use Geeta Dutt as much as he could have; the singer sang only 7 songs for the composer. My other choice for a Salilda composition for Geeta was Din bahaar ke hai from Zamana (1957) – as different from Baanki adaayein as possible. It is very hard to place a finger on the genre this song belongs to - this song has a very Big Band Jazz feel at times, very Latin music at others.

Faraar (1955) / Music: Anil Biswas / Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
Anil Biswas is another Bengali music director who didn’t use Geeta Dutt much, preferring to use Lata Mangeshkar and Meena Kapoor. But when he did sign Geeta, their combination gave us some extremely melodious songs. Faraar, for instance, had 5 songs by Geeta Dutt – Har ek nazar (Hoon main ek naya tarana ek naya fasana) has been a personal favourite ever since I heard the song for the first time two years ago, when I was researching songs for my post on ‘What am I?’ songs.

Aab-e-hayat (1955) / Music: Sardar Malik / Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
Now this was a Geeta you didn’t often get to hear, typecast as she so often was into the weepy songs. But she’s having so much fun in this song – on the face of it, a standard ‘nightclub’ song. In fact, you could take the song, the sets and the dance and put it into a more ‘modern’ film and still be able to enjoy it. And never mind that the film is set in some fairy-tale land. However… Smriti Biswas is enjoying herself even if Pran is glowering at her, and so is Geeta Dutt and the wonderful chorus. 

Ye hawa ye fiza
Coffee House (1957) / Music: Roshan / Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
I heard this song for the first time when I was picking the songs for this post. I absolutely love how softly the song starts, Geeta’s voice front and centre, the music just barely there. Then the music swells and Geeta’s voice changes from slow, throaty and almost drowsy to husky and seductive.

Geeta’s professional relationship with Roshan goes back to Baawre Nain (1950) where Geeta’s duet with Mukesh, Khayalon mein kisi ke became a thundering success. Their best-known collaborations were possibly for Bedardi (1951) and Agra Road (1957).   
Savera (1958) / Music: Shailesh Mukherjee / Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
I’d first heard this song a few years ago and have a faint recollection of having heard it earlier. Geeta’s biggest advantage was being to ‘emote’ through her voice, and this song is a perfect example of how her voice resonates with the feelings expressed in the lyrics. While Lata sang for the heroine (Meena Kumari), Geeta sang for Kammo. But her versatility can be seen in the ease she switches from a ghazal to a mujra (Maane na maane na).

Sadhna (1958)
Music: N Dutta
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
From a ghazal to a bhajan, but just listen to how different Geeta sounds in Tora manwa kyon ghabraaye re as opposed to, say, Ghoonghat ke pat khol re (Jogan), or even Aaj sanam mohe ang laga lo (Pyasa). Written by Sahir, this was another instance where the song has two meanings depending on the context. On the face of it, the bhajan addresses the devotee, querying why he has to worry when thousands of devotees have attained salvation at the doors of Ram’s temple. From a worried and grief-stricken Champabai’s (Vyjayanthimala) perspective, the song questions her need to worry when she has returned to Mohan’s (Sunil Dutt) doorstep. ‘Mohan’ is another name for Lord Krishna, who is another incarnation of Lord Vishnu, as is Lord Rama.

While the solo version of this bhajan picturised on Leela Chitnis is very popular, not very many people have heard the tandem version with Mohammed Rafi. Incidentally, Geeta Dutt had sung this bhajan earlier as a duet with AR Oza, in the Gujarati film, Mangal Phera (1949), under the baton of Avinash Vyas.   

Detective (1958) / Music: Mukul Roy /Lyrics: Shailendra
Another melancholy number from Geeta, singing under the baton of her brother, Mukul Roy. When I first heard this song, I'd the feeling it resembled another song I'd heard before. Then it struck me that the mukhda sounded pretty much like Jamaican Farewell by Harry Belafonte. Listen to both, and tell me what you think.

Detective, one of Shakti Samanta’s earliest directorial ventures, was a commercial failure. However, its songs were a delight. Apart from this song, it also has the romantic Mujhko tum jo mile, the foot-tapping Kal talak hum theek tha and Aankhon pe bharosa mat kar, and the delightful Chhodiye gussa huzoor.

Dilli ka Thug (1958) / Music: Ravi  / Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This is a film that did nothing to deserve its music. Ravi composed the beautiful Ye raatein ye mausam nadi ka kinaara, and even zany ones like “Cat maane billi” and ‘Humko mohabbat karega’ for this film. Hidden away, and somewhat dismissed is this sultry ‘club’ number inspired by Rum and CocaCola. Picturised on Smriti Biswas, with Herman Benjamin & Co, the song is part playful, part seductive, wholly fabulous. While I must confess that Oh babu oh lala is not amongst my favourite numbers (this was my husband’s pick), I can’t help but admire the way Geeta has sung this song.

My other pick for the Geeta Dutt – Ravi combo was Ding dong ding dong ding lala (Grihasthi (1963), picturised on Devika. 

Humne seekha pyaar mein
Guest House (1959) / Music: Chitragupt / Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
An obscure film starring Ajit and Shakila, the film’s solos mainly went to Lata Mangeshkar. But Geeta’s ‘club song’ picturised on Helen is probably more famous than any of the other songs in this film. This foot-tapping number has Geeta at her liveliest.

Despite the popular perception that music directors SD Burman and OP Nayyar composed the most number songs for Geeta, it is Chitragupt who holds that place. From Jadui Ratan (1947) to Band Master (1963), Chitragupt composed more than a hundred songs for the chanteuse.

Jagir (1959) / Music: Madan Mohan / Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
My absolute favourite for Madan Mohan’s collaboration with Geeta is Ae dil mujhe bata de from Bhai Bhai, but that has made an appearance on too many of my lists before. Tumse nazar mili, unlike Ae dil mujhe bata de, is a rollicking ‘club song’ picturised on a ‘Miss Jennifer’. (Anyone who can provide any information on this artiste? And I think the man dancing with her is Herman Benjamin.)

The other song that I heard only in the recent past, and absolutely love, is  Kahan phir hum kahan phir tum from Night Club (1959), which (to me, at least) is a very unlike-Madan Mohan composition.

Sujata (1959) / Music: SD Burman / Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
By now, Geeta Dutt had become almost typecast into the ‘Western’ /Club singer mould, just as Asha was. Music directors were typically using her husky voice for songs that had to sound come-hither or sexy. She either sang for the vamp or the second heroine. In that aspect, Sujata was no different – while Lata Mangeshkar sang for the heroine and Asha Bhosle sang for the second lead, Geeta was relegated to singing for the mother – but oh, what a song! You want ‘versatile’? Just listen to this song that is so chockfull of maternal affection. A mother, a baby and a lullaby to softly soothe the baby to sleep, while another baby finds succour in the gentle voice wafting across the breeze. It’s one of the finest lullabies in Hindi cinema.  

Wild Cat / Bambai ki Billi (1960) / Music: Khayyam / Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
Khayyam, like many of his contemporaries, did not compose many songs for Geeta. Their professional association, however, goes back to the mid-40s, when Khayyam, as Sharmaji, sang a duet with Geeta for a film called Rasili (1946). 

Dildaar tu hai is a lively nightclub number, and like a lot of songs on this list does not have a video link. Starring Sudhir and Kumkum, the film seems to be the remake of a 1936 thriller by the same name.

Khayyam would use what seems to be a faster version of his melody for Aasman pe khuda aur zameen hai hum for Dil ke paar ho gayi teri ek nazar in this obscure film.

Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) / Music: Hemant Kumar / Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
As I mentioned earlier, this is the song that made me fall in love with Geeta Dutt. Her voice soars into the silence, and just like Bhootnath, we’re immediately transfixed. It’s that type of song – coming as it does somewhere far away; echoing, haunting, aching, filled with desires of which we know nothing. Not yet.

Hemant Kumar, who composed the music for the film gave Geeta Dutt three fabulous solos; interestingly, all of them (Piya aiso jiya mein samaaye gayo re and Na jao saiyyan being the others) spoke of unfulfilled desires. It’s a song that touches the core of my soul. Simply listen to this song on a silent night, and tell me you don’t feel the ache.

The film truncated the song, the full audio is here.

Son of India (1962) / Music: Naushad / Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
It seems strange to me that Geeta, despite having a wonderful voice and having attained the status she did as one of the Golden Age’s premier songstresses, wasn’t utilised by many of the top composers of the time. Naushad, for example, only used her twice; once in Dillagi (1949) and then for this song, picturised on Lillian in the film, with Kumkum and Kamaljeet in the audience.

Anubhav (1971) / Music: Kanu Roy / Lyrics: Gulzar
Geeta initially sang for Kanu Roy in Uski Kahani, his debut film in Hindi in 1966. By 1971, she was battling both illness and obscurity. Anubhav, the first of Basu Bhattacharya’s marital trilogy that comprised Aavishkar and Grihapravesh, was her chance to show the world that she still had what it takes. Each of the three Geeta solos in this film is a gem, and as was Kanu Roy’s wont, he kept the music to the minimum, allowing Geeta’s voice to be the highlight. I was hard put to choose between Meri jaan, meri jaan na kaho meri jaan and Mera dil na mera hota so I decided to sneak in the other as well.

The songs became extremely popular, but Anubhav would prove to be Geeta’s swan song. She did sing for a couple of films before her death but nothing would match the legacy she left behind – that of thousands of songs that have stood the test of time.   

I also want to add something my husband found on YouTube, while helping me pick these songs. An advertisement for Rexona - the jingle was composed by Salilda with lyrics by Shailendra, and sung by Geeta. 

Sadu also wants me to add that 'Afsos, we couldn't add Shalini's favourite MDs - Kalyanji-Anandji."

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