Vol. 5 Num 387 Thu. June 30, 2005  

All Time Greats
Geeta Dutt: Too short a lifespan for a nightingale
The first thing that strikes one on hearing singer Geeta Dutt was that she never tried hard to sing. She just glided through a tune. Of all her contemporaries, her musical training was perhaps the sketchiest but what she lacked in training and technique, she more than made up for with her ability to breathe life and emotion into any song she was singing.

Born as Geeta Roy, in Faridpur District in East Bengal in 1930, her parents shifted to Mumbai in 1942. In their modest flat, music director Hanuman Prasad heard her singing casually. He asked her to sing two lines in his film Bhakt Prahlad (1946).

Her rendition of those two lines stood out and memerised everyone in the recording studio. A minor incident became the genesis of one of the most memorable divas.

Her major assignment came the following year with Do Bhai. The music of that film clicked in a big way, particularly Mera sundar sapna beet gaya and Geeta became a top playback singer. 1947-1949 saw Geeta rule as the number one playback singer in the Mumbai film industry as she moved to new heights of popularity.

Initially Geeta was acclaimed for her bhajans and melancholy songs. But in 1951, the jazzy musical score of the film, Baazi, by SD Burman revealed a new facet to Geeta's singing skills. The sensuousness in her voice and the ease with which she went western was marvelous. While every song in the film was a raging hit, one stood out for special appeal -- Tadbir se bigdi hui taqdeer banaley. From then on in the '50s for a club dance or a seductive song, the first choice was Geeta.

During the recording of the song, she met the young and visionary director of the film, Guru Dutt. Thus blossomed a romance, which culminated in marriage on May 26, 1953 and Geeta Roy became Geeta Dutt. She went on to sing some of her best songs in his films.

SD Burman was among the earliest to discover the magic in her voice with Do Bhai. He effectively used the Bangalee lilt in her voice in films like Devdas (1955) and Pyaasa (1957). The song Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo from the latter is one of the finest examples of the Bangla kirtan on the Hindi film screen. In fact, no female singer has better articulated the spirit of Burmanda's music in its early years.

OP Nayyar developed the side of Geeta, which had emerged with Baazi. Under his freewheeling baton she developed into a really hip singer who could belt out any number -- soft, sultry, happy, snappy, romantic, teasing or tragic. It was Geeta's rare gift that she could effervescently sing for both the heroine and the vamp and it was OP who got Geeta to stop being overtly emotional in sad songs.

By 1957, her personal life had run into rough weather, as her marriage turned sour. It is widely believed that Guru Dutt had gotten romantically involved with his new leading lady Waheeda Rehman. The breaking up of her marriage started to have repercussions on Geeta's career. This was the time when one heard complaints from music directors about Geeta not being easily available for either rehearsals or recordings.

In fact due to her troubled marriage Geeta was not able to commit to the practice required by SD Burman, who then joined OP Nayyar in shaping Asha rather than waiting for Geeta. To make things worse, Geeta began finding solace in drinks.

On October 10, 1964 Guru Dutt passed away, leaving Geeta a broken woman. She suffered a nervous breakdown. When she recovered, she found herself in a financial mess. She did try to resume singing again, cutting discs at Durga Puja, performing at stage shows and even doing a Bangla film, Badhu Baran (1967) as the heroine! But her health kept declining as she drank herself to a point of no return. She died of liver cirrhosis in 1972 but not before she demonstrated she still had it in her, were she given a chance. The songs of Basu Bhattacharya's Anubhav (1971), Meri jaan mujhe jaan na kaho, Koi chupke se aake and Mera dil jo mera hota represent some of the finest work that Geeta Dutt had ever done.

Compiled by Cultural Correspondent