Geeta Dutt is among the few Bollywood artists we love to root for. She stood her own against formidable competition, lived through a turbulent marriage, drowned her sorrows in alcohol and passed away when she was only 42, leaving behind songs that continue to enthrall people to this day. To commemorate her birth anniversary on November 23, I pick 10 songs sung by her. It is not a coincidence that 6 of these songs are by two composers – S.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar. These two composers showered Geeta Dutt with some of their best tunes and she reciprocated by singing her heart out for them.
Although Geeta Roy received no training, she was a natural singer. A chance debut in 1946 – when she was only 16 years old – got her noticed by S.D. Burman who was so smitten by her voice that he had her sing six of the nine songs in “Do Bhai”. Her matured singing in “Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya” belied her tender age and her ability to emote with her voice set her apart from her peers.
With few big hits and starved of attention due to the enormous success of Lata Mangeshkar, post “Mahal” (1949), the next few years were unremarkable for Geeta Roy. That changed with “Baazi”. S.D. Burman’s faith in Geeta Roy was visible again. She sang six of the eight songs in the film – all solos. The song from the film that transformed her career was “Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui”. Much to Sahir’s horror, S.D. Burman took a contemplative ghazal and transformed it into a foot-tapping cabaret. Geeta Roy sang with oomph, her voice giving expression to Geeta Bali’s come-hither looks. The song was a roaring success and Geeta Roy had arrived. “Baazi” was also a turning point in her personal life. It was during the making of this film that she fell in love with the film’s director, Guru Dutt. They got married in 1953 and Geeta Roy became Geeta Dutt.
While it is true that Geeta Dutt sang some of her best songs for O.P. Nayyar, many don’t realize that Geeta Dutt’s role in O.P. Nayyar’s success was even bigger. After debuting in 1952, O.P. Nayyar couldn’t really make a mark with his music and was about to leave the Hindi film industry. It was Geeta Dutt, who encouraged him and got Guru Dutt to engage him for “Aar Paar”. “Aar Paar” was a spectacular success and it kick-started O.P. Nayyar’s journey to music superstardom. Most of Geeta Dutt’s songs in the film rode on her vocal trademarks but “Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa” revealed her underutilized range and power of expression.
Geeta Dutt and O.P. Nayyar ruled the music charts for the next few years. With an increasingly self-assured Guru Dutt at the helm, the two artists made some of the period’s most popular music. In an album replete with excellent songs, “Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata” was the icing on the cake. It is a testament to Guru Dutt’s and O.P. Nayyar’s modern sensibilities that this half a century old song shows no signs of aging either visually or aurally. Aided by legendary cinematographer V.K. Murthy, Guru Dutt’s song shooting capabilities came to the fore in this film. A fetching Madhubala in pigtails, pretty women prancing with umbrellas and choreographed divers in a swimming pool make “Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata” a visual delight.
Geeta Dutt’s career was closely aligned with her personal life. With “C.I.D”, the two were inextricably tied. Guru Dutt introduced Telugu film actress Waheeda Rehman in the character of a vamp in the film and, in the process, fell hopelessly in love with her. Geeta Dutt sang the songs of “C.I.D.” with gay abandon, with no inkling of the storm that was about to sweep her marriage. The enormous appeal of “Jaata Kahan Hai Deewane” comes into sharp focus when one considers the fact that the song was censored out of the film. Various accounts of the reason behind the censor board’s decision and numerous covers over the years – including one recently, in Anurag Kashyap’s “Bombay Velvet” (2015) – have kept the song alive in public imagination.
“Pyaasa” was a classic that brought out the best in every artist involved in the film. Working with artists like S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi at their prime, Geeta Dutt recorded some memorable songs for “Pyaasa”. The irony of Geeta Dutt singing “Jaane Kya Tune Kahi” while Waheeda Rehman’s character seduces Guru Dutt’s character on screen is bittersweet.
Geeta Dutt’s songs for S.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar are of such high quality that they overwhelm her work with other music directors. There are many lovely gems in her body of work that do not get attention because of her exemplary work with these two composers. “Mujh Ko Tum Jo Mile”, composed by her brother Mukul Roy, is one such song. Geeta Dutt’s chemistry with another great singer, Hemant Kumar, makes this romantic duet with a hint of waltz a balm for weary souls.
In 1957, S.D. Burman and Lata Mangeshkar stopped working for a few years due to a misunderstanding. During this period, songs he would have otherwise given to her, went either to Geeta Dutt or to Asha Bhosle. To their credit, both of them grew as singers and made those songs their own. For example, in “Nanhi Koli Sone Chali”, Geeta Dutt imparted playfulness to a simple lori (lullaby) in a style no other singer could have matched.
The failure of “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959) had already taken a huge toll on the mercurial Guru Dutt and sent him in throes of depression. This had put additional strain on a marriage already in turmoil. Amidst reports of Guru Dutt placing restrictions on films she could sing for, Geeta Dutt’s discography shrunk considerably year over year and she found solace in alcohol. From about a hundred songs a year in the late 1950s, she was down to less than 20 songs in 1962. In her husband’s last film with Waheeda Rehman, Geeta Dutt sang only for Meena Kumari’s character. Her angst in “Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda Ke Baiyan”, singing for Meena Kumari’s inebriated character, blurred the line between fiction and reality.
After “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam”, Waheeda Rehman decided to move on from Guru Dutt’s films. Already a broken man, his continued depression eventually ended in his death in 1964, allegedly by suicide. Geeta Dutt never really recovered from her husband’s death and died of liver cirrhosis in 1972. In her last film, “Anubhav”, she glowed brightly once again and sang three lovely melodies composed by her brother, Kanu Roy, two of which were written by Gulzar, including the ethereal “Meri Jaan Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho”. She may have left us too soon but Geeta Dutt left us with plenty to remember her by.