Her songs never die

A tribute to the genius of Geeta Dutt, whose 86th birth anniversary was celebrated last week.

Geeta Roy appeared on the world of film music in 1947 and with her very first song Mera sundar sapna beet gaya” she attained unprecedented fame and popularity winning the hearts of millions of music lovers. That was the time when singer-actors like Kanan Devi, Khurshid and Noor Jehan had departed from the scene and playback singers like Raj Kumari, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnatki and Shamshad Begum ruled the film world. Geeta Roy brought new freshness and charm with her melodious voice and created a mood as desired by both her lyric writers and composers who were amazed at the range and depth of her expression.

She was hailed as the female counterpart of the legendary K.L.Saigal who had passed away earlier in the same year. Geeta’s musical talent was discovered and groomed by the renowned music director S.D. Burman who composed this eternal melody “Sundar sapna” for the film “Do Bhai” produced by Filmistan. Disc sales of this song were phenomenal and broke all previous records. Added to this her other song Yaad Karoge” from the same film, both penned by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan established Geeta Roy’s reputation as the pre-eminent playback singer in the Mumbai film industry.

Hailing from a landowning family of East Bengal, Geeta Roy was born at Faridpur on 23rd November 1930. She had an ear for music from her childhood and learnt it from her music tutor Pandit Hirindranath Chowdhury who made her do riyaaz for hours everyday, which she loved to do. But this classical music training was disrupted when her family moved over to Mumbai in 1942. She was only 12 but the passion for music had already taken hold of her. So without any help she carried on with her regular riyaaz on her harmonium. Fond of singing Bengali bhajans and folk songs while in Mumbai she now picked up Hindu-Urdu lyrics and was intelligent and clever enough to learn and master the language diction. One day while singing to herself, she was overheard by one music director Hanuman Prasad.

He was very much impressed by her voice and style and noticed the potential of her extraordinary talent. He gave her the first break to sing in his film Bhakta Prahlad” (1946). This was enough for her successful entry into the playback singing field of those days. So much so that within the first year itself she got offers to sing in half a dozen films and came to the notice of the eminent music director S.D.Burman who was struck by her golden voice and turned her into a singing star of the film world when she was just 17. During 1947-49, she became the number one playback singer in Indian cinema. Geeta Roy, however, lost her pre-eminent position to Lata Mangeshkar with the latter’s astounding hit songs in three successive films viz. “Andaz”, “Barsaat” and “Mahal”, all released in 1949. The eternal melody Aayega aanewala” from “Mahal” became an all-time hit and Lata emerged as the greatest playback singer of the Indian screen. Nevertheless, in the 1950s, Geeta Roy with her special talent and enchanting voice managed to hold her own against Lata for more than a decade and the duo dominated the film music of the 1950s.

Geeta Roy played a pioneering role in the music world with her jazzy songs scored by S.D. Burman in “Baazi” (1951), displaying an entirely new facet of her singing. The sensual touch in her voice mouthed by Geeta Bali, then a leading star, and her effortless rendition of westernised tunes simply stunned the listeners. Practically every song was a hit and some of them are still popular after a lapse of over 60 years – “Suno gajar kya gaye” and “Tadbir se bigdi hui”. It was during the recording of these songs that she met the film director Guru Dutt and their mutual attraction culminated in their marriage in 1953. She sang some of her best songs in his films with the music director O.P.Nayar adding a new dimension to the rhythm and content of her songs. Geeta was endowed with a rare gift and was able to do full justice to every type of song, sad, emotion-filled, light, joyful, romantic and boisterous. Guru Dutt’s films like “Aar Paar”, “Mr.& Mrs.55” and “C.I.D.” all carried memorable numbers like Babuji dheere chalna”, “Thandi hawa kali ghata aa hi gayi jhumke” and “Jata kahan hai deewane”. The most outstanding classics that Guru Dutt produced were “Pyaasa” (1957) and “Sahib Bibi Ghulam” (1962) and here we find Geeta offering her all-time favourites – “Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo”, “Jane kya tune kahi”, “Koi door se awazde” and “Na jao saiyyan chhuda ke bayyian”.

By 1957-58, the husband-wife team began drifting apart and Geeta stopped singing for other producers to please Guru Dutt but their marriage was on the rocks. The film “Kagaz ke phool” was more or less an autobiographical narrative but unfortunately it failed at the box office. However, we find Geeta giving us one of her most memorable number portraying her true to life mental agony –Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam, tum rahe na tum.” It is a pity that a husband-wife team both geniuses in their own way were bereft of happiness. To improve the situation Guru Dutt launched the production of a film (Gauri”) with Geeta as heroine but the plan fizzled out as Guru Dutt was now reportedly deeply involved with the heroine of his film Pyaasa”. Geeta went into depression and now sought comfort from the bottle. Guru Dutt, a sensitive artiste was unable to cope with this situation and became a recluse. Finally, this love-marriage tussle drove him to commit suicide in 1964 leaving Geeta alone to fend for herself and their three children.

A broken woman, then only 34, Geeta tried to revive her career but without success. The music directors had by now groomed Asha Bhosle and were reluctant to give her any assignments. She tried to make a living by doing some stage shows and even took a role in a Bengali film “Badhu Bharan” but could not stage a come-back or regain her fame as a singer. The bottle played havoc with her health and she died in 1972 but not before proving to the world that she still had a magic in her voice and her mastery in singing was very much alive. The music lovers simply adore her parting melodies in Kanu Roy’s films “Uski Kahani” and “Anubhav”- “Aaj ki kali ghata”, “Meri jan mujhe jan na kaho” and “Mera dil jo mera hota.”

Geeta Dutt had a brief span of life. Her music career extended over a period of just 15 years and there again she worked under restraint when asked to sing only for Guru Dutt films. All the same, she will always be remembered as one of the greatest singers of the 20th Century. Like K.L.Saigal, she is still admired and appreciated by the discerning music lovers. Some of her fans consider her as the female counterpart of Saigal, the immortal singer. As with him, Geeta’s voice defies description. It was captivating, expressive, soulful, sensual, romantic, passionate, sorrowful, all rolled into one. There was something unearthly and mysterious about her singing when her voice warmed the hearts of the heartless world and cast a spell on her listeners.