Ode to the one who fell aside
"mera naam chin chin choo…"
While this song is well recognized, the singer isn’t that well known today. In her heyday, Geeta Dutt (nee, Geeta Roy) was a member of the most exalted group of female singers that Indian cinema has produced. This star-studded group enthralled a generation of music lovers, covering a span, starting from the pre-partition days to the 70s. Included in this group are stalwarts like Shamshad Begum, Noor-Jahan, Arti Mukhopadhyay, Runa Laila, Geeta Dutt and Lata Mangeshkar. Geeta’s relationship with Lata was controversial. More on that, later.
Geeta was born in 1930 in Faridpur district in what was then East Bengal. She moved to Bombay as a pre-teen girl and lived with her parents in a modest flat. Once she was noticed by a director, there was no looking back for her. She went from strength to strength producing one hit after another. Take a look at some of her famous numbers:
Tadbeer se Bigdi hui Taqdeer - Baazi (1951)
Aa Jaan-e-wafaa - Anarkali (1953)
Babuji Dheere Chalna - Aar Paar (1954)
Yeh Lo Main Haari Piya - Aar Paar (1954)
Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata - Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955)
Jaane Kya Tune Kahi - Pyaasa (1957)
Waqt ne Kiya Kya Haseen Situm - Kaagaz ke Phool (1959)
Na Jao Saiyaan - Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962)
She had a style which some say originated in her earlier practice of Bengali kirtan. S D Burman effectively used her kirtan style in film songs and produced some really memorable songs.
What strikes me the most about her is that she doesn’t "perform" so much. Her voice is so smooth that she seems to sing effortlessly. "mera naam chin chin choo… wah waah" ! Doesn’t her voice seem to just glide through? Compared to that, I find Lata’s voice, though extremely melodious, quite studied and exerted. Comparison and competition with Lata was inevitable since at Geeta’s peak, Lata was still not the unchallengeable queen of melody that she became later. Though eventually relegated to the second spot, Geeta managed to hold her own against Lata for more than a decade and she and Lata were the premier two female playback singers of the 1950s. Many people have accused Lata of manipulating directors into giving her plum songs and mechanizing the eventual destruction of Geeta’s career. Such accusations gained strength since these were corroborated by similar accusations from Runa Laila, Arti etc. It’s difficult to confirm the veracity of these accusations. May be Lata would have triumphed either way. However, if I have to pick one over another, I would pick Geeta.
Geeta’s tragic personal life took toll on not only her career but on her life too. After a brief romance with Guru Dutt, who was then an upcoming director, she got married to him in 1953. Geeta sang some of her best songs in Guru Dutt’s films.
By 1957, her marriage was in trouble, largely due to Guru Dutt’s philandering ways. He had got involved with Waheeda Rahman. The marital breakdown affected her career. Guru Dutt’s restrictions on Geeta prevented her from utilizing the opportunities that came up in S D Burman and O P Nayaar films. Though both of them wanted Geeta to sing in their films but gave up on her and started nurturing Asha Bhosle. Asha eventually took her place and went past her. By then, Geeta had taken to alcohol. Then in 1964, Guru Dutt passed away. Like typical Indian women, her attachment was still so strong that she suffered a nervous breakdown. On top of this, she found herself in a financial mess. Her feeble attempts of a comeback went largely unrewarded and she continued her drinking ways. Finally, her body gave away and she died of liver damage in 1972.
I wonder what more classics we would have been blessed with, if only she had not died at 42. The world missed out on more from a genius.