Geetā Dutt

23 Nov 1930
20 Jul 1972
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Geetā Dutt (born Geetā Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri) (23 November 1930 – 20 July 1972) was a prominent singer in India, born in Faridpur before the Partition of India. She found particular prominence as a playback singer in Hindi cinema. She also sang many modern Bengali songs.

Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri was one of 10 children born in the rich Zamindar family of Debendranath Ghosh Roy Chowdhary and Amiya Devi, at Faridpur in Bengal, British India, now in Bangladesh. Her family shifted to Calcutta in the early forties, leaving behind their land and properties. In 1942, her parents moved to an apartment in Dādar, Bombay. Geeta was twelve and continued her schooling at the Bengali High School.

K. Hanuman Prasad took Geeta under his patronage, trained and groomed her in singing and later launched her into singing for movies. In 1946, she got the first break with an opportunity to sing in the mythological film Bhakta Prahlad for which Prasad was the music director. She was given only two lines to sing for a few songs. She was sixteen, and those two lines mesmerised everyone in the recording studio.

Ab jaani re pehchaani re

Suno suno vintee hamaari

Suno suno hari ki leela

Jaag uthe hum jaag uthe

In 1947, she got her break with Do Bhai. The music of Do Bhai became a hit with “Mera sundar sapna beet gaya” topping the charts. Geeta Roy’s fresh and melodious voice combined vivacity and pathos in such a way that, despite a pronounced “Bengali lilt,” the song touched the pulse of thousands of music lovers. In the same film she sang the evocative “Yaad karoge, yaad karoge, ik din humko yaad karoge.” It was remarkable for a teenager to sing with such maturity.

In the same year, she sang for Hunuman Prasad’s other releases.

“Naino Ki Pyali Se Hoto Ki Madira” (Rasili)
“Neha Lagake Mukh Mod Gayaa” (Rasili)
“Aaja ri Nindiya Aaja”: a lullaby alongside the established playback singer Parul Ghosh (Nai Maa)
The uncanny ability of Geeta Dutt that made her race past her contemporaries was her unique versatility to sing any kind of song with the authentic tone, feeling, passion and emotion as demanded by the composition and the situation it was being picturised in. From a bhajan to a club song, from a haunting melancholic song to a peppy romantic number, she could traverse the range of music, seemingly effortlessly. This unique versatility helped Geeta (Roy) Dutt carve out a niche and cement her place even when the Lata Mangeshkar phenomenon was sweeping through the world of Hindi playback, following the runaway success of Aayega Aanewala in Mahal (1949). Geeta Dutt’s chart-busting “Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le” in Guru Dutt’s directorial debut Baazi (1951) was the turning point where “Geeta Roy’s vivacity was matched every inch by Geeta Bali on-screen”. S. D. Burman had turned a ghazal by Sahir Ludhianvi into a sensual club song much to the chagrin of the famed lyricist-poet: The ploy worked as Baazi proved a hit on the strength of that song alone.

S D Burman fully exploited Geeta Dutt’s potential across the spectrum. “Aan milo shyam saanware” (Devdas, 1955), the duet with Manna Dey, has the unmistakable touch of the Baul folk music of Bengal. “Nanhi kali sone chali” (Sujata, 1959) is one of the most popular and heart-touching lullaby ever where Geeta Dutt’s voice rings maternal love in every note. The bubbly exuberance of “Aye dil mujhe bata de” (Bhai Bhai, 1956) is in sharp contrast to the pathos of “Waqt ne kiya” in (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959).

During Geeta’s recording of songs for the movie Baazi, she met its young and upcoming director, Guru Dutt. Their romance culminated in marriage on 26 May 1953. Geeta went on to sing some of her best songs in his movies while continuing to sing in other assignments as well.

Geeta and Guru Dutt had three children: Tarun (b. 1954), Arun (b. 1956), and Ninā (b. 1962). Tarun committed suicide in 1985. Arun Dutt died in 2014.

In 1957, Guru Dutt launched a movie, Gauri, with Geeta as its singing star. It was to be India’s first movie in CinemaScope, but the project was shelved after only a few days of shooting. By then, their marriage was on the rocks: Guru Dutt had got romantically involved with Waheeda Rehman, and Geeta had taken to drinking. The break-up of their marriage affected Geeta’s singing career.

Meanwhile, in distant Bengal, Geeta Dutt’s songs were on every Bengali cine buff’s lips as her dulcet voice crooned for Bengal’s Queen of Hearts Suchitra Sen in some of biggest hits of the late 50s. “Tumi je amar” (Harano Sur, 1957) caught the fascination of the youth, portraying a romance that was passionate yet dignified. With music directors Hemant Mukherjee (better known as Hemant Kumar in Bombay film industry) (Harano Sur) and Nachiketa Ghosh (Prithibi Amare Chaaye, 1957 and Indrani, 1958), Geeta Dutt came up with songs that were hauntingly melodious, youthful and heartwarming. At a time when Sandhya Mukherjee’s voice was synonymous with Suchitra Sen, Hemant Mukherjee and Nachiketa Ghosh picked Geeta Dutt.

In 1958, S.D. Burman had developed discord with Lata Mangeshkar as a playback singer and he attempted to work with Geeta as the main singer of his compositions rather than the upcoming Asha Bhosle who, he felt, was relatively raw. However, out of her personal problems, Geeta would not practice her art sufficiently and failed to meet Burman’s demanding standards. (He and O.P. Nayyar then started to work with Asha and helped her blossom as a singer.)

Guru Dutt’s magnum opus Kaagaz Ke Phool came in 1959 in which Guru Dutt himself starred in the lead role with Waheeda Rehman. The film was in a way reflective of his own views on life and the transitory nature of fame and success in the film world.

Geeta Dutt came up with one of her best renditions in the heart-rending “Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam,” composed by S. D. Burman and penned by Kaifi Azmi where she poured out her pain, anguish and pathos in every word. However, the box-office disaster of Kaagaz Ke Phool (which is now considered a classic) left them shattered, financially and emotionally.

In 1964, Guru Dutt died from a combination of alcohol and an overdose of sleeping pills. (His death was widely perceived as a suicide following two earlier attempts. Geeta then suffered a serious nervous breakdown and ran into financial problems. She tried to resume her singing career, cutting discs at Durgā Pujā and giving stage shows. She performed in a leading role in a Bengali movie, Badhu Baran (1967), and sang admirably Anubhav (1971), which was her final performance to the music of Kanu Roy as she died of liver cirrhosis in 1972, at the age of 41.

Geeta died of cirrhosis of the liver on 20 July 1972 Mumbai.

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