The instinctive singer Geeta Dutt, who sang from her heart and soul, left an indelible mark in her swan song, the film Anubhav. Piano-accordionist Sammy Reuben recounts some cherished moments with the legendary singer in a conversation with Pakanati Lakshmi Priya.
Meri jaan… Mujhe jaan na kaho meri jaan…
This immortal song from Anubhav (1971) did two incredible things. It started the career in cinema of the famous piano-accordionist Sammy Reuben. And it proved a point, that Geeta Dutt, despite her personal life being in shambles, was still the queen of bhaav gayaki. No one could emote a song like she could. Period.
Travelling down memory lane, Sammy Reuben shared his experiences and remembrances of Geeta Dutt with me over a phone conversation. Son of the late Dr. H. Reuben, Sammy is an ex-student of St. Vincent’s High School and of Fergusson College, Pune. He first took piano lessons from Miss E. Roberts, and later learned the piano-accordion from Mrs. A Ketkar. A hobby first, music became his career when he went to Bombay in 1967.
On October 10, 1964, Guru Dutt had passed away, leaving Geeta a broken woman. She had suffered a nervous breakdown. It took her quite some time to recover from the trauma. 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.
It was during this period in the year 1968 that Sammy first met her. Sammy Reuben was just 24 when he came from Pune to Bombay (now Mumbai) and was staying as a paying guest with his aunt in Bombay. He used to go frequently in the evenings to Geeta Dutt’s house.
According to Sammy, the character artist Tuntun [also known as singer Uma Devi] had taken up one room for herself in Geeta Dutt’s home. Sammy said she made abundant use of Geeta Dutt’s hospitality.
Sammy met Tuntun’s daughters too and one of them was an air hostess, which made Sammy wonder why she didn’t stay with her daughters. One of the reasons could be that Tuntun was a regular in all Guru Dutt’s films and therefore stayed with the filmmaker’s wife after Guru Dutt passed away.
Sammy added that Geeta Dutt had many friends during the pinnacle of fame. However, he could not recall even a single friend of Geeta Dutt visiting her during her difficult days. It was as if she had been abandoned by them all. He used to go to her house often back then and did not see any visitors.
After Guru Dutt passed away, Geeta Dutt had her three children with her in her home. The lady who used to look after the housekeeping and the three children later married Debu Chakraborty, the tabla player who used to play for Geeta Dutt in her stage shows. Geeta Dutt even helped them with the marriage. Debu also played for SD Burman, R D Burman and Hemant Kumar and he is now settled in Toronto, Canada.
Apart from these inhabitants, Geeta Dutt’s house was home to her cousin cum secretary Hiroo, who used to look arrange her shows, collect payments and manage her engagements. According to Sammy, Hiroo had big eyes and was a typical Bengali.
Through the entire conversation, Sammy kept repeating that Geeta Dutt was such a graceful and wonderful person. He recalled that she never ever discussed her personal problems but was rather more concerned about Sammy’s difficulties.
Geeta Dutt at all times was very restrained and considerate about others. One wonders, if only she had lived now in the days of internet and music groups, multitudes of her TRUE fans would not have made her feel lonely.
There was a time when Asha Bhonsle used to touch Geeta Dutt’s feet whenever they both met, recalled Sammy. Later O P Nayyar gave the heroine songs in the film Howrah Bridge to Asha Bhonsle who had become his chosen singer and gave Geeta Dutt only the club song ‘Mera naam chin chin choo’. This one club song went on to become the most popular song of the film, proving yet again that Geeta knew how to take the listeners along with her. But Geeta Dutt always wished well for everyone and had no grievances.
Mera naam Chin Chin Choo (Howrah Bridge, 1958) – OP Nayyar / Qamar Jalalabadi / Geeta Dutt
Recalling some of the golden memories, Sammy said that he along with Tuntun, Hiroo and Monish (an aspiring actor and one of the several people who lived in her house) used to go out with Geeta Dutt for late night movie shows.
Once Geeta Dutt was to perform in a show in Pune. When she came to know that Pune was Sammy’s home town, she ensured that his name was also there in the publicity posters for the show. In Pune, Sammy drove his father’s elegant Vauxhall car. When they were back in Bombay, Geeta Dutt used to make her driver go home and Sammy would drive them when they used to go for these late night shows.
Geeta Dutt had come straight from the hospital to record Mujhe ja na kaho meri jaan for the film Anubhav (1971). She was not in the best of health. But she got the nuances of the song immediately. She had hardly rehearsed the song but in no time she picked up the melody and the recording was over in an hour. She had by then recorded a couple of songs for the film already. Sammy said he never saw her recording at the peak of her career but from what he saw he felt that it was incredible that a singer who was going through a deep crisis in her personal life, with no regular recordings and practice, could sing just like that as if on a cue.
Mujhe jaan na kaho meri jaan (Anubhav, 1971) – Kanu Roy / Gulzar / Geeta Dutt
Asked about her laugh in the song, Sammy said he does not know how she did that. Maybe the words or the film scene needed that laugh or maybe the director Basu Bhattacharya must have suggested it. The song was composed by the brilliant music director Kanu Roy. Kanu Roy and Kanu Ghosh were assistants to composer Salil Chowdhury. For this song Debu Chakraborty played the tabla while Sammy played the piano-accordion.
We have seen Shubha Khote playing the piano-accordion in ‘Tu Pyar ka sagar hai’ in Seema (1955). This instrument was regularly used in theatres for any Nautanki. It had a keyboard like harmonium, which was played using both hands and the wind support was given to the instrument by paddling a sewing machine like pedestal. The instrument was called Paitty, perhaps because of its wooden box-like appearance. Some people even call this the desi piano.
This conversation with Sammy Reuben revealed the lesser known side of Geeta Dutt in the last years of her life. For us fans, each and every anecdote and info nugget about her is a precious glimpse into the talent, personality and attitude of our favourite singer.
Koi chupke se aake (Anubhav, 1971) – Kanu Roy / Gulzar / Geeta Dutt
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