Geeta Dutt identified artistic “inspiration as the cause of divine fires in the creator, fires which result in his frenzied seeking after artistic perfection”. Sounak Gupta pays tribute to the artist and her art that went way beyond the limits of technique.
“The artist’s first love is his work,” said Geeta Dutt, and had a reason behind saying that. “When everything is boiled down to the essentials, it appears to be the final explanation of the mystery of all artistic and creative endeavours,” she had written in an article ‘The Artist’s First Love’ in Filmfare, 1958.
The Teen Sensation
Geeta Roy, born in a family of zamindars in Faridpur (part of Bangladesh at present), spent her childhood in rented houses in North Calcutta. Before she reached her teens, she was living in a small flat in Dadar Hindu Colony, Bombay. In this journey, all that she could carry with her was her music. Geeta took lessons in music in Calcutta. First, from her mother Amiya Devi, and then from Harendranath Nandi, who she called ‘mastermoshai’. Around 1941, both Harendranath and the Roys moved to Bombay. In Geeta’s words, “I sang and sang seeking to give expression to my inner self. At that time we were staying at Dadar.”
Geeta was only thirteen or fourteen when she would attend school classes at the Bengali Education Society’s School in the morning, and give singing and dancing lessons to young girls in the evening. This was just a few years after the days when she would spend the evening playing in the Shraddananda Park in Calcutta, as a young girl!
What was it that made Geeta unable to resist teaching young girls, when she was herself just in her early teens? “Ever since I was a little girl, I was restless to sing and dance,” she wrote and that perhaps holds the key to the irrepressible urge to sing and share her music. Now that she had already learnt the basics, and was not being able to take further lessons in music, she began teaching! How did teaching come to her? “I was very enthusiastic about inspiring others with a passion for singing,” are her words that reflect her passion.
Humble and Down to Earth
In Geeta Dutt The Skylark, her biographer Haimanti Banerjee narrates in Geeta and Guru Dutt’s younger son Arun Dutt’s words, “A couple of years before the Do Bhai singing star was born, Geeta of 15/16 used to give light music lessons to the girls of a Marwari family. One evening when Geeta went there, she found that the birthday party of one of the kids was in progress. The lady of the house called Geeta and gave her a plate full of eats to eat not in the drawing room, but in the kitchen along with the other servants!”
Music, perhaps, was too insignificant and nothing more than a time pass for the members of this family. But what was significant to them?
Here comes the second part of the story. “A few years later, the same family invited the celebrated singer from the tinsel town, the filmi duniya! They had of course, arranged an elaborate party with the glitterati of the business world. Soon, the sprawling table was laid; sumptuous dishes were spread with aromatic aliments! Along with the others, the guest of honour, Geeta too was served a plate. Geeta looked at it pleasantly and quietly excusing herself, went inside. Wondering, what she was up to, others followed her. To their chagrin, they discovered that Geeta went straight to the kitchen and sat on the ground exactly where she had been asked to sit, a few years back with the servants and the cooks!”
Music was what Geeta valued, and not the glitter of fame that had just got added to her name. She was too confident about her love for music to dishonour it by accepting to serve to her fame. Geeta Dutt had been clear about her idea of the fame she got back then. In her own words, “They say that fame and career, won after a hard struggle, are more satisfying than when they are acquired comparatively easily. I do not know. Personally, I have no tale of bitter struggles to tell. The Do Bhai songs became hits, and paved the way for me. However, lasting satisfaction arises only from having done the work in hand well, to the best of one’s ability.”
Yaad karoge, yaad karoge, ik din humko yaad karoge (Do Bhai, 1947) SD Burman / Raja Mehdi Ali Khan / Geeta Dutt
The singer did not attach as much glory to her fame and success as she did to music, to which, she had clung right from the sweet days of Faridpur, through the turbulent times in pre-Great War Calcutta, through the days of being a common girl in the Dadar Hindu Colony, till when she was the singing star of tinsel town. If one hears her singing Thehro zara si der to, and then hear Mera naam Chin Chin Chu; or hear her in two of her early songs Kotwal daroga apna ke, and Ro ro ke sunate hain, one can clearly find a difference. It almost doesn’t seem as if it’s the same singer singing.
How did Geeta Dutt sound so different in each song she sang? On a personal level, I do not think it has something to do with the techniques she applied in rendering each song, but it is because she never remained too conscious about technique. The responsible artist that she had been, Geeta Dutt was definitely confident about her abilities and aware of her limitations. Thus, she was relaxed and spontaneous. She could break herself; her image; from every aspect, for a song, and remould herself again, for another. She surrendered herself to each of her songs, totally, in no less extent than a believer surrenders to God. Just as a devotee asks God to carry her through the journey of life, Geeta let each of her songs carry her, and did not seem to make an effort to bear the load of carrying the song herself. She let her Art, her Love, carry her along.
The Story of ‘Love’
When the story came to ‘Love’, Geeta said, “I have more of a sentimental attachment to some songs than to others, irrespective of whether they become hits or not. And that brings me to the most important phase of my life; the day one artist met another.”
It was sometime around 1950, Navketan Films was making Baazi, and Sachin Dev Burman had been signed to compose music for the film. One morning he sent his word to none but the leading voice of the times, Geeta Roy, to report for rehearsal of Baazi songs at the Famous Cine Laboratory and Studios at Mahalakshmi. In the singer’s words, “My father and I drove to the studio and parked the car in the compound. He got out saying he would inquire where the rehearsals were being held, while I sat in the car. A few minutes later, a young man came up and said: ‘Come, I’ll take you to the rehearsal room.’ Geeta was a little reluctant, but the young man’s manners assured her, and on top of that, the man spoke Bengali, her mother tongue. The singer was taken upstairs, where SD Burman had been rehearsing, and she asked her ‘Sachinda’, who that Bengali gentleman was. Geeta was surprised to learn that the ‘Bengali gentleman’ she was referring to, was not a Bengali. He was Guru Dutt, the director of Baazi.
What happened during the rehearsals that day isn’t known with any certainty, but in Guru Dutt’s mother, Vasanti Padukone’s words, “On the mahurat day, Geeta sang her first song, Tadbeer se bigdi hui. I remember that day which left a deep impression on my mind. Her sweet voice remained like a haunting tune.”
Tadbeer se bigdi hui (Baazi, 1951) SD Burman / Sahir / Geeta Dutt
What was so special about this song? In SD Burman’s words, as he told Raju Bharatan, “The most important experiment in this film was a Ghazal – Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le, set to music in the western style and sung by playback singer Geeta Roy. When the film was ready to release, I got too anxious: had I made a mistake? When I went to Calcutta for a holiday, the records of Baazi had come into the market. After a few days, one of my friends suggested that we go fishing in Itchhapur. Football and fishing have always been my two great loves. My friend said, ‘The fish are waiting to be caught by you.’ After 10 hours and lot of disappointment, I returned home thinking that the friend had exaggerated. We did not catch any fish! No fish tried to catch the hook even! Afterwards, I came to know that it was not that there was no fish there, or that they refused to bite. In fact, a gang of urchins was busy frolicking in the water and the fish had decided to stay in the bottom. In that evening, I went to the other side. I wanted to shoo the urchins out of the water. But as I approached them, I heard them singing. I forgot about fishing, because my experiment had worked, Tadbeer se bigdi hui was the song they were singing!”
The Baazi song rehearsal saw Geeta Roy get introduced to Guru Dutt. It pleased Guru Dutt’s mother (seemingly Guru Dutt too!). The song was hugely successful across the country, and it was this special song that marked, what Geeta referred to as ‘an artist meeting another’. This was definitely one of those songs with which Geeta Dutt had a deep ‘sentimental attachment’. This was, again, one of her most popular songs.
Citing Tadbeer se bigdi hui along with nine other songs, all of which topped popularity charts, Geeta confirmed that these were also the songs which personally appealed to her the most. Though typically the most popular songs may not always be the singer’s personal favourites, for Geeta it was a fine line of difference, if any. While listing her ‘Top Ten Songs’, Geeta said, “Should I then list my ten best songs or my ten most popular songs? The dividing line, I feel, is very thin. The songs that have stood the test of public approval and the songs that have personally appealed to me are the same.”
She could definitely give more to a song, which appealed to her personally, by being able to lose herself completely in the song, although she said humbly, “If a song catches public fancy, it could only be because of all round perfection in all its departments – in its music, in its writing, in its singing.”
As Ganesh Anantharaman says in his book Bollywood Melodies, “Was there ever a singer who conveyed feelings better? Geeta Roy (Dutt) may have had the sketchiest of training, but she succeeded as a singer because she knew that playback singing is not so much about technique as it is about taking the listener along to a world of feelings. In her ability to be true to the mood of the song, her capacity to evoke the same mood in the listener, Geeta was supreme.”
Geeta Dutt’s famous songs, somehow, are quite significant in her life (and this is definitely not in the sense of making her more popular), and some almost sound autobiographical. When Baazi was in the process of being made, Geeta Roy and Guru Dutt were already in touch with each other, and Geeta was singing several songs of the film. Guru Dutt then started his next assignment, Jaal. This is when the two were writing letters to one another, after having been engaged.
In Guru Dutt’s letters to Geeta (which the singer had preserved), apart from what a passionate lover can write to his beloved, Guru Dutt wrote about his work in detail. For instance, while writing to her from Malvan on 24th February, 1952, referring to the Jaal song De Bhi chuke hum dil nazarana, Guru Dutt wrote, “I got your other letter too on the spot as I was shooting your duet song. It has come out very beautiful and I am sure you will appreciate it very much.” Then on 30th August, the same year, he wrote, “Here our distributors have done good publicity for Jaal. And I find this is the only territory in which the distributor has exploited the picture properly. I have an offer from our distributor to come down to Calcutta and take up a studio after Baaz. Let’s see what happens till then.”
De bhi chuke hum dil nazarana (Jaal, 1952) SD Burman / Sahir / Geeta Dutt and Kishore Kumar
In Geeta Dutt’s words, from Baazi to Baaz, it was just a matter of dropping the ‘I’ and converting it into ‘We’. It was during the making of Baaz, Guru Dutt’s first venture as a producer, that Geeta Roy and Guru Dutt got married, on the 26th of May, 1953. After this, Mr Dutt’s letters to Mrs Dutt (whenever they were away from one another) had even greater details of his work than before. By 1955, Guru Dutt was writing about the completion of Shamshad Begum’s Ab to ji hone laga, about watching Pramathesh Barua’s Devdas in Calcutta, and also about the plot of land he was thinking of purchasing near Lonavala, to make a farm. What Geeta would write in reply to Guru Dutt’s letters isn’t clear as the letters haven’t been found, however, following the references in Guru Dutt’s letters, it seems, Geeta too would be sharing her own views, and asking how work was progressing.
However, there doesn’t seem to have been much writing about Geeta Dutt’s songs outside Guru Dutt’s films. Right from Baazi in 1951 to Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam in 1962, Geeta Dutt has been the prime singing voice in all films produced and directed by Guru Dutt. The journey of Guru Dutt’s films is incomplete without Geeta, who was not only the lead singer in all of them, but was an important source of suggestions. It had been Geeta Dutt who suggested Guru Dutt to get OP Nayyar signed as the music director for Baaz and insisted that the composer be given a second chance in Aar Paar, after Baaz didn’t do too well at the box office. Thanks to Geeta Dutt’s suggestion and the artist husband’s faith in the artist wife, OP Nayyar, even after Aar Paar, could compose for Mr & Mrs 55, and CID. The result? We have songs like Babuji dheere chalna, Yeh lo main haari piya, Thandi hawa kali ghata, Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji, Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan, and of course, Jaata kahan hai deewane, which was never shot after the first day’s shoot!
Thandi hawa kali ghata (Aar Paar, 1955) OP Nayyar / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Geeta Dutt
Comments Nayyar, “Cultured, comely and well-read, Geeta could easily be a leading lady as she is a top playback singer. A linguist, sober and serious by nature and of a thoughtful disposition, Geeta is very considerate of others and punctilious to a fault. She is an asset to any music director.” Here comes out the well-read, thoughtful leading lady Geeta Dutt from the playback singer Geeta Dutt. No wonder, she had her eyes open, but also, a magnanimous heart. Not just that, she was a serious worker, always striving for perfection.
Perfect songs are bound to please listeners, she felt. “People have a complex that successful film songs are not necessarily the best. I beg to differ,” she said, reflecting confidence. While, from a personal point, she did admit, “I have more of a sentimental attachment to some songs more than to others, irrespective of whether they became hits or not.”
While Guru Dutt worked tirelessly on his films, discussing his ideas with his wife; Geeta Dutt, serious and thoughtful, gave golden suggestions to her husband, while continuing to sing in and out of Guru Dutt’s films. There had been days when Guru Dutt, stuck in Calcutta, apologised to Geeta for being unable to be at home on their third wedding anniversary; when he hoped that Geeta will no longer be angry with him by the time he returned from Tehran, and when they accidentally met at a departmental store only to find that Mrs Dutt had already purchased the very gift for Mr Dutt, which Mr Dutt had thought of buying for Mrs Dutt for their fifth wedding anniversary!
However, there was no break from work. Geeta did not seem to mind this. Being an artist herself, she felt for herself and all other artists, including her husband, that, “The artist’s first love is his work. It is as simple as that, really, when everything is boiled down to the essentials.” Two people living together in the society can have a million differences, but two artists can’t. Geeta said, “When I watch my husband at work I never cease to wonder at the devotion with which he works, his passion for perfection, the zeal which makes him forget people, circumstances, and the mundane, everyday realities, and I ask myself: What is the secret of this frenzy? From where does it come?”
She concluded, “It comes, I think, from the deep, hidden springs of emotions, from the inner depths of the heart and soul, from the shedding of the ‘I’ and merging it with the larger ‘We’. It comes finally, from life – and love.”
Geeta Dutt identified artistic inspiration as ‘divine fires’, which result in an artist’s frenzied seeking after artistic perfection. She lived with those fires, which burned so much of her outer self, and yet sought perfection. She affirmed with pride, “Mere patidev sahi arth mein kalakar the. Woh jo kaam bhi karte bahut mehnat aur lagan se karte the. Aur filmon ke madhyam se bhi wohi kuchh kehne ki koshish karte the jo kuchh woh sachhe dil se mehsus karte the.” (My husband was an artist in the true sense of the term. Whatever work he did, he would do with a lot of effort and devotion. What he tried to say in his films was what he truly felt, in his heart).
Waqt ne kiya (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959) SD Burman / Kaifi Azmi / Geeta Dutt
As Nasreen Munni Kabir writes, “Beyond his fine understanding of character and story-telling, a large part of Guru Dutt’s films was intensely personal. And as he both directed and acted in his films, there is a significant blurring between the filmmaker’s work and his life.” This stands true for Geeta Dutt too. Most of her songs which stand apart are emotionally connected with the singer’s life, and some, are nearly autobiographical. Isn’t the musical journey from Aaj ki raat piya (Baazi), through De bhi chuke hum dil nazrana (Jaal), Taare chandni afsane (Baaz), Sun sun sun sun zalima (Aar Paar), Udhar tum haseen ho (Mr & Mrs 55), Aankhon hi aankhon mein (CID), Rut phire par din hamare (deleted song from Pyaasa), Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam (Kaagaz Ke Phool), to Koi door se aawaz de chale aao (Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam) also a personal journey of Geeta Dutt from 1951 to 1962? Then, after going through a tough decade, she is singing Teri yaad mein sajan o sajan, soon to join her beloved who wrote back in 1958, ‘Darling, whatever may happen, remember you are a part of me, and you will always be a part of me. Perhaps you may not know how much I love you.’
The ‘I’-s that get converted to ‘We’ with that passion, are forever united in Art. Art comes from ‘life and love’, as the musical diva herself says.
The artist’s life and love are as eternal as art.
More to read on Geeta Dutt
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