Geeta Dutt would have been almost 90 years old today, but her voice is ageless – nee, immortal -- making you yearn for a love that truly isn’t yours anymore, or has never been. You could be drinking a cup of tea and cursing your stars, or crying into your glass and ruining that liquid gold which has spent 18 years maturing in an oak cask as a well-used vinyl spins in the corner, suffusing the air with a redolence of tuberoses and an inimitable voice that gives life to your deepest desire: ‘Tumi je aamar, ogo tumi je aamar’ (Say you are mine… just say you are mine).
No one can look as perfect together as Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar in Harano Sur (Lost Notes) and the icing on the cake is Geeta Dutt’s voice hitting all the right notes, like maple syrup filling up the tiny squares on your hot waffle and then oozing on to the plate.
It’s a voice that seduces, no matter what the language. Makes you want to follow Rosy wherever she leads you…
Guru Dutt fell headlong in love with this doe-eyed Bengali singer who had a voice like none other during the shooting of his film Baazi (1951). Dev Anand inadvertently helped start a love story that would consume both of them. SD Burman was by then wanting to work with someone different. And Geeta had made waves not four years ago with two songs in a Bengali film called Bhakt Prahlad.
Who else could get a soulful bhajan singer to sing to a western tune and turn her into an icon? Her ‘Tadbeer se bigdi huyi taqdeer bana de’ till date remains the song to cheer up a friend who has lost everything. Geeta Bali on screen had the perfect playback voice as she lays a challenge, ‘Apne pe bharosa hai toh yeh daanv lagale’!
And when someone is saying, ‘Aaj ki raat piya dil na todo,’ can you let go of their hand? Of course, Guru Dutt had to marry Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri. It is said that her family was not happy with the marriage but when two fabulously talented people fall in love, who can stop that avalanche?
No matter how tumultuous their relationship was, Geeta Dutt sang some of the most amazing songs for Guru Dutt. This particular song has the best of the two of them. Guru Dutt’s furrowed brow that you cannot help fall in love with, and her sass when she says, ‘Zulfon ko jhatak kar hum ye phool gira dein toh?’
Not just Pyaasa, but Geeta and Guru Dutt made marvelous music for Kaagaz Ke Phool and the incredible Saheb Biwi Aur Ghulam. Songs like Piya aiso jiya mein samaaye gayo re do resonate with those freshly in love and when you realise that this love is what makes you behave in a manner you never thought you would and how there is one person occupying your dreams, ‘Ai dil mujhe bata de tu kis pe aa gaya hai…’ (Bhai Bhai)
And the effect of love is both ‘Thandi hawa, kaali ghata’ and your heart sings. There is a skip in your step and you ignore a little honeyed voice of Geeta Dutt warning you to be careful of this love because ‘Bade dhokhe hain is raah mein!’
If we keep romantic love on hold and remember that she entered the limelight with a higher kind of love, then the songs will just burst down on you. In that deluge, there are some unmissable diamonds, starting with, ‘Ghoonghat ke pat khol tohe piya milenge’ (Jogan, 1950), the philosophical Bengali song, ‘Need choto khoti nei, akaash bodo’ (Indrani, 1958, again Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar), ‘Preetam aan milo’ (Mr. & Mrs. 55, 1955), and the most unexpected mix of romantic and spiritual love in, ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo’
Before you get carried away by the feelings, or like a millennial, say, ‘That escalated quickly!’ I want you to step into the fun songs that she sang with just as much ease. The song that’s on top of the list is the quintessential birthday song list for everyone is, ‘Tum jiyo hazaro saal’ (originally sung by Geeta Dutt). And on her birth anniversary too I would remind you that it wasn’t all wine and roses for her in real life. The two superstars were jealous of one another (and jealousy is a limiting word). What with Guru Dutt being distracted by his work, his cinematic muse Waheeda Rahman and Geeta moving out of their home back to her parents, alcohol, sleeping pills, bad friends and suspicion… Neither one could live with one another nor live without each other. I am just grateful for her voice. She gave us ‘Mera naam chin chin chu’ and ‘Bachpan ke din bhi kya din thay’, ‘Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji’, ‘Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan’ and ‘Nanhi kali sone chali’. I would be wrong to miss out on ‘Hoon abhi main jawan ae dil’, ‘Udhar tum haseen ho, idhar main jawan hoon’, ‘Ye lo main haari piya’ and ‘Jaata kahaan hain dewaane’. And I would be amiss to not let you into this wonderful aspect of love…
You’re singing, ‘Mujhe jaan na kaho meri jaan!’ there is a niggling thought that enters your head: What if he leaves? What if he really does care for someone else? What if he ate cheesecake with someone else? Your fragile love makes you behave in the most ridiculous way. And even though you think you are living in the now, you believe in the forever because songs like, ‘Na ye chand hoga… Magar hum hamesha tumhare rahenge’ give you a sense of hope.
Geeta Dutt’s life saw as many crests as troughs and their lives were so fragile and flammable, you wish things were different. With Guru Dutt’s tryst with sleeping pills and alcohol-fueled loneliness and death, Geeta Dutt was shattered too. Her voice always had that hint of pain which is evident in the beautiful melancholic songs she sang. As early as 1947, in the film Do Bhai she sings the wonderful, ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya’... But can you forget Meena Kumari’s Choti Bahu trying to seduce Rahman to stay?
Geeta Dutt sang many a Bengali song in her heyday as well as in desperate times. And I cannot even begin to write about them, nor am I qualified. Sometimes you wish you could really change things for some people… And if there were a time machine, and an option to save these two people tied by an invisible thread of love, I would break all time-space continuum rules. But time is a cruel mistress, and the plaint in the song by Kaifi Azmi put to tune by the one and only S D Burman from Kaagaz Ke Phool says it all, ‘Wakt ne kiya, kya haseen sitam’...
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication. Read her columns here.
First Published: IST