It was not the zamindari fervour of enclaves in Calcutta, but a humbled dwelling in Dadar, that witnessed the making of Geeta into a playback nightingale. In 1948, the cinematic establishments of Bombay breathed a cultural emancipation of its own. The stories were now unafraid to delve into shadows and the men behind the lens didn’t blink much while visioning. It was this Bombay that had presented itself to the kajal adorning eyes of young and effervescent Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri who scaled the vastness of the city with the longevity of her dreams.
The journey of Geeta’s career is perfectly dramatic in itself. It’s a reflection of an innate desire, just one, that a woman held and devoted her entire life to it. This roller-coaster journey started with just a ‘two-line’ stint for the movie ‘Bhakta Prahlad’ that proved to be enough for her unconventional style to be noticed by the music stalwart S.D. Burman. The verve of her vocals and the enigma of her experiments made Geeta a sizeable figure in the industry in early 50s. With songs such as Woh Sapne Waali Raat (Pyaar, 1950) and Aan Milo Aan Milo (Devdas, 1955) Geeta was expressing a sea of emotions that was not expected to be sunk into at her age. She had boasted of a splendour that unavoidably moved every heart it touched; a melody that was too personal to be called someone else’s.
1.0 A Voice To Unexpressed Emotions
Cinema that floated in the 50s adorned diverse narratives of reviving romanticism. Filmmakers were embarking upon a journey to find love in the Indian society and bring it out from below the quilts of moralistic obligations. Since the stories contained flavours of fantasies, the music didn’t hold back to complement the charm. The love and longing, as experienced by an independent state of mind, was imbibed in artistic creations and then presented to an audience that unknowingly witnessed the magic of their own lives.
If cinema imitated life, music led that life to celebration. As it comes to Geeta’s renditions, the definition of celebration was given a gendered twist. In Tadbir Se Bigadi Taqdeer Geeta gifted a melody to women for celebrating their playfulness; to unhesitatingly be the forbearer of a romantic involvement. On the other hand, in Hum Aap Ki Ankhon Main Geeta brazened the beauty of moonlit nights and made women believe that such pearl glistened nights are not meant for dropped eyelids of longing but for held up chin, ballroom dancing and lengthening the man’s chase with tantrums.
The era which dwelled in mysticism of ghazals and sufi music, Geeta’s space on Earth was like a concealed getaway for Indian populace across genders and age. She didn’t want to sing love, she wanted to treatise it. In Babuji Dheere Chalna, she caramelises her voice in a perplexing progression of music which subtly slips across a wise tip about love and betrayal, wrapped in flattering lyrics. It was like a spectrum of emotions that displayed its lights by passing through the prism of Geeta’s vocal sharpness. She was able to wear many hats and could easily voice the feelings of varied moods and fantasies.
The most notable display of Geeta’s vocal versatility would be her outreach to every shade of womanhood. In doing so, she did a major service to manhood as well. She was unafraid in unveiling the treasuries of female sexual desires and sang her heart out for letting these wants get the tone it deserved. In Piya Aise Jiya Main, Na Jao Saiyyan Chuda Ke Baiyan and Kaise Rokoge Aise Toofan Ko, she emboldens women desires and wanting by resorting to high pitched vocals, soothing melodies and melting metaphors. She does the same in Shola Jo Bhadke but in a more coming of age, playful and, quite literally, Hawaiian suave. Sailing across the river, she also channelled reprised shores of love; aching through the notes of unreciprocated feelings. In Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya a grieved heart sings in retrospect of the things that were loved immensely but now are nowhere to be seen. Moreover, the motherly care in Naa Yeh Chand Hoga melts every human heart to softness of the symphony. Geeta has traversed the most intimate and vulnerable sides of love as well. In Hum Aap Ki Ankhon Main she surrenders herself to that one look of her lover’s that she had urged for ages, and in Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Lagalo, an ultimate cry of trust and belief is vented out that just wants to be held close with love and nothing more.
2.0 Humanism and Realism of an Imperfect Voice
Unlike Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta’s musical credentials aren’t boastful of some seasoned training. It was her natural talent, coupled with the range of her uniqueness, which captured the fancies of many music directors. Despite her imperfections, Geeta continued to produce hit after hit. She snowballed into a songstress that almost nobody dared to reckon with. So what was the reason behind this unconventional trend of fame? Well, the answers lie in the question itself.
It was the unconventionality of Geeta’s renditions that bewitched her audience. The masses were wooed by her unmatched ability to soothe the deepest of human pains with the softness of her voice. In fact, her songs were so closely rooted to the humanness that people couldn’t help but feel themselves being swayed by this personal perspective that they thought was their own. It was this realist element in Geeta’s music that made her flow into the lives of Indian populace. Decorated with the beauty of consequential music and situational lyrics, Geeta’s songs became anthems that showcased a commoner’s dealings with concepts such as love and loss.
Geeta’s role in Hindi Cinema is translated as “disguised reality”. She, along with many of her contemporaries, walked upon a journey to make Indian cinema mirror the society it emanates from. Songs symbolized a culture of celebration, and if not surreal, they surely reminded people of the existence of a latent truth that they never cared to resort to. In one of her Bengali melodies Tumhi Je Amar she yearns to give an identity to a plethora of complexities that run inside our head during the diverse phases of love.
If not songs, singers often get straight jacketed to a generation. Their music and a sense of intelligence behind it seem to fade away with the progression of time and advancement of technology. However, very few of them are able to maintain a legacy, an impact, that persists through generations. One may also call it ‘perennial genrationalism’. The way Geeta nuanced her songs and the emotion she constructed through the intelligently assembled lyrics is something that still flows in the contemporary generation. There has been a humongous social progression in the lifestyle as well as the status of women in India. Multiple economic, political and even cinematic forces have ensured women a right to choose and express themselves in a more liberated manner. Even though it’s not ideal, it has come a long way from the time Geeta used to mike up in the studios. However, it is quite astonishing to see the situational importance remain intact across generations.
It is the context of Geeta’s songs that have resisted the winds of change for long. This speaks volumes about realism of her music style. It is that intrinsic emotional chord that is intransient for which Geeta designed most of her melodies. She gave us a voice that resonated and still continue to resonate within the frames of our heart and soul.
There are surely songs that are perfectly crafted, and then there are songs that just seem right. Geeta’s songs may not be the perfect examples of a classical music ensemble but they surely fulfilled the purpose they were made for. A critical mind would undoubtedly proclaim Lata Mangeshkar’s Lag Ja Gale as one of the best expressions of a lover’s honest yearnings. However, a heart that is actually dwelling under the spell of the given emotion, songs such as Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam by Geeta would be the only desired escape. The major reason behind this is the common human tendency to look for emotional fodder; a subject matter in which they can see their own reflection in order to understand themselves better. Or probably just in search of a relief that can be garnered from someone else’s suffering that is a result of the same malaise. It is this craving for personalization, that imperfection of Geeta’s music to. The songs are so relatable that the normative change in the circumstances does not affect the central outplay of the human emotions involved. So, no matter if it’s the 50s or the 2020, a broken heart of a common Indian girl would wail her time away while being consumed in the darkness of some of Geeta’s renditions.
3.0 A Life Lived in Ironies
Despite a career that speaks for itself, Geeta has been translated as a ‘tragedy queen’ of Indian music industry by many. History has been kind to her in many gestures but has also dived deep into her personal wreckages. One would not like to recall her forlornness to an account that primarily deals with her legacy, but if the world is anything but a perception, this involvement is artsy in its own right. The paths she traversed in her love life are quite conjectural to her professional engagements. Hence, it becomes extremely significant to look at Geeta from an objective perspective and understand her journey as dramatics of fame.
Geeta’s encounter with love was just like her encounter with music – quite cinematic. She met the love of her life, Guru Dutt, during the recording of Tadbir Se Bidgi Hui Taqdeer and the blooming chemistry between the two young and thriving visionaries became undeniable. After tying the knot in May 1953, the careers of both the artists also got wedded to a meteoroid rise in the film industry. There collaborations like Jaa Jaa Jaa Bewafa, Hoon Abhi Main Jawan and Ye Lo Main Haari Piya gifted a series of masterpieces to the Indian audiences decorated with the velvety vividness of Geeta’s vocals. Such was the popularity of the Dutts that the newly wedded Geeta Roy got immortalised in public conscience as Geeta Dutt.
Many critics say that Geeta’s sublime musical prowess was best displayed when she became ‘Mrs Geeta Dutt”. With movies such as Aar Par (1954) and Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955) the splendour of Geeta’s versatility got a contemporary context by the coming of age vision of her husband, Guru Dutt.
The destiny started to turn its face away quite early from this wedlock. The charm of Geeta Dutt that resonated within the four walls of the recording studio started to get camouflaged by the on screen effervescence of a new and young actress, Wahida Rehman. In 1956, when Wahida was casted as Guru Dutt’s new lady in the movie C.I.D, Geeta started to feel bugged by this rumoured involvement and that got reflected in her work too. In 1957, when Guru Dutt wanted to launch her wife with the movie Gauri, she chose to dump the project showing her agitation against the floating rumours.
When the liaison rushed to rough weathers and the love was clinging to a rope, a marriage that promised greatness got briefed by a tragic divorce. This downfall trajectory of her personal life, dragged along with it, a voice that dwelled in celebration. Such was the degree of grief that Geeta delved into that she became a close companion to alcoholism. Many music directors of the last 50s and early 60s started complaining about her growing unprofessionalism which was displayed in her delayed appearance on rehearsals, frequent postponements and refusing to practise or riyaz. SD Burman, one of the most loyal patrons of Geeta Dutt had accounted that watching her in studios now was such an estrangement as compared to her early days. The studio that once liberated her now began to smother her by someone’s sweet nothings.
The fading lights of Geeta’s career finally stopped to flicker in 1964 when Guru Dutt breathed his last, succumbing to his third suicide attempt. A woman left to the peril of unfathomable tragedy, Geeta suffered from severe nervous breakdown where she even refused to recognize her children. Her spirit was shattered; her passion withered away. A resplendent voice and a vivacious aura were now tailored to tragedy. Most unfortunately, unlike the films she sang for, her tragedy had no happy ending.
The climax of Geeta’s life has given her disciples some sensational observations of ironies. A woman that gave all of us a voice that healed all our pains forgot to listen to that voice herself. A woman that rendered renditions celebrating women taking control of their lives and their love was helplessly dwelling in her own unresolved maladies. And most ironically, she continued to sing songs of love and longing for an actress that allegedly was somewhat there in the theatrics of her tragedy.
4.0 What Do We Mean By Geeta Dutt?
It is unquestionable that Geeta Dutt is one of the most revered and loved singers of all time. Generations have patronized her music and related to the emotions she embarked upon to express in her songs. However, Geeta is also synonym to a life that is very important for us to understand.
Geeta Dutt, a life, is an open book to study the scourge of fame. She is a life that should never have been poignant, but it did. We can understand, to some extent, the outplay of love in a person’s life and its profound effect on her devices. We can decipher the ruthlessness of emotions and the merciless mind of fate. Geeta Dutt herself displayed a shade of humanness that quite painfully exists. The depression she succumbed to was unaffected by the ideal or somewhat normative standards of human virtues. She was expected to be strong, she was expected to still be famous, but she never ever realised those expectations. Maybe because these were the same expectations that had made her vulnerable to the devices of a man she loved more than anything in her life. Geeta wrapped her life in a song that she could not understand, but she still kept singing.
The curtailing of an act called Geeta Dutt saw a final valedictory display in a 1971 rendition – Mera Dil Jo Mera Hota (Only if this heart would have been mine)
And like the dramatics and ironies that ruled her life; the man, music and melancholy that shaped her discourses, her lost song, and the very rendition of 1971, just summed up her entire life story before the curtains were finally drawn.
In 1972, Geeta said the final goodbye. She left that music studio and the film industry with a void that can never be filled. However, the traces of her legacy and her gifts still, and would always, home the answers of unexplainable emotions of a human heart.