Young Geeta sat for hours on the banks of the Padma River in East Bengal, listening to the Bhatiali songs of boatmen. Little did she know that the trance-like refrains would find relevance and resonance later in her ship-wrecked life…
Decades after, hers became the coveted voice of screen goddesses though Geeta Dutt herself was no less alluring – like ‘an Ajanta fresco, dark and beautiful’ as she was described. As a songstress her range was unbridled. The playful Babuji dhire chalna, the mystical Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo, the dreamy Yeh lo main hari piya… she could switch tunes and tones fluently.
To quote music critic Raju Bharatan, “Geeta Dutt was thandi hawa and kaali ghata rolled into one… There was a rare swing in her voice… This made Geeta Dutt the one singer that Lata Mangeshkar really feared.”
While her professional peak came with husband and filmmaker Guru Dutt, sadly her personal nadir is also associated with him.
Kaifi Azmi’s Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam, from Kaagaz Ke Phool, ironically sung by Geeta and filmed on Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, encapsulates the lengthening shadows that engulfed their relationship.
Guru Dutt died by suicide at 39 in 1964, Geeta by cirrhosis of the liver at 41 in 1972. Over half a century later, their talent continues to be commemorated even as their heart-breaking end awaits closure.
Geeta Roy was born on 7 July 1930 in East Bengal in a zamindar family. In 1942, when she was 12, the family moved to Bombay and lived in Dadar. Music director Hanuman Prasad, who was once standing below her balcony in Dadar, heard her sing. Impressed by her unique texture, he asked her to sing two lines in his film Bhakt Prahlad (1946).
By 1948, 18-year-old Geeta had recorded songs for maestros like Ghulam Haider, Chitragupt, Khayyam and C Ramchandra and sung around 900 tracks in various languages. She won popularity with S.D. Burman’s plaintive Mera sundar sapna beet gaya for Do Bhai (1947). Jogan (1950) had Geeta render Meerabai’s bhajans, Mat jaa mat jaa jogi, Main toh Giridhar ke ghar jaaoon, Eri main to prem diwani and Ghunghat ke pat khol, showcasing her penchant for devotional ditties.
Burmanda’s Tadbir se bigdi hui taqdeer banaley in Baazi (1951) was the turning point. That she could unleash such silken sensuousness left filmmaker and future life partner Guru Dutt stunned. That she ‘occidentalized’ Sahir Ludhianvi’s ghazal into a melody of seduction showed her prowess.
After a courtship of three years, Guru Dutt and Geeta got married on May 26, 1953 at Amiya Kutir, her house in Santacruz. She was 21. They had three children, sons Tarun and Arun and daughter Nina, whom they doted upon.
Hearsay that Guru Dutt had married the successful Geeta for financial gains left the filmmaker troubled. So he apparently asked her only to sing for him and not outside banners.
Together the duo created immortal songs like Yeh lo main hari piya (Aar Paar, 1954), Jaane kahan meraa jigar gaya jee (Mr. & Mrs. 55 1955), Jaata kahan hai deewane (CID 1956), Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo (Pyaasa), Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam (Kaagaz ke Phool, 1959), Na jaao saiyan – Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962)… But she did yearn to sing for other banners.
Both being extremely sensitive, ego began to intrude into their relationship. There was another intruder as well – suspicion.
“A director/actor works with many actresses… Geeta Bhabhi was suspicious of every actress he worked with. She kept tabs on him… There would be frequent quarrels. She’d take the children away to her mother’s home. He’d beg her to return… Guru Dutt loved Geeta deeply,” said Guru Dutt’s sister/artist Lalitha Lajmi, who was extremely fond of Geeta
Brother Devi Dutt reiterated the same thing saying, “Both were kaan ka kachcha. They believed rumours about each other. Actually, Guru Dutt was fond of women. Women were attracted to him… through him they could become actresses. Women were ready to do anything for him.”
MUSE WAHEEDA REHMAN
What perhaps proved to be the last straw in a rundown marriage was when Guru Dutt introduced the talented newcomer from Hyderabad - Waheeda Rehman - in C.I.D.
He also signed her for Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Rumours of his fondness for his heroine left Geeta agitated. To calm things, in 1957, Guru Dutt announced the film Gauri with Geeta as a singing star. It was to be India’s first cinemascope venture. But the film was soon shelved.
“Waheeda Rehman has been unnecessarily blamed for his disturbed marriage. Maybe, Guru Dutt saw a muse in her,” asserted Lalitha. “The relationship between Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt was that of a teacher and a student…. There must have been something emotional between them. When people work together a bond, a friendship develops. But there was nothing serious," said brother Devi Dutt in an interview
As a child, Guru Dutt had witnessed ugly fights between his parents. A turbulent childhood predisposed him towards depression. The vagaries of showbiz and marital dissonance perhaps aggravated it.
“Suicidal tendencies run in the genes. Our close cousin committed suicide. Guru Dutt had attempted suicide twice. The second time he was admitted to the Nanavati Hospital. He slipped into a coma for three days. One afternoon when he came through, the first word he uttered was ‘Geeta’!” revealed Lalitha to a magazine
Geeta’s descent into distrust and depression ran parallel to Guru Dutt’s decline. It had repercussions on her career. She played truant from rehearsals and recordings and began seeking solace in alcohol. “It first began with sleeping tablets. Then it went on to some kind of drugs... I don’t know whether they were downers or pills just to make her feel happy. Alcohol came in much later,” Lalitha once expressed her anguish
Eventually, Waheeda and Guru Dutt moved apart professionally. In fact, for the last scene of Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962), he had to request her to come on the set and complete it. In a parallel world, Guru Dutt and Geeta, who were living separately, were keen to begin life afresh at 48 Pali Hill, their home, once the redevelopment was complete. But it was not meant to be…
The evening of October 9, 1964 brought in a sense of foreboding. His chartered accountant cautioned him that the IT department could raid his studio, office and home anytime, his taxes being long overdue.
“Perhaps, it was a lethal combination of sleeping tablets and alcohol and not intentional suicide. The next morning they had to break open the door,” said Lalitha of her brother passing away on October 10, 1964. Whether it was suicide or a mere accident is still open to conjecture.
Waheeda Rehman was shooting with Dilip Kumar in Madras when she heard about the tragedy. “She didn’t even pause to wipe off the make-up. She arrived just when they were taking his body to the crematorium... Let me tell you, Guru Dutt did not commit suicide over either of the two women,” reiterated Lalitha.
When they were taking away his body, a devastated Geeta cried, “Mat le kar jaao!” Consumed by grief, she suffered a nervous breakdown. She also found herself in financial doldrums. She tried to resume singing, cutting Durga puja discs, doing stage shows and even starred in the Bengali film Badhu Bharan (1967). But there was something amiss…
“Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle had taken over… Bhabhi would take drugs like charas during the day and alcohol in the evening. Her tongue used to be swollen. She couldn’t sing,” revealed Devi Dutt in an interview
In such a grim situation, music director Kanu Roy, aware of Geeta’s talent, approached her to sing Aaj ki kalighata in Uski Kahani (1966), followed by Basu Bhattacharya’s marital drama Anubhav (1971). But it was a challenge to get her concentrate on the melodies.
“She was to record Mujhe jaan na kaho meri jaan. She couldn’t stand, so disoriented she was. Sound-recordist BN Sharma ne chai peela peela kar unhein jagaya. Mar mar ke she completed the song,” narrated Devi Dutt.
Uncannily, Mera dil jo mera hota, Meri jaan and Koi chupke se aapke… seeped in dreams and desires… resounded Geeta’s own musings.
While there was hope for revival after Anubhav, cirrhosis of the liver trounced her. “She was unconscious and had tubes all over. Blood was oozing from her nose, ears... it splashed on the walls. It was heart-breaking to see our Geeta whom I loved and who loved me equally suffer so much,” said Lalitha about Geeta’s last moments.
Geeta was silenced forever on July 20, 1972 at 41. But she continues to be heard even today...
FOOTNOTE: Continuing the trajectory of tragedy, Guru Dutt’s older son Tarun committed suicide in 1985, while the younger Arun passed away in 2014 due to multiple organ failure as a result of alcoholism.