In conversation with Sammy Reuben: Famous piano-accordionist

Geeta Dutt

This is an in person account of conversation of our dear friend Laxmi Priya with Sammy Reuben, the famous piano-accordionist. He started his career with Geeta Dutt where he played for the song Mujhe jaa na kaho meri jaan…for the film Anubhav. He is son of the late Dr. H. Reuben and is a past 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.
A small write up based on my conversation with SAMMY REUBEN – [ Famous piano-accordionist , who started his career with Geeta Dutt where he played for the song Mujhe jaa na kaho meri jaan…for the film Anubhav – 1971 ] – I gathered this info by asking various questions I posed as I tried to grasp a glimpse of our beloved singer Geeta Dutt and how it was for her in the year 1968 when he met her .

Sammy Reubens was all of 24 years only ,when he came from Pune to Bombay (now Mumbai).
On October 10, 1964 Guru Dutt passed away, leaving Geeta a broken woman. She suffered a nervous breakdown. When she was recovering ,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. He came from Pune which was his home town . He was staying as a paying guest with his aunt in Bombay. He used to go frequently in the evenings to Geeta Dutt ‘s house.
He found that actress Tuntun [ singer Uma Devi ] took up one room for herself there and was seen smoking 555 cigarettes all the time. Sammy says that she made abundant use of Geeta Dutt ‘s hospitality. Sammy met Tuntun’s daughters , one of them who was even an airhostess . He too wondered like me , why she never stayed with her daughters and was living off Geeta Dutt. He says that it’s probably because Tuntun was a regular in all her husband Guru Dutt’s films and therefore stayed with her after Guru Dutt passed away. Geeta Dutt had many friends during the pinnacle of fame like actress Smriti Biswas etc. Sammy does not recall even a single friend of her’s visiting her during those days. It was as if she was abandoned by them all. A tleast as far as he used to go to her house back then , no one came for her.
He recalls that she NEVER ever discussed her personal problems but would rather consider Sammy’s difficulties. Sammy told again and again ….such a graceful and wonderful person she was….poor lady he interjected at times when he was consumed by nostalgia about her….Staying with her at that time after Guru Dutt passed away were her 3 children , a domestic servant [ Sammy does not recall her name … who used to cook, clean and look after the 3 kids ….. Debu chakraborthi ,the tabla player who used to play for her shows , fell in love with this house help and they both married . Geeta Dutt even helped them for their marraige Debu later played for R B Burman and even for Hemant Kumar. He is now with his son in America ….. Sammy does not know who worked for her after these both got married ] . Apart from these & Tuntun , her cousin cum secretary called Hiroo was there , Sammy says that he had big eyes and was a typical Bengali . Hiroo used to look after all her financial matters , arrange shows collect payments etc .
Sammy also recalls that there was another nice gentleman called Monish who had wanted to become an actor but he never made it. Monish stayed in that house as a companion for the lonely Geeta Dutt. They used to share a few drinks after dinner late in the night. Sammy says he was young and dint bother to understand that relationship [ I told him that it must be more to do with companionship & we both agreed on this ] Sammy says that Geeta Dutt never misbehaved when she drank. At all times she was very restrained and considerate about others. He says that maybe she drank to forget her misery,….. poor lady repeated again & again…[ If only she lived now in the days of internet & music groups ,….so many TRUE fans would have not made her feel lonely at least ]….. Sammy even went on to mention that once upon a time Asha Bhonsle used to touch her feet whenever they both met . Later O P Nayyar gave the heroine songs in the film Howrah bridge to Asha whom he became intimate with and gave Geeta Dutt the club song which went on to become the most popular song of the film. Geeta Dutt never ever wished ill for Asha or anyone for that matter .
Along with Sammy & Geeta Dutt,……. Tuntun , Hiroo & Monish also used to accompany them for the late night shows of films they used to quite frequently go to . Once there was a show in Pune. Geeta Dutt came to know that Pune was Sammy’s home town so she ensured that his name was also there in the publicity posters for the show . Once there Sammy drove his dad’s car who was no more . It was a wonderful Vauxhall car. Geeta dutt then came to know that Sammy could drive a car. So once back in Bomaby , Geeta Dutt used to make her car driver go home and Sammy used to drive them all when they used to go for these late night shows.
Wallowing in grief and a nervous breakdown Geeta Dutt used to suddenly get irritated if the kids were naughty and she used to go away to a known hospital and stay there was 2 or 3 days and take rest. Then she used to get back. I asked Sammy how the kids coped with this. He said that they were looked after well as far as he saw & knew….. Dint this have an impact on them ? I asked. He said maybe , but he was not aware of any disturbances by the kids Tarun Dutt was 14 years then. Arun Dutt was 12 years & Nina was only 6 years. I asked Sammy what happened to all these people when Geeta Dutt passed away. He told that as far he knew the sons were looked after by Atmaram [ Guru Dutt’s brother ] & Nina was looked after by Lalita Lajmi [ as I read in a filmfare I told him ] . He told maybe , because he was not there in Bombay when Geeta Dutt passed away. He was in Pune and dint get any news . . Of Tuntun, Hiroo and Monish , he does not know what happened to them.
When it came to the recording of the song for the film Anubhav-1971, Sammy had full admiration in his voice when he told wonderingly that , she came from the hospital directly to record for this song……Imagine in what state of mind she came. Poor Lady must have been a wreck. But she got the nuances of the song immediately She had by then recorded a couple of songs for the film . He played specifically for the song Mujhe ja na kaho meri jaan . She hardly rehearsed for the song. In no time she picked up the melody & the recording was over in an hour. Sammy says that 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 down in the dumps in her personal life , with no regular recordings and practice , could sing just like that as if on a cue. Imagine how she was when she was when she was famous . I asked Sammy about her laugh in the Meri jaan song ….Sammy does not know the know how she did that, maybe the words or the film scene .needed it maybe the director and Basu Bhattacharya must have suggested . The song was composed by the brilliant Kanu Roy. Sammy says , poor chap such a simpleton he was . He is no more. He & Kanu Gosh[ not as talented as Kanu Roy he told ] were both assts. to composer Salilda he told . For this song Debu played the table while Sammy played the instrument , that we see Shubha Khote is seen playing for the song picturisation of “ Tu Pyar ka sagar ho “ song in the film Seema-1955.. This instrument was regularly used in theatres for any Nautanki .It had a keyboard like harmonium & both hands were used by the person playing it. .Like the pedestal sewing machine, through paddeling with the legs , the wind support was given to the instrument. It was called Paitty, perhaps ,because of its wooden box like,appearance. Some people even call this the desi piano [ This information was given to me by Moolnarain Sardanaji ] . From Sammy’s description I understood that he played this for the “ Mujhe jana kaho “ song .

Sammy

Why was she not given chances when she was so gifted I asked despairingly . Sammy replied that maybe she stopped caring…and anyway Stage shows gave her enough. Shows were frequent for her . They happened once in 2 weeks. How much was she paid I asked . He told that they were given 5000 which was good money those days . when a south indian thalli was just 1 Rupee. Orchestra was given 1500 rupees and the rest was more than enough for her daily expenses, hospital bills . Even Drinking I asked ? Sammy told that money was not a problem for her. Atleast those days she never visited the hospital because of any liver ailment. She was just depressed and sad. He told that he does not know when she fell ill because of any liver ailment.
Of the many shows he remembered the 1st show they did together in Kapurtala, One in Punjab & then in Lucknow with a strong crowd of 40,000 plus. After her death he was cut off from all of them until a program organizer called Manohar Iyer did 2 Geeta Dutt shows in Bombay for her 30th Death anniversary in 2002. One show was in East Vile Parle & one was 2 days later in West Vile Parle. For both shows Arun Dutt [ Geeta Dutt’s 2nd son ] was invited and asked to speak . He told that he was always invited for many shows as a tribute to his father Guru Dutt . This was the first one for his mother and he was extremely happy about it [ Author Haimanthiji who wrote a lovely biography of Geeta Dutt also told me the same. She had met Arun Dutt to research about his mother. He told her that he was amazed & happy that someone had come to him about his mother. It was always about his father that people approached him , he told her ] . At the end of the show Manohar Iyer introduced everyone and then proclaimed that Sammy Reuben was in the orchestra, who was one of the original players in Geteta Dutt’s shows. Arun Dutt immediately asked Manohar Iyer if it was the Sammy uncle he knew. Later during the 2nd show Arun Dutt called Sammy on to the stage & hugged him. He even thanked him for being in his mother’s life during her difficult days. [ I got tears when Sammy told this on phone ].
I thanked Sammy Reuben profusely for sharing his memories about our beloved singer and pondered over what all he told . Since I recorded the conversation I heard it once again and carefully wrote all this . Any error on my part can be corrected by knowledgeable people.
After note – . Consumed by her personal grief and a declining health , Geeta Dutt as said by many , began drinking to a point of no return. She died of liver cirrhosis in 1972 but not before she demonstrated she still had it in her, were she given a chance. The songs of Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav (1971), Meri jaan mujhe jaan na kaho, Koi chupke se aake and Mera dil jo mera hota represent some of the finest work that Geeta Dutt had ever done.

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