Geeta ji: The One and Only Very Special Singer

This article is written by Fellow Geeta Fan and Enthusiast Anish Raj Pandit ji. Thanks a lot to him for sharing this with us. We look forward to more posts by him for the blog in the future also!

“Her voice conveys the sweetness of honey and the pain of the bee sting.”🩸- Subhash K. Jha, film critic.

What is it about Geeta Dutt that is so special? Why does a musician like me love her songs so much? Her beautifully balanced voice and sincerity of expression are quick answers, but there are deeper societal and spiritual connections as to why her singing evokes something special in me, and so many other lovers of her singing. Here is a compilation of the words of myself and my dear friend Sounak Gupta, from a recent conversation. I have noticed that the younger generation of people who still love old Indian music are less biased and reverent to only the most prolific singers – so I have no fears, regrets, or qualms in posting such a conversation. Our generation is going back to a kind of discernment of old Indian music that is totally heart-based, and not just fame and power-based.❣️

Geeta wasn’t limited by any archetypes and stereotypes. I feel this could have upset many people of her time period, that felt a woman should either be seen as “respectable” (the meek heroine in a white sari) or not (the childish rebel, the vamp, the social outcast). The stereotypical woman was not supposed to be too otherworldly or internally liberated – using whatever training, and whatever they had been told by others, to achieve their goals- more like Lata- instead of someone whose voice had an ethereal, irreplaceable, and emotionally evocative nature to its expression. Geeta’s physical beauty challenged notions of the time as well, without her trying at all. Her dark, dusky, “saanwili” complexion and kind, expressive eyes warmed the hearts of those she met, as did her elegance and gentle, thoughtful disposition.

I really think the heart and freedom in Geeta’s self and singing shattered a lot of preconceived notions, and caused some discomfort to many in society. It had an otherworldly and not-calculated beauty to it, and a sort of unforced adaptability to it, that made it hard to pin down and categorize emotionally. Everyone wants to be able to reduce and simplify themselves and others to some set of characteristics, out of fear. Yet, Geeta humbly and effectively defied all of this societal nonsense just by being true to herself, and nothing more. She didn’t try to forcefully embody masculine characteristics to defy her surroundings (which would just be another way of conforming oneself to expectations), and instead embraced her inner freedom, femininity, and every facet of her nature and gifts. The acclaimed singer Jagjit Kaur had said that Geeta was the singer who could express the full range of feminine emotions. Geeta’s expression challenged the assumption that a woman had to be either the childish vamp or the meek heroine-in-white in Indian cinema. She showed us that we can be anything that we sincerely want to be, if we stay internally free and undisturbed.

I feel many preferred Lata and gave her more work partially because she didn’t disrupt their emotionally fixed notions of what women should be like in Indian society. That they shouldn’t sing from the heart in a way that makes others feel that a woman may have something truly special and transcendent to them – true sincerity, humility (being comfortable with yourself), authenticity, confidence, and beauty. That a woman should be prude, hard-headed, conservative, and stick to the status quo. Lata may have been outspoken and quick-tempered about matters of money, ego, and recognition, but in a stereotypical and business-like way — a way that resonated with and reinforced many men and their temperaments. She was therefore still this stereotypical person in every other way, who just worked hard at what she was told to do, and was reliable and dutiful. This is not only what men, but also what most women, wanted to see in other women- as they had also suffered such fate and pressure from society, and would find it annoying if someone didn’t also take seriously or adhere to what expectations they had suffered.

For this and other superficial reasons, there have been many Lata and Asha imitators in the singing world (conscious or not), and many people who can do justice to their songs- because there is an expressive predictability, or formula, in them. There is a conditioning. However complex the composition may be makes absolutely no difference, and may even prove the point further. Their expression is coming from the place of an arbitrarily defined identity and ego – and therefore creates predictable results. Yet, there are no Geeta imitators- no people who say they can sing exactly like Geeta, or do the same special justice to her songs. This is because Geeta’s singing defies description. It was captivating, expressive, soulful, unique without trying to be, sensual, romantic, passionate, loving, raw, refined, sincere, delicate, powerful, endearing, sorrowful, pure, authentic, all rolled into one. There was something unearthly and mysterious about her singing when her voice warmed the hearts of the heartless world and cast a spell on her listeners.

This was possible only because of the purity and authenticity with which Geeta approached everything. She approached every song with that essential constituent, that common factor! A devotional song sounds devotional by virtue of its words, but when a vamp’s song pleases the devotee, and a devotional song pleases a non-believer, it is the authenticity in whatever is being expressed that touches the soul! Geeta’s songs are pure in their feeling, regardless of their content. Geeta challenged the notion that a woman (or anyone) had to limit themselves to any single identity – that you didn’t have to choose or label yourself at all to find meaning in life, and that by doing so you were actually limiting yourself, whether that identity challenged society or not (many could still take note of this today). She showed us that a person could genuinely and freely (not just reactively) be the lover, the vamp, the lamenter, the comedian, and the devotee. Geeta did more than merely rebel and fix her identity in yet another arbitrary place. Instead, she just ignored all of the potential boundaries around her, as if they didn’t exist and were mere illusions, and sang purely from the heart – the place of ultimate freedom.

Photo: Geeta Dutt with Gaurishankar at the BBC India Studios in 1960.

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