A name forgotten in the passage of time, Ghulam Mustafa (G M) Durrani was one of the most popular singers of the forties. He was spotted by the film producer Sohrab Modi in the year 1935 while the singer was giving a radio performance. He gave him his first break in the 1935 movie ‘Saaed-e-Hawas’, a historical under the baton of music director Bundu Khan, a classical musician popularly known as "Taan-Talwar" Bundu Khan. His first song was a ghazal, whose lyrics were as follows: “Mastonko shem farz hai peena Sharab ka, gutti mein meri padh gaya qatara sharab ka."
When the concept of playback singing came up, he was the first to lend his voice for the film titled ‘Bahurani’ around the year 1936. The film’s music director was Rafeeq Gazanavi. Durrani was then working as a fulltime artist in AIR. In those days of pre-independence British raj, private recordings were not allowed. On Rafeeq’s insistence, he settled to sing, but not before the music director agreed to the various conditions laid by him. Durrani wanted the recording to be fixed on a Sunday, so that nobody would be allowed to enter the studio, and didn’t want his name to appear anywhere on the credit titles. The song was a duet with Miss Rose, an Anglo-Indian, who had limited experience of singing. He was paid a sum of Rs.75 for the song, as against his monthly salary of Rs.70 at AIR. He eventually gave up his job, and took up singing as a career by 1940.
He sang with the most prolific music directors of that era, including Naushad Ali, Shankar Rao Vyas and A. R. Qureshi (better known as Alla rakha, Pt. Ravi Shanker's famous tabla accompanist) for films like Mirza Ghalib, Humlog, Magroor, Shama, Namaste, Sabak and scores of others and became immensely popular. Many noted singers started their careers with him and he inspired a whole generation of upcoming singers. It is said that he was the idol of Mohammed Rafi, who even imitated him in his initial days! In fact, in 1944 Rafi recorded what he considered his first Hindi song for the film Gaon ki Gori (1944) under Shyam Sunder, Aji dil ho kaaboo mein with his idol, G.M. Durrani. Similarly, Ae Chorre Ki Jaat Badi Bewafa, a duet with G. M. Durrani, was Lata's first song for composer, Naushad.
Geeta’s story was no different. She also started her career with GM Durrani in the movie Do Bhai (1947) with the duet Aaj preet ka naata toot gaya under SD Burman’s baton. Geeta was only 16, but both complemented each other very well. Both singers’ mellifluous vocals brought out the inherent sadness of the protagonists on losing their love.
The next they got to sing together was the movie ‘Geet Govind’ in 1947 for Gyan Dutt, where they had two duets; and for Hanuman Prasad in the year 1948, the fun song ‘Dubey ji ko pakwan mila’. In 1949 for ‘Dil Ki Basti’ they sang under Gulam Mohammad’s baton. Both their songs in ‘Dil Ki Basti’, the title song ‘Yahi hai dil ki basti’ and the other one ‘Nazuk dil hai tod na dena’ became hits. The later is a sweet romantic, typical ‘chhed-chhad’ song. Durrani’s softer voice perfectly complements the lilt in Geeta’s voice.
The master, Bulo C Rani made them sing as many as four songs together in ‘Nazare’ in the year 1949 out of which two were trios with the honey voiced Shamshad Begum. Gyan dutt repeated them in ‘Dilruba’ in 1950 for his intense, yet melodious composition ‘Humne khai hai mohabbat mein kasam’. This duet from Dilruba is a true blue romantic song and soothes the listener several decades since it was first recorded.
Geeta and Durrani also collaborated for the non-film patriotic song ‘Vande Matram’ in 1950. This particular rendition became very popular at that time; much before Hemant Kumar made Lata sing the same in ‘Anandmath’ in 1952.
They appeared together for quite a few songs in 1951, including for two trios with the elegant Meena Kapoor, for Gyan Dutt. Meena’s voice was very similar to Geeta’s, and their collaboration became an instant hit. These songs were ‘O Rani Mainawati’ and ‘Daiya re daiya’. Also in 1951 came what can be rated as their best duet. ‘Lucknow Chalo Ab Rani’ in ‘Sansar’ was a fun song with the hero trying to persuade the heroine to come to Lucknow with him. This song served as the precursor to this new genre of music which became very popular in the 50’, by which time, Geeta had become a superstar.
In 1952, both came together for yet another outstanding duets, in the movie ‘Baghdad’ for the song ‘Dil-e-beqaraar’ and in a trio with Talat, ‘Yeh pyar ki baatein’ which became super-hits. Music director Bulo C Rani used both singers’ vocals to excellent effects in these songs.
It was for the advent of the new singing sensation, Mohd. Rafi whose unparalleled range and mesmerizingly sweet voice, coupled with supreme classical abilities advanced him to the very top of the industry after 1952’s blockbuster hit, Naushad’s Baiju Bawra. It wasn’t too long before offers started eluding Durrani. Some people also said that he had a misunderstanding with an extremely popular female singer, which sharply reduced his assignments. Some others said that after performing Haj, he stopped singing for some time. It was only around 1955 that Mohd. Rafi helped his hero get some more songs.
After a hiatus of about three years, Geeta and Durrani came together again in the year 1956 for a few films. The song ‘Madhoshi mein tanhai mein’ from Sheikh Chilli (1956) became a hit. This is another romantic song though for a low budget film starring Mahipal and Shyama. Their last song together happens to be with music director Inayat Ali in 1958’s ‘Akashpari’. The movie had two lovely duets by them, ‘Ho gaye barbad hum acchha hua’ and ‘Ho khel nahin dil se voh dil ka lagana’ bringing an end to an exquisite journey during which they sang about 32 songs.
It is true that Geeta sang maximum duets (in number as well as in quality) with the legendary Mohd Rafi. Yet, her songs with G M Durrani are a pleasant experience with a hint of nostalgia for the music lovers.