account of Geeta Dutt's life can ever be complete without
the mention of Guru Dutt, her husband, and the single
most decisive influence in her life.
Guru Dutt changed the course of her life and career
like no other person did. From seeing her rise as the
numero uno female playback singer in the early 50's
to nearly destroying her career in the latter half of
We'll see how, but not before a brief insight into the
life of one of the greatest actor/director the Hindi
film industry has seen in its 80 year long history.
Guru Dutt, famous for making brilliant lyrical and artistic
films within the context of popular Indian cinema of
the 1950s, and expanding its commercial conventions,
was born Vasant Kumar Shivashankar Padukone in Bangalore
to Shivashankar Rao Padukone and Vasanthi Padukone.
He had a tough childhood with financial difficulties,
and a strained relationship between his parents. As
a child he had some bad experiences; hostility from
his maternal uncle's family, frightening encounters
with his insane maternal adopted uncle, and the death
of his seven-month old brother (Shashidhar), followed
by an accident after which he was rechristened Guru
Kumar Shivashankar Padukone, which was thought to be
a more auspicious name.
His childhood was subject to the pitiless vicissitudes
of life, culminating in an indurate, street fighter
like disposition and a rather rugged attitude towards
life. The immense talent contained in the frail body,
however, had to find avenues of escape. Thus, Guru Dutt,
in his teens, joined the performing arts troupe of Uday
Shankar (older brother of Ravi Shankar), where he learnt
dance, drama and music.
At the age of nineteen, he found a job under a three-year
contract with the illustrious Prabhat Film Company in
Pune in 1944. By 1945, he had already embarked on a
career in acting and later also worked as a choreographer
and as assistant director to Vishram Bedekar.
Baazi, his first directorial debut and the second home
production of good friend, actor Dev Anand, came in
1951 and went on to become a super-hit. It was the
making of this movie that marked the beginning of his
relationship with Geeta Roy.
The famous playback singer Geeta Roy was recording the song 'Tadbeer Se Bigdi Huyi Taqdeer,' in the presence of the director of the movie, Guru Dutt and the Music Director, SD Burman among others. Though her singing left every listener beseeching for more, Guru, in particular, was flabbergasted by how the singer, almost intuitively, occidentalized a ghazal into a jazzy seductive song!
Amongst those enamored by her singing was Guru Dutt's mother. Soon, Geeta Roy became a regular visitor of the Dutts. Though a huge star-singer with an awesome fan following, Geeta molded herself as part of Guru Dutt's household as though she was born in it. Even today everyone beguilingly recalls sweet temperament, her lack of artificiality, affection and her complete candor. She would simply take down the harmonium from their shelf and sing Bengali songs.
It was only a matter of time before Guru Dutt fell head over heels in love with his regular visitor. They were married on May 26, 1953. Thus were born some of the most achingly romantic songs of the 50's- those nuggets of love and its various facets which materialized because there was love in the air.
Guru Dutt and Geeta Dutt formed a perfect team. He knew exactly how to use her voice and he used it in ways, so that her inane generosity of spirit spilled over on the soundtrack in stunning romantic declarations. 'Hoon abhi main jawan', 'Jaa jaa jaa bewafa', 'Babu ji dheere chalna' and 'Yeh lo main haari piya' in Aar Paar (1954) were like prolonged outburst of harmonious sensations. Even today Geeta Dutt explodes on the streamlined soundtrack with a velvety velocity.
The mood of saucy romance the pervades the films Aar Paar (1954) or Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955) owe as much to Geeta Dutt's vibrant vocals which seize the soundtrack in ceaseless spells of splendor and sublimity, as their popularity to the legendary status that Guru Dutt's cinema enjoyed, giving her songs far more air-space than other, possibly more deserving prospects which got eclipsed by them.
One won't be too wrong if s/he says that some of Geeta's very best came when she was Mrs. Dutt. But not all was well in their little paradise. At the time of their marriage, Geeta was one of the top singers while Guru Dutt was still a struggling director. This led to talk that he married her for financial security, which hurt him deeply. So much so, that he now wanted her to stop singing for anyone else, but himself. She complied, or so he thought. Such a drastic step would have stifled her range considerably. Unable to control her passion, she started singing secretly and would be back early in the evening before Guru arrived. Before long, almost all of her singing for outside banners got limited to two-bit club songs . All this tension, worry about not getting home in time affected her singing and she started getting fewer offers. She finally gave up and started singing for home productions only.
Both Guru Dutt and Geeta Dutt were supremely talented artists, touching new heights of success with every release. But what providence ordained, few had anticipated. Both were temperamental, sensitive and easy to hurt. In the words of his brother Atmaram, Guru Dutt was "a strict disciplinarian as far as work was concerned, but totally undisciplined in his personal life." He smoked heavily, drank heavily, and kept odd hours. Unknown to themselves, they harbored a strong self-destructive streak. When such people come together in matrimony, doom is inevitable. Cursed with the cross of genius, both fell victims to their respective demons. While to Geeta it was the bottle, to him was infidelity.
The year was 1956. Guru Dutt introduced a new girl, Waheeda Rehman in his movie 'C.I.D.' Rumors of his affairs with his new leading lady started surfacing, which left Geeta Dutt bugged. To tranquillize things a bit, Guru Dutt launched a film 'Gauri' in 1957 with her in the lead. She was to be launched as a singing star and it was to be India's first film in cinemascope, but upset with the rumors of her husband's alleged affair, she refused to work in the film and it was shelved after just a few days of shooting.
This incident lead to a lot of tension at home. Their marriage of nearly 5 years ran into rough weathers and was on the ropes. Before long, situation worsened, and divorce became ineluctable. It was ironic though that Geeta the playback singer's voice was used on Waheeda Rehman the actress as she 'sang' sweet nothings to Guru Dutt.
The breaking up of her marriage also began having repercussions on her career. One heard complaints from music directors about her not being easily available for either rehearsals or recordings. She started neglecting her riyaz. And to make things worse she began finding solace in drinks.
The downward trajectory of her career had begun, and nobody had the slightest clue how far it was going to take her.
Around 1957-58, SD Burman had developed a discord with Lata Mangeshkar. He attempted to work with Geeta Dutt as the main singer of his compositions rather than Lata's younger sister, Asha Bhosle who he thought was relatively raw. However, traumatized by a failed marriage, Geeta was not practicing her art sufficiently, and was more often than not, unavailable for rehearsals. Failing to meets her MD's demanding standards, watching Geeta Dutt in the studio was now a much rarer an exploit than most had ever imagined. By the latter half of the decade, she was virtually out of work!
On October 10, 1964, Guru Dutt committed suicide, his third attempt. Waheeda had gone out of his life. And Geeta and he could never really get back together. Geeta was a broken woman, shattered by his death. She now had neither her singing nor her husband. Following his death, Geeta suffered a nervous breakdown, during which, she failed to recognize even her own children.
When she recovered nearly six months later, she found herself in a financial mess. Realising she was the sole bread winner for the family of four, she tried to resume singing again, cutting discs at Durga Puja and giving stage shows , even doing a Bengali film, 'Badhu Bharan' (1967) as heroine!
But her health kept failing as she drank herself to a point of no return. She died of cirrhosis of the liver on the 20th of July, 1972. But not before she showed she still had it in her, were she given a mike to sing. The songs of Basu Bhattacharya's 'Anubhav' (1971), 'Meri jaan mujhe jaan na kaho meri jaan', 'Koichupke se aake' and 'Mera dil jo mera hota' represent some of the finest work that Geeta Dutt ever did.
If we pause to reflect for a moment, it is this contrast between Geeta Roy and Geeta Dutt that makes her life story so poignant. The girl, who sang 'Chanda khele aankh micholi', brimmed over with optimism and joie-de-vivre. The woman who ultimately sang 'Na jao saiyyan' was tired, despondent, bitter and forsaken by the capricious world. Her life and the 'candle in the wind' kind of end bears striking similarity to Guru Dutt's in Kagaz Ke Phool- 'Dekhi Zamaane Ki Yaari, Bichhde sabhi baari baari'.'
Two of possibly the most talented artistes the subcontinent has ever seen were preordained to meet painful ends. Both fell prey to the opium of the light and the glamour of a world that ate the innards of their soul and then discarded the carcass to waste away in obscurity.
Yet, Geeta's scourge is somehow very poignant. It still hits home. Her spirit was not tailored for tragedy. It was joyous, resplendent and luminous. When such a spirit breaks down and withers away, it is difficult to remain untouched.
But the brighter side of things is that what will never wither away is the immortal art that came out of this suffering. And at the end of the day whichever angle we look at it- famous or rare, club song or cabaret, Roy or Dutt, Geeta's voice remains as enticing and magical.