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(1930 - 1972)

Five decades ago, the renowned Marathi poet Vasant Bapat wrote a brace of songs - one an angry, anguished lament by Seeta when she is banished to the forest by the lord Ram, the other a soft, romantic 'bhavgeet'. He got the well-known Marathi 'bhavgeet' singer and composer G N Joshi to tune them. Who did this duo of Marathi artistes choose to sing these songs? My guesses (and, I am sure, those of most people familiar with Marathi light music of the 1950s and 1960s) would include names like Manik Varma, Malti Pande, Asha Bhosle, Suman Kalyanpur...the list would not be very long, but all the names on it would have Marathi either as their mother tongue or, at the least, as the language of a vast body of their work.

All that informed guess-work would miss the answer by a mile. The improbable choice made by Joshi and Vsant Bapat (and, given their eminence, it is unlikely that someone else could have dictated the choice) was a singer whose mother tongue was Bengali and who became famous primarily for her Hindi film songs: Geeta Dutt.

The choice turned out to be truly inspired. Geeta Dutt may not have a perfect Marathi accent (although she gets the retroflex sounds beautifully!) but she brings to the songs great ease of rendition and a rare depth of feeling - both hallmarks of her singing in any case. In my opinion, "jaa lakshmnaNaa raamaraajaalaa" is one of Geeta's greatest songs in any language and should also be an automatic candidate for any list of the top 100 Marathi songs. It is not an easy song to sing; given that the lyrics capture Seeta's anger and humiliation at being abandoned after having gone through the "agni-parikshaa" to prove her chastity, it would have been easy for any singer to go over the top in the rendition. Geeta Dutt does not give in to that temptation: her rendition strikes the perfect tone.

Interestingly, this song has a comparison point - and a formidable one. 'Geet Ramayan', the famous musical odyssey put together by the lyricist G D Madgulkar and the composer Sudhir Phadke, has only one song sung by none other than the legendary Lata Mangeshkar - "maj lakshaNaa jaa_uu kuThe". This song is set in the same situation as the Geeta Dutt song: the abandoned Seeta addressing Lakshman when he is leaving her in the forest. Madgulkar's lyrics take the standard line on the story: his Seeta is distraught but still submissive to her fate. In the Geeta Dutt song, on the other hand, Bapat portrays an angry - even sarcastic - Seeta: "Go, tell the king that Seeta now understands his idea of justice."

Lata Mangeshkar, of course, is on home ground: familiar language, familiar co-creators, and traditional interpretation. Geeta is on totally unfamiliar ground on all these counts. And yet, she not only holds her own, she makes it a song to remember.

The other song - 'mukyaa manaache bol sajaNaa, abol jhaale bol" again demonstrates Geeta's skill at conveying the feelings underlying the words. "The words of my mute mind have become soundless..." - how beautifully Geeta conveys the 'silent' nuances of these words! The fact that Marathi is not a familiar language for her is clear at a few places in the song but it takes nothing away from the ambience she creates.

Sadly, these two songs form the only significant Marathi output in Geeta's voice. For reasons unknown, these lovely songs did not lead to more and we, the listeners, are the losers for it. She sang in Marathi just once more, for the film "Swapna Techa Lochani" (1967). The song, "gaNapati bappaa morayaa", was written by Shanta Shelke and the music direction was by Aadil Ahmed.
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