Geeta Dutt – The Enigma

The morning had started, and I was tuning stations as usual, not watching the cats-eye on the valve radio which by the way would have been apt, but rather the LCD display of my trusty Logitech squeezebox internet radio. Finally I settled on the station I wanted and soon the magical voice wafted over the airwaves, that of Geeta Dutt a perennial favorite of mine. I must say, I have always been partial to her, and when I hear Geeta Dutt, the song and the voice takes me away, to another era, to another scene, as it should. The song was one of her last ones and perhaps the most sonorous…Meri jaan, mujhe jana kaho meri jaan….The scene, a rainy playful one between Sanjeev kumar & Tanuja in Anubhav – set in 1971, penned very interestingly by Gulzar and set to a lovely tune by Kanu roy. For a while I was lost in it, and then the pensive mood set in, with thoughts of Geeta Dutt, the queen of sultry melody who lived in this world for just 42 years…before the voice was lost..

There has been many an article on the life and times as well as the cinematic brilliance of Guru Dutt, but few and rare when it comes to his better half, the melodious singer Geeta Gutt who as they said, never strained with a tune or a pitch but just glided through it making it all so simple and lovely..

Many years into the past, in 1930, born in East Bengal, Geeta soon found herself in Bombay, living in Dadar and captivated by the fast life and a new world. Music was a permanent member in her vivacious outgoing lifestyle and it was thus that a music director heard her singing casually. Soon he had her sing in his movie (1946), all but two lines, which then caught the ears of the great SD Burman who got her to sing in his movie Do Bhai. Thus came into prominence the singer Geeta Roy. By 1950, she had established herself as the numero-uno of Bombay’s film singers though Lata Mangeshkar had just hit the scene with her clear and sharp voice.

Just a mile or so away, in Matunga, lived another man, who was to decide her future. He was the great film maker to be – named Guru Dutt or Vasant Kumar Padukone, sometimes characterized as a brilliant but confused genius. He was never sure of what he wanted and by 1950, he was almost married twice (The first time he eloped with a dancer called Vijaya from Pune, and later his parents had him almost married to his niece Suvarna, from Hyderabad) had been through two marriages, and working with Dev Anand at Navketan.

The story of how Dev and Guru met is very quaint and explained in Wikipedia - There exists a very interesting anecdote behind this new job. Guru Dutt and Dev Anand used the services of the same laundry man when they were at Prabhat in Pune in 1945. One day Anand found that one of his shirts had been replaced with a different one. On arriving at work as the hero of Hum Ek Hain, he found the film's young choreographer (Guru Dutt) wearing his shirt. On being questioned, Guru Dutt admitted that it was not his shirt, but since he had no other, he was wearing the replacement. This developed into a great friendship, since they were of the same age. They promised each other that, if Guru Dutt were to turn filmmaker, he would hire Anand as his hero, and if Dev were to produce a film then he would use Guru Dutt as its director.

Dev Anand fulfilled his promise when he started the movie Baazi and got Guru Dutt as his director. This movie was to change all their lives. During the party announcing the movie, De Anand introduced Guru to Geeta Roy. Kalpana Kartik was introduced as the leading lady, SD Burman to do the music. As the movie progressed, Dev Anand got enamored with Kalpana and Guru with Geeta Dutt who was singing for SD Burman in the movie. It took 3 years for Guru Dutt to woo and marry Geeta whereas Dev took all of four. And thus came about the name Geeta Dutt who by then was on top, having already sung some of the greatest songs we have ever heard. By 1954, Tarun, their son was born and soon OP Nayyar was introduced by Guru. OPN would go on do a number of enchanting songs with Geeta.

With OP Nayyar, Geeta Dutt reached greater heights, singing in a quasi western style, and was a vivacious extrovert in the film scene, but the successful Guru Dutt was withdrawing from the limelight, needing solitude and quickly detached himself slowly from his family as well, working from a farmhouse off Bombay. Arun their second son was born in 1956.
Sometime in 1957, Guru Dutt met Waheeda Rahman, who was acting in a Telugu film. Soon Waheeda auditioned for Guru Dutt’s CID and played the lead in that successful movie. As the movie and the people behind it rode waves of success, Geeta Dutt became a mother again. Movies like Pyaasa and 12’o clock were to follow, but by now Geeta suspected that Guru was getting romantically involved with Waheeda. Their relationship deteriorated.

As it seems, Guru Dutt wrote to Geeta- "To rehne do, aur kabhi poocho mat ki main unhappy kyun hoon. Zindagi to yunhi kat jayegee--bas kaam kiye jao...mujhe sirf do cheezen pyaari hain, ek mera kaam aur doosri tum..." Lekin kaam karne se mujhe jo tassalee milti hai wo tassalee tum mujhe nahin de sakti ho, bas is wajah shayad main shayad unhappy hoon. Agar main unhappy hoon to tumhe kya?"

Guru soon planned a movie in Bengali called Gauri with Geeta in the lead, but it was shelved due to the continuing animosity between husband and wife. In between all this, Geeta also invested her money in other film projects which turned out to be duds making her insolvent. Life was simply not looking up for the pair, and Guru Dutt was also soon to see disaster with the huge financial loss on Kagaz ki phool and many other abandoned projects. It was soon 12 years after they first met and a daughter Nina was born. Geeta’s singing career was also going downhill with OP Nayyar’s discovery of Asha Bhosle, Guru’s projects were getting bust and both of them took solace in liquor with Guru even contemplating suicide multiple times.

Dutt was not so attached to his family (though the events of the last day say otherwise - perhaps it was compensation too late) while the children adored their mother. In an interview, Arun recalled, "Mummy was an extrovert, a fun-loving, happy person, extremely generous, while my father was an introvert, an intense man. She was very sentimental and would fall for any sob story. Though they had their problems, she never let us witnesses them. We were more attached to her we hardly saw him [Guru Dutt]."

And that was poignantly when one of Geeta’s best songs from 1947 started to take meaning– Mera sundar sapana beet gaya….in her own life…

By 1963, they were separated even though Guru had nothing more to do with Waheeda. Soon, Geeta and the three children left him. Raju Bharatan an expert on these subjects mentions - Does anyone know that she was a good singer, but she had an ultimatum -- as she was the bahu of the house -- to come home by 4 pm and take care of her family and children. Geeta Dutt's song recording would sometimes begin at 3:30 pm, how could she reach home on time? Basically she wanted discipline in their lives and more commitment from Guru.

Guru sold his house and shifted in a rented house at Peddar Road. As Murthy his cinematographer remarked, during his last days, he was very tense and people would not go near him. They would stay away… Waheeda in a later interview states – He used to say, "Life mein, yaar, kya hai? Do hi toh cheezen hai – kamyaabi aur failure. There is nothing in between

The events before Guru dutt took his life are chaotic – Mukul Roy, Geeta’s brother who played mediator between them says "Geeta suffered tremendously during these breaks [when she was out of work], she was very emotional and couldn't handle the stress. They [Guru Dutt and Geeta] were to be reconciled again. A date had been fixed. But Guru Dutt had drunk a lot the previous night and taken sleeping tablets too. He never woke up. This was in October 1964. Geeta had a nervous breakdown and couldn't even recognise here own children for six to eight months. Guru had also left her insolvent." Thus, in 1964, Guru Dutt succeeded finally in ending his life, mixing sleeping pills and liquor, and with this Geeta Dutt suffered a mental breakdown

G Venkatesh writing about Alvi’s book on Guru Dutt mentions- Guru was indeed torn between the love for his wife and the other woman. However, he couldn’t take a stand and ended up dropping Waheeda Rehman from his life. Abrar claims that Waheeda considered him her elder brother and describes the events that led to the ‘nikah’ of Guru Dutt and Waheeda that never happened. We come to know that Waheeda had a brother-in-law Rauf who announced that Guru Dutt was converting to Islam to marry her. Eventually, Guru Dutt chickened out at the last moment without realizing that his marriage with Geeta Dutt was long over. In the end, it seems that he caused Waheeda such a grievous hurt from which only work and more work could provide solace to the talented actress-cum-dancer. Clearly, ditching Waheeda and his financial troubles seemed to have led him to take the extreme step of committing suicide.

After Geeta Dutt recovered, she found herself in a financial mess though Mukul helped her along. She did try to resume singing again, cutting discs at Durga Puja, performing at stage shows (there is even a mention of one forlorn show where Kishore, Mukesh and Lata shone while Geeta had no crowd applause) and even doing a Bangla film, Badhu Baran (1967) as the heroine! But as they say, her health kept declining as she drank herself to a point of no return. Even the children mention having very little time with Geeta. She finally succumbed to liver cirrhosis in 1972 but not before she demonstrated she still had it in her. The song from Basu Bhattacharya's Anubhav (1971), Meri jaan mujhe jaan na kaho, Koi chupke se aake was to be her swan song….

An actress who mimicked Geeta’s real life in reel life was Meena Kumari. Strange coincidence perhaps, for both died of liver cirrhosis in 1972.

To day we have those lovely songs to remember….Of a great singer and the decades when life meant nothing more to her…

Click here to see the Anubhav video

And here to see an audio visual on her

Thanks Lata jagtiani – please read her article on this subject.
For a detailed accounting of Guru Dutt’s last day , refer Dr Narasainga Kamath’s article linked here. And his article on Geeta Dutt is also revealing.