Looking back at the six years this blog has been in existence, I find myself surprised that I’ve never done a post on Geeta Dutt. Geeta Dutt, née Geeta Ghosh Roy Chaudhury, the woman with that beautifully melodious, faintly nasal voice, who was known for singing bhajans and other songs with a classical or folk lilt to them—until SD Burman chose her to sing Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana de, and opened up to millions of listeners across the years the astounding versatility of this glorious voice. Geeta Dutt, who could sing with equal finesse everything from club songs to wandering minstrel ones. Geeta, who sang some of the most achingly beautiful songs in Hindi cinema.
Born on November 23, 1930 (and dead tragically young, in 1972) Geeta Dutt would have been 84 today. To commemorate her birth anniversary, therefore, a list of ten Geeta Dutt songs, in Hindi, which I like a lot. As is usual with my lists, this one is restricted to songs from pre-70s films that I’ve seen, and—because if I didn’t impose any other restrictions on myself, I’d run into dozens of songs—these are all Geeta Dutt solos (I’ll do a list of my favourite Geeta Dutt duets some other time). Plus, no two songs are from the same film.
In no particular order:
1. Koi door se aawaaz de chale aao (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, 1962): When I wrote that Geeta Dutt sang some of the most ‘achingly beautiful’ songs in Hindi cinema, this was one song I was thinking of (along with the next which follows in this list). Hemant, who composed the music for Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, gave Geeta Dutt three of the most memorable songs of her career in this one film: Piya aiso jiya mein samaaye gayo re, Na jaao saiyyaan chhudaake baiyyaan—and this one.
Koi door se aawaaz de chale aao is the lament of a lonely, neglected wife who waits for her husband: an endless yearning, a never-ceasing waiting for a man who couldn’t care less. The music begins by being almost non-existent, giving Geeta’s voice—echoing, as if from far away—centrestage. Then, later, though the music swells, her voice remains, though soft, still dominant, still haunting.
My only grouse with this song is its length: it is far, far too short.
2. Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam (Kaagaz ke Phool, 1959): I remember having read, several years ago, a list of ten of her own songs that Geeta Dutt had picked as her favourites. And being shocked, because Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam was not on the list. I discovered later that that was because she was asked to pick these songs in early 1957; the song didn’t exist back then. That, I thought, could be the only possible reason for leaving this song out of any Geeta Dutt list—because it is so simply sublime.
Rather like Koi door se aawaaz de, Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam has a haunting quality to it, a yearning for love—in this case a love that cannot be, because the man is married to someone else. The music and the lyrics of the song are beautiful, but it is Geeta Dutt’s voice, full of restrained emotion, that makes this song so absolutely unforgettable.
3. Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le (Baazi, 1951): This was a song that appeared on Geeta Dutt’s list of her own favourites from among her songs. And not surprisingly, I think. Because not only was Tadbeer se bidgi hui taqdeer bana le a very different song from the ones she had sung before, it was also to be a turning point in Geeta Dutt’s career, since it showed to the world—and to music directors other than SD Burman, who had had the courage to get Geeta Dutt to sing this—that she possessed much more versatility than people had credited her with.
I love the way Geeta Dutt sings this song: it’s a club song, and has a definite Western lilt to it, but there’s no brashness, no sass. Her voice is melodious, playful, yet conveying all the deep meaning of Sahir’s words: it is up to you to do what you will with your life.
4. O babu o lala (Dilli ka Thug, 1958): I have heard several fellow bloggers and readers dismiss O babu o lala—but I have to confess to a deep love for this song. In my opinion, it’s one of the finest club songs of the 50s: there is a pep to it that makes it good to dance to (as you can see, what with Herman Benjamin and Co. throughout); yet there is an oomph to it, a something that hints (very broadly) at intimacy. I am all admiration for Ravi, who took an otherwise somewhat sedate tune (Rum and Coca Cola) and turned it into something quite different, smart and sexy and intricate.
And a lot of the credit for the gorgeousness of O babu o lala goes to Geeta Dutt. Her voice is deliciously sultry (made more so by that echo effect here and there, towards the end of each stanza), playful and come-hither by turn.
5. Jaata kahaan hai deewaane (CID, 1956): Geeta Dutt sang two fabulous duets—Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan and Aankhon hi aankhon mein ishaara ho gaya—for OP Nayyar in CID. And she sang this mischievously seductive song, which ended up being dumped from the film a week after CID was released (the story goes that the censors took exception to the word ‘fiffi’ in the lines Kuchh tere dil mein fiffi, kuchh mere dil mein fiffi; considering fiffi does not really mean anything—it was a nonsense word bunged in to get the metre right—that is rather idiotic).
Thankfully, though, the audio version of Jaata kahaan hai deewaane itself survives, and it’s worth including in a list of Geeta Dutt solos: slow and peppy by turn, seductive and yet playful. I wish I had been around to see CID in that first week before this song was taken off.
6. Mera naam Chin Chin Choo (Howrah Bridge, 1958): And now for a change of pace, with one of the most infectiously foot-tapping club songs Geeta Dutt sang in a career studded with some superb club songs. This film’s lead actress Madhubala, in an unusual role (for a heroine in a film back then) as a club dancer, had some lovely songs picturised on her—but all of them with playback singing by Asha Bhonsle (not surprising, considering OP Nayyar was the music director). But one song—picturised on Helen, still very young and only just on the brink of becoming ‘Queen of the Nautch Girls’—often eclipses the other songs (except possibly Aaiye meherbaan). That is Geeta Dutt’s Mera naam Chin Chin Choo. Everything about this song—the music, the dancing, even the playing of the musicians onscreen—is almost frenetic in its pace. And Geeta Dutt keeps up, and how! This is pep, joie de vivre, phadakta gaana—call it whatever you will, it’s a classic club song.
7. Nanhi kali sone chali (Sujata, 1960): Another example of Geeta Dutt’s immense versatility. If she could croon sultry club songs or fill her voice with the longing of Koi door se aawaaz de—she could also be the gentle voice of a mother singing a lullaby to her baby. Like bhajans, filmy lullabies are not quite my cup of tea; I invariably find them too cloying. Nanhi kali sone chali, however, is one of the few that manages to get the tone just right: the words are sweetly affectionate, and the calm, soothing gentleness of Geeta Dutt’s voice conveys far more maternal love than any words can express.
8. Aaj sajan mohe ang lagaa lo (Pyaasa, 1957): It was difficult to choose between two wonderful Geeta Dutt songs in Pyaasa: Jaane kya tune kahi and Aaj sajan mohe ang lagaa lo. The latter won, simply because I think the very kirtan-inspired music of this song fits beautifully with Geeta Dutt’s voice: she makes it her own, giving it that folksy, faintly rustic feel that one would expect from a wandering jogan. I also think Aaj sajan mohe ang lagaa lo is a fine example of the virtuosity that Geeta Dutt possessed: her control over her voice is excellent. The beginning of the song, with no musical instruments to support her voice, is slow, very restrained—and then, when the instruments join in and the song begins in earnest, her voice rises into the perfect crescendo of Premsudha… a song that gives me gooseflesh.
9. Thandi hawa kaali ghata (Mr & Mrs 55, 1955): If hers was the voice of the lonely wife in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, the seductress in Dilli ka Thug, and the loving mother in Sujata, Geeta Dutt shows yet another facet of her voice in Thandi hawa kaali ghata: that of the happy-go-lucky girl next door. Without a care in the world, vivacious, revelling in her own beauty and in love with the very fact of love. Watching this song and seeing Madhubala smile, I found myself thinking, “You can hear that smile in Geeta Dutt’s voice.” That’s how emotive Ms Dutt could be.
(Ironically enough, that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Someone I know had actually seen Geeta Dutt recording a song in a studio, and said that she was poker-faced. Her voice showed every emotion; her face didn’t).
10. Hoon abhi main jawaan (Aar Paar, 1954): Aar Paar is more popularly known—at least today, since it’s been remixed—for a Geeta Dutt song which was the very representative of the 50s club song: Babuji dheere chalna. It’s a good song (and well-picturised), but I must admit to a somewhat greater fondness for this song. Geeta Dutt sings again for Shakila, though this time not a Shakila swaying and pirouetting amongst tables. This is a woman, lonely and drunk, but trying to tell herself that she is still young, still beautiful. That there is still hope. Even when there is, actually, little to look forward to.
I love Geeta Dutt’s voice here: sultry, with that slight slurring one would expect from someone who’s tipsy—yet perfectly in control, through the high notes and the low.