Geeta Dutt birthday anniversary: Revisiting the triumphs and tragedy of the icon

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He was her alchemist. Filmmaker Guru Dutt mentored songstress Geeta Dutt to deliver cinema’s finest melodies. Babuji dhire chalna, Yeh lo main hari piya, Jaa jaa jaa jaa bewafa, Piya aiso jiya mein samaye gayo re, Chale aao… were poetic offerings of a creative union. So immense was Geeta Dutt’s range that she was the only singer, Lata Mangeshkar was said to be wary of. And yet he was also her kryptonite. Restraining her from singing for other banners. Allowing ego and mistrust to corrode their home. Overwhelmed by their own sensitivities, succumbing to depression and alleged alcoholism… Geeta and Guru Dutt, despite their overriding love, only spelled doom for each other.

Waqt ne kiya kya haseen situm (Kaagaz Ke Phool), ironically sung by Geeta and filmed on Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt, stands as a blueprint of their 11-year tempestuous relationship, the shenanigans of showbiz casting ominous shadows. That Geeta Dutt was an epic tragedy destined to play out was imminent when as a little girl she sat captivated, listening to the melancholic notes of the ferryman on the Padma River, East Bengal. The mournful melodies perhaps signaled the overcast ahead…

Guru Dutt died by suicide at 39 in 1964. Geeta by cirrhosis of the liver at 41 in 1972. Both leave behind unanswered questions, unconsumed talent, and undying love…  

It was at the song recording of his directorial debut Baazi (1951) in Famous Studio, Mahalaxmi, that Guru Dutt was left mesmerized by the 18-year-old Geeta Roy. The way the singer smoothly transformed the ghazal, Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le, into a seductive ditty left him amazed. It also left Guru Dutt’s mother, Vasanthi Padukone, enthralled. Soon, songstress Geeta Roy became a frequent visitor at their humble home in Dadar. In no time, Guru Dutt fell in love with the ‘fresco-like dark and beautiful’ Geeta.  While Geeta, already recognized, travelled in a limousine, Guru Dutt those days was struggling. His father Shivshankar Padukone was a clerk at Burmah Shell, while his mother was a teacher. He also had the responsibility of settling his other three brothers – Atmaram, Devi Dutt and Vijay and sister Lalitha Lajmi (artist).

THE MARRIAGE

After a courtship of three years, and a generous exchange of letters and promises, Guru Dutt and Geeta got married on May 26, 1953. The Bengali godhuli ceremony was performed at Geeta’s house, Amiya Kutir, in Santacruz. Guru Dutt wore a white silk kurta and dhoti in Bengali style while 21-year-old Geeta dazzled in a red Banarasi saree and gold jewellery.

Guru Dutt’s mother, Vasanthi, though delighted, had a hunch that the marriage wouldn’t be a joyful one. Biographer Yasser Usman In Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story mentions what Vasanthi wrote: “Firstly, in those days, Geeta earned in thousands whereas Guru’s income was limited. Secondly, both were stubborn and would never yield to one another…” She further penned, “Guru Dutt never had any yearning for wealth… he never even glanced at her jewellery… He had already bought a two-seater sports car for himself. He would not interfere with Geeta’s earnings, nor would he ask how she spent her money.”

Initially, Guru and Geeta cut an idyllic picture. They had three children, sons Tarun and Arun and daughter Nina. Guru Dutt shared his birthdate – July 9 – with older son Tarun. While Arun’s birthday fell on July 10. The family would celebrate a common birthday for the father and sons with a bumper cake.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE

Paradoxically, while Guru Dutt’s films encouraged women’s individuality, in personal life he remained conservative. Apparently, he asked his wife Geeta only to sing for his banner. This could also be to brush aside allegations of he eyeing her earnings. Their synergy created eternal music… Yeh lo main haari piya in Aar Paar (1954), Jaane kahan meraa jigar gaya jee (Mr. & Mrs. 55 1955), Jaata kahan hai deewane (CID 1956), Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo (Pyaasa 1957), Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam (Kaagaz ke Phool, 1959), Na jaao saiyan – Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) … being amongst the repertoire.

Not being allowed to sing for outside banners, however, was crushing Geeta’s range. Reportedly, she started singing secretly for other productions and would be back home before Guru Dutt arrived. The time barrier reduced her signing assignments to just a few club ditties. In 1956, Guru Dutt introduced newbie Waheeda Rehman in C.I.D. The first rumblings in their marriage were heard when rumours of Guru Dutt’s growing fondness for his protégé surfaced. To assuage a distraught Geeta, Guru Dutt launched the film Gauri in 1957 with her in the lead. The film aimed to celebrate her as a singing star and was supposed to be India’s first film in cinemascope. But it was shelved after just a few days of shooting.

Around 1957-58, SD Burman had a misunderstanding with Lata Mangeshkar. Geeta Dutt was his immediate choice. Sadly, Geeta, embroiled in personal issues, was unavailable for rehearsals.

MUSE & MYTH

Though her love for Guru Dutt was deep, Geeta was said to be extremely possessive.  “Bhabhi was suspicious of every actress Guru Dutt worked with. She kept tabs on him… There would be frequent quarrels. She’d take the children away to her mother’s home. He’d beg her to return… Because he loved Geeta intensely,” said Guru Dutt’s sister/artist Lalitha Lajmi (Filmfare), who was close to Geeta as well. Brother and producer Devi Dutt reiterated this in a throwback interview saying, “Both were kaan ka kachcha. They believed rumours about each other. Actually, Guru Dutt was fond of women. Women were attracted to him… through him, they could become actresses. Women were ready to do anything for him (Filmfare).”

After C.I.D., Waheeda Rehman had Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool and Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam lined up with Guru Dutt Movies. Geeta’s voice contributed immensely to Waheeda’s aura. Ironically, Geeta’s own prominence had begun to relatively fade partly due to a troubled personal life and partly due to her apparent dependence on ‘sleeping pills’ and ‘downers’.

“Waheeda Rehman has been unnecessarily blamed for his disturbed marriage. Maybe, Guru Dutt saw a muse in Waheeda,” asserted Lalitha in the same interview. Brother Devi Dutt added in the same vein, “The relationship between Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt was that of a teacher and a student…. There must have been something emotional between them. When people work together a bond, a friendship develops. But there was nothing serious.”

SEPARATION

Carrying the burden of a traumatic childhood, the whims of the profession, and marital dissonance… all perhaps pushed a sensitive Guru Dutt towards depression. He was further devastated when Kaagaz Ke Phool flopped. He feared his career as a director was over. Reportedly, Guru Dutt had attempted suicide twice. The second time he was admitted to the Nanavati Hospital and had slipped into a coma for three days. One afternoon when he came through, the first word he uttered was ‘Geeta’!”  

Despite the love between them, their differences remained irreconcilable. The two separated in 1963. Geeta chose to stay in Santacruz close to the children’s school. Guru Dutt hired a three-bedroom flat at Arc Royal on Peddar Road. Years later, son Arun Dutt shared in an interview (wildfilmsindia.com) that it was the ‘breaking of trust’ between his parents that caused strife. He added, “They never fought in front of us. We were kept insulated from everything.”

Eventually, Waheeda left Guru Dutt Movies in 1962. In fact, for the last scene of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Guru Dutt had to request her to complete it. In a parallel world, Guru Dutt and Geeta, were keen to begin life afresh. They were waiting for the redevelopment of their bungalow at 48 Pali Hill, Bandra into a high rise. But destiny had penned another script…

SUICIDE OR NOT?

Writer Abrar Alvi was with Guru Dutt that fateful evening of October 9, 1964 at his flat in Peddar Road. Apparently, Guru Dutt spoke to Geeta on the phone asking her to send the children across over the weekend. But she refused as it had turned late. Perhaps, it was a fatal combination of sleeping pills and alcohol and not intentional suicide believes sister Lalitha that brought Guru Dutt’s end. The next morning, on 10 October 1964, they had to break open the door when Guru Dutt didn’t respond. He was 39.

Waheeda Rehman was shooting with Dilip Kumar in Madras when she heard the tragic news. She’s said to have left immediately without pausing to wipe off her make-up. She arrived just when they were taking his body to the crematorium. At the final farewell, an overwhelmed Geeta cried, “Mat le kar jaao!” As a widow, wore white for a year in keeping with the Bengali tradition. Consumed by grief, she eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. Arun, who was 16 then, recalled that there would be no mention of his father in her presence as it would upset her.

GOODBYE GEETA

When she gradually came to terms with the altered reality, Geeta found herself in a financial crisis. She tried to resume singing, cutting Durga puja discs, doing stage shows, and even starred in the Bengali film Badhu Bharan (1967). But by then Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle had taken over. “Bhabhi’s tongue used to be swollen. She couldn’t sing,” revealed Devi Dutt. “She’d hide small bottles of liquor in the bookshelf, in the bathroom…,” mentioned Lalitha (Filmfare). 

In such a dismal situation, music director Kanu Roy, confident of Geeta’s talent, approached her to sing Aaj ki kalighata in Uski Kahani (1966), followed by Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav (1971). But it was a challenge to make her deliver. The day she was to record Mujhe jaan na kaho meri jaan, she was so disoriented that she could hardly stand, revealed those present. Only after having several cups of tea, was she able to get a grip over herself.

The songs of Anubhav restated her formidable talent. Mera dil jo mera hota, Meri jaan na kaho meri jaan and Koi chupke se aapke… seeped in longing and love… were in tandem with Geeta’s own reflections. “She was very much in love with my father. She had preserved all the letters he had written to her between 1951-1962. After his demise, she received several offers of marriage. But she refused them all saying, ‘There’s only one man in my life’,” revealed son Arun Dutt (www.wildfilmsindia.com). The revival post Anubhav was short-lived as cirrhosis of the liver left Geeta beaten. Her last days were excruciating. She remained unconscious with tubes all over her. Relatives revealed that ‘blood oozed from her nose and ears’.  She passed away eight years after Guru Dutt, on July 20, 1972 at 41.

It’s equally sad to recall that Guru Dutt’s older son Tarun committed suicide in 1985, while the younger Arun passed away in 2014 due to multiple organ failure, reportedly due to alcoholism. Hearteningly, daughter/singer Nina Dutt paid a tribute to her mother in her debut album Pal, which includes remixes of Geeta Dutt’s songs. While Nina was two when her father Guru Dutt passed away, she spent around 10 years with her mom Geeta. Apart from the lingering taste of her mother’s crab curry, she cherishes memories of her singing on the harmonium. Though Geeta was often ill during her growing years, Nina (in an interview on www.boloji.com) remembers her as a gentle person, someone who was rarely mayoos and never lost her temper. That’s a happy memory indeed!

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