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10 songs that showcase Geeta Dutt’s versatility

On her 45th death anniversary (20 July), we look back at some timeless hits which show the gifted artist could sing virtually any kind of song.

Sonal Pandya

Geeta Dutt, née Roy Chowdhury, died aged just 41 in 1972, leaving Hindi film music lovers pining for her soothing, lilting voice. Geeta Dutt got her musical genes from her mother, Amya Roy Chowdhury, and learnt under Pandit Hirendranath Chowdhury, practising up to three hours a day. The family moved to Bombay in 1942, when Geeta was 12.

The young singer was encouraged by music composer K Hanuman Prasad who got her to sing in Bhakta Prahlad (1946), starring Leela Chitnis and Anant Marathe, for which he composed the score. But it was the great Sachin Dev Burman who heard her voice and recognized its potential. Her breezy, confident voice was a strong rival to the other rising star of the era, Lata Mangeshkar.

However, problems with her marriage to the celebrated filmmaker Guru Dutt and in her personal life came to the forefront, clipping her down in her prime. In her comparatively short career of about a quarter century, Geeta Dutt sang over 1,200 songs and remains a sentimental favourite of those who fondly recall her vocals in the golden era of Hindi film music.

1. ‘Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya’ – Do Bhai (1947)

At 17, this was not the first full-length song that Geeta Dutt sang. That honour went to ‘Humein Chhod Piya Kis Des Gaye’, but music director SD Burman had full faith in his young singer and assigned six of the nine songs on the film’s soundtrack to her. The doleful love ballad ‘Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya’, written by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, gave the new lyricist and the singer their first hit.

2. ‘Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui’ – Baazi (1951)

Geeta Dutt was at her liveliest when singing the Spanish-influenced tune of ‘Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui’ for the equally vivacious Geeta Bali in Guru Dutt's directorial debut Baazi for Navketan Films. Originally written as a ghazal by Sahir Ludhianvi, the number was turned into a classic by SD Burman’s composition and Geeta Dutt’s inflections. Once again, hers was the dominant voice on the album.

3. ‘Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa’ – Aar-Paar (1954)

Proving that she could sing any kind of song, Geeta Dutt infused real heartbreak and pain into the Majrooh Sultanpuri-penned number ‘Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa’. The popular singer is said to have prevailed upon Guru Dutt, by now her husband, to give composer OP Nayyar a second chance in the film, his maiden home production. Nayyar had composed the music for Guru Dutt's acting debut Baaz (1953), also directed by him, which tanked at the box office. Nayyar had composed the music for three films till that point, none of which had had listeners screaming for more, and he was seriously considering giving up on cinema when Guru Dutt’s offer came. The songs of Aar-Paar became so popular that Nayyar went on to become one of the top music directors of the 1950s and 1960s. Recently, this song resurfaced in memory when Kangana Ranaut was picturized in the same manner as Shyama in Aar-Paar for Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015).

4. ‘Na Yeh Chand Hoga’ – Shart (1954)

In 1954, Geeta Dutt gave birth to her first child, Tarun, who was born on his father Guru Dutt's birthday, 9 July. While their home production Aar-Paar dominated the year, Geeta Dutt also sang a memorable duet with Hemant Kumar (who also composed the music) for Shart, starring Shyama, Dipak and IS Johar. Written by SH Bihari, the song has stayed evergreen. The music of the film was the real draw for audiences.

5. ‘Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata’ – Mr And Mrs '55 (1955)

Lending her vocals to the luminous screen legend Madhubala in Mr And Mrs '55 (1955), Geeta Dutt switched gears yet again and made listeners believe the cool breeze in this enjoyable number composed by OP Nayyar and written by Majrooh Sultanpuri. The song was filmed at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Swimming Pool at Bombay's Shivaji Park.

6. ‘Jaane Kya Tune Kahi’ – Pyaasa (1957)

Long-time collaborators SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi ended their partnership with the classic Pyaasa (1957). Geeta Dutt’s bewitching rendition of ‘Jaane Kya Tune Kahi’ had real sentiment which allowed the young actress Waheeda Rehman to bring her own charm on screen.

7. ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu’ – Howrah Bridge (1958)

Geeta Dutt had just one song on the soundtrack of Howrah Bridge (1958), ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu', which announced actress-dancer Helen, who had done bit parts in several films till then without too many people taking note, to the world. The song was a hit, owing largely to Geeta Dutt’s masterful singing of the number. Written by Qamar Jalalabadi and composed by OP Nayyar, the song battled Asha Bhosle’s ‘Aaiye Meherbaan’, picturized on Madhubala, for top song on the soundtrack.

8. ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam’ – Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

Often called the song of Geeta Dutt’s life, ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam’ brought alive all the pathos of the events in her own marriage with Guru Dutt and his growing closeness with muse Waheeda Rehman, a situation which is echoed in Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) as well. The film is often lauded for the technical prowess displayed by its director, but SD Burman’s everlasting tunes gave the soundtrack a classic quality. ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam’ was written by Kaifi Azmi.

9. ‘Nanhi Kali Sone Chali’ – Sujata (1960)

This lullaby, written by Majrooh Sultanpuri and sung simply by Geeta Dutt for Bimal Roy’s Sujata (1960) has nostalgia written all over it. For listeners of a certain age, the song has a special place as it was sung to them while growing up. SD Burman, with frequent collaborator Bimal Roy, gave easy, hummable tunes to this social drama starring Nutan and Sunil Dutt.

10. ‘Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda Ke Baiya’ – Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962)

In Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, yet another home production, Geeta Dutt sang her heart out for composer Hemant Kumar on ‘Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda Ke Baiya’. Written by Shakeel Badayuni, the song might just as well have mirrored the turmoil of Geeta Dutt's own life when she separated from Guru Dutt. Even when she had fewer opportunities coming her way, the versatile singer showed what listeners were missing out on.