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GEETA DUTT (1930-1972)

Geeta Dutt was a playback singer in Hindi films as well as a singer of Bengali songs. She was born Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri into a rich landowning family in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh). In 1942, when she was twelve, her parents shifted to Dadar, Mumbai. There, her singing was overheard by composer/music director Hanuman Prasad, who offered to train her. She debuted in Bhakta Prahlād (1946), where she sang only two lines. But these were so impressive that she was made playback singer for Do Bhāi, and this film made her name. Though she began by singing devotional and serious songs, in Baazi in 1951, the composer S.D. Burman was sure she could sing some peppy numbers, and this brought out the perkiness of her voice. Baazi was directed by Guru Dutt who was soon to play a big role in her life. Soon she was in demand to sing Westernised songs, such as club numbers and other items. Thenceforth she worked regularly with S.D. Burman, who used her ‘Bengaliness’ to effect in Devdas (the famous film adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali novel, 1955) and Pyasa (1957). She also worked with O.P. Nayyar, who helped her increase her emotive range, and with Hemant Kumar. Some other popular composers for whom she sang were Shankar-Jaikishen and Madan Mohan. Her personal life was troubled. While recording for Baazi, she met and fell in love with Guru Dutt, and married him two years later. At first things went well, and Geeta sang some of her best songs in his movies. She remained very busy in spite of having three children. By 1957, Guru Dutt was involved with other women and Geeta had developed an alcohol problem. He had planned to make Gauri, India’s first cinemascope production with Geeta as its star, but the project fell through.

Geeta’s singing was affected. In 1958, S.D. Burman had fallen out with Lata Mangeshkar as a playback singer, and wanted Geeta to become his main collaborator again, but she was not able to meet his standards and he dropped her for the young Asha Bhonsle. In 1964, Guru Dutt died from a combination of alcohol and an overdose of sleeping pills. He had attempted suicide twice before. Geeta suffered a severe nervous breakdown. Money was now a problem, and her attempts to revive her singing career and break into Bengali movies were not as successful as she had hoped. She gave stage shows at Puja functions and sold discs of her Bengali songs. She acted in the Bengali movie Bhadu Bharan (1967), and sang for Anubhav (1971). This was her final appearance, as a few months later she died of cirrhosis of the liver. Her phenomenal career led her to produce more than a thousand songs under about a hundred different music directors. She also sang in many Indian languages including Marathi, Bengali, Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri and Punjabi.
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