Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 7pm
Light Industry at Audio Visual Arts:
Geeta Dutt: Playback

Audio Visual Arts (AVA)
34 East 1st Street
New York, New York

Because of the unique predominance of the musical in South Asian popular cinema, some of its biggest movie stars never appear on screen. Famous in their own right, unseen playback singers, via dubbing, provide the lilting voices that are heard when characters break into song. A few, like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, have careers that stretch across many decades and thousands of performances, their eternally youthful voices paired over time with successive generations of new actors.

In the late 1940s and 50s, the Indian film industry underwent several major changes that shaped the Bollywood we know today: Bombay became the new center of production, musical styles and instrumentation were forever altered by incorporating elements from the US and Latin America, and filmi songs became the subcontinent’s pop music industry. One of the most sophisticated playback singers of this post-Independence golden era, Geeta Dutt was beloved for her sensuously emotive and distinctly modern voice, which deftly covered a range of genres, from more traditional Indian melodies, to Westernized dance numbers, to the crushingly plangent love songs so central to the era’s melodramas. Her own life proved no less tragic. Her marriage to actor and director Guru Dutt—today remembered as one of the period’s foremost auteurs—was famously tempestuous; after his apparent suicide in 1964, she entered a period of alcoholism and decline, ultimately ending in her own death in 1972, at age 41.

For tonight’s program, modeled after the playback singer compilations that have become a staple of Bollywood home video, Light Industry presents a diverse selection of musical sequences spanning Geeta Dutt’s filmography, from her earliest hits recorded as teenager Geeta Roy, through her work in her husband’s canonical films of the 1950s like Pyaasa, Khaagaz Ke Phool and Mr. & Mrs. 55, to the last songs she recorded, for Basu Bhattacharya’s 1971 Godard-influenced social portrait Anubhav. Culled from numerous sources of varying legitimacy, the clips range widely in provenance and visual texture, calling to mind the numerous bodies through which Dutt’s voice transmigrated.

Please note: seating is extremely limited. First-come, first-served.


Presented as part of Couchsurfing.