Geeta Bali’s dancing eyes and her animated,
expressive face which mirrored her soul were her most
writes DINESH RAHEJA.
Yet life was
snatched away from this vibrant personality at an achingly young
age of 35.
It is some
consolation that Geeta crammed a lot into her short life: 70 odd
films in a ten-year career.
She was considered
one of the more spontaneous and expressive stars of Bollywood in
reputation as an actress rests more on her performances than her
and gifted with a spot-on sense of comic timing, she never
really found a vehicle worthy of her talent.
Largely a shade
better than the movies she starred in, she frittered away her
talents in B-grade films.
Geeta Bali with comedian Bhagwan in the super successful Albela.
Probably the fact
that she was born into a family that had to struggle for sheer
survival and the fact that she reached the top through sheer
grit had Geeta stress on quantity rather than quality.
She started her film
career as a child actress, at the age of 12, with the film The
Film lore has it
that when mentor filmmaker Kidar Sharma first met Geeta, she was
living with her family in somebody’s bathroom!
Geeta was born in
the pre-partition Punjab in the city of Sargodha in Pakistan as
Harkirtan Kaur in 1930.
Her family lived in
Amritsar before 1947.
Her father, Kartar
Singh was known as a philosopher. He was a Sikh scholar and
kirtan (Sikh devotional music) singer.
grandfather, Takhat Singh (1870-1937), was the founder of Sikh
Kanya Mahavidyalay - a boarding school for girls and the first
of its kind established in 1904 in Ferozepur.
encouraged their daughters, Harkirtan (Geeta Bali) and
Hardarshan, to learn classical music and dance, horse riding and
gatka fencing (a traditional form of martial arts in Northern
India and Pakistan popular amongst Sikhs).
socially boycotted the family as they did not like the girls
performing in public and they picketed the theatres.
Her family moved to
Mumbai when she started to get breaks in films.
She had done a few
small-time dancing roles in pre-Partition Punjab in films like
Badnami, before moving to Mumbai.
Impressed by her
off-screen vivacity, Sharma cast Geeta in his Suhaag Raat
Audiences related to
her instantly and watched wide-eyed as she nonchalantly tossed
her unconscious hero, Bharat Bhushan over her shoulder in a
Soon, Geeta was
inundated with contracts (that’s what they called film offers
then). She accepted most.
Geeta Bali with husband Shammi Kapoor and children
Aditya and Kanchan.
She won raves even
in supporting roles like in the 1949 Suraiya starrer Badi Behan
and the Madhubala starrer Dulari.
In 1951, she became
a major star with Guru Dutt’s first hit, Baazi (she went on to
do three other films under his direction).
gangster’s moll with a golden heart to Kalpana Kartik’s
But Geeta played her
role with such gay abandon that hero Dev Anand divulges, “People
came repeatedly to theatres to see Geeta’s spirited dancing to
Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana de.
Geeta proved she
could do tragedy (Sharma’s Raj Kapoor starrer Bawre Nain) or and
play the lighthearted heroine to comedian Bhagwan in the super
Albela’s swinging C
Ramchandra composed songs like Shola jo bhadke and Sham dhale
mere khidki tale made front-benchers dance with the stars and
even fling coins on screen.
Pug-nosed Geeta was
no conventional beauty, but that transparent face and that smile
constantly flirting on her lips made sure you couldn’t tear your
eyes away from her.
Watch Geeta Bali in
the Guru Dutt-directed Jaal (1952), where Dev Anand, a
cigarette-smoking smuggler on the run from the police, tries to
entice morally upstanding heroine Geeta into his web.
communicates her struggle against, and her eventual surrender
to, handsome Dev’s seduction call Yeh raat, yeh chaandni phir
down-to-earth despite her star status, Geeta was the antithesis
of the coy 1950s’ heroine.
She often drove
herself to her premieres in an open jeep.
Those who knew her
claim she was a Samaritan who touched the lives of whoever she
met. She is said to have personally groomed Mala Sinha, then a
To date, 35 years
after her death, her secretary Surinder Kapoor’s (Boney Kapoor’s
father) productions begin with a shraddhanjali (homage) to Geeta
entered her life when they worked in the quaintly named Miss
Coca Cola and Coffee House together.
On an impulse, Geeta
played a small role of a man in Sharma’s Shammi Kapoor starrer
While shooting for
it in Ranikhet (a hill station) the two spent a lot of time
together and soon fell in love.
One of the main
reasons they were able to hit it off instantly was the strong
similarity in their natures.
“I loved hill
stations and the folk music goes on with it. So did Geeta. We
had a lot in common. We got to share these mutual admirations of
nature,” Shammi once stated in an interview.
The launch of what later became Aar Paar (1954)... At the
time it was called Taxi Number BMT 112 and starred Geeta
Bali instead of Shyama and was to be co-produced by Geeta
Bali’s sister, Haridarshan Kaur
along with Guru Dutt
“I can’t point to
the exact moment when I fell in love with Geeta.
“I guess it was a
small incident involving a tiger that did it. I had been pining
away for a tiger that had given me the slip.
“Geeta kept patting
my knee and saying, ‘Don’t worry Shammi, you’ll find him.’
“One night, we were
returning to our hotel after dinner. Geeta was in a jeep ahead.
“As I turned the
corner, I saw her jeep parked midway on a bridge and she was on
the bonnet doing a strange sort of jig.
“I ran to her in
panic. ‘It’s that tiger, Shammi, your tiger. It just went this
way. Get your gun,’ she was yelling out.
“I was speechless.
There was a wild tiger on the prowl in the vicinity and this
woman was doing a jig on the bonnet of her jeep in celebration.
“She just wasn’t
scared. So how could I help it? I fell in love with her. Madly.
I still remember the day. It was April 2, 1955.” Shammi
returning to Mumbai, Shammi asked Geeta to tie the knot with
However, much to his
surprise, she turned down the proposal.
Her reluctance to
tie the knot can be attributed to the fact that she was the sole
bread earner of her family.
Luckily, for the
Brahmachari star, Geeta changed her mind a few months after
their first meeting and agreed to marry him.
However, she had one
condition. And that was that the marriage had to happen almost
On the suggestion of
his friend Johnny Walker, Shammi decided to get married at a
reached Banganga Temple at night. However, the priest told them
that the ceremonies would be performed only after four in the
Dev Anand and Geeta Bali in Jaal (1952)
After the temple
reopened, the two became man and wife on August 23, 1955, with
producer-director Hari Walia as witness.
marriage too had a nice filmy touch to it.
According to their
son Aditya Raj Kapoor, Shammi put red lipstick rather than
sindoor (vermilion) in her maang (parting of the hair).
And hence, began
what Shammi once called the best phase of his life.
Geeta had worked
with Shammi’s eldest brother, Raj Kapoor in Bawre Nain, and with
his father, Prithviraj Kapoor in Anand Math, Shammi was unsure
about their reaction to this match.
Geeta continued to
work after marriage in a few films like Sohrab Modi’s Jailor
(1958), where she won raves as a blind girl.
With Shammi Kapoor
turning into a huge star and the birth of her two children, she
eased her workload.
The desire to do
that one fulfilling role she would be remembered for prompted
Geeta to attempt the production of a classic for herself.
She started Rano,
based on Rajinder Singh Bedi’s famous novel, Ek Chaddar Maili Si,
based on a widow’s remarriage to her brother-in-law.
Dharmendra played her hero.
Her husband Shammi
Kapoor agreed to give her the money to produce the film.
She rushed off to
Moga, a little village in Punjab, with their two children.
Shammi was aghast.
It was extremely
cold in November and December, 1964 to film and had asked her to
wait a few months until the weather was warmer.
But Geeta was enjoying herself too much. The film was shaping up
She had hosted a party for the unit on January 9, and she was
her usual fun-loving self.
The next day, she had a severe headache, then fever.
Shammi brought her home.
Geeta, who had not
been vaccinated for small pox, contacted the dreaded disease
while shooting the film.
By the 17th
the pox had not only ravaged her looks but infected her eyes.
The fever which
racked her had shot up to 107 degrees. She was kept on ice for
Her doctor saw a
picture by his patient’s bedside and asked who the pretty lady
The disease had so
wracked Geeta’s frail frame that he didn’t recognise her as the
same person !
For a fortnight her
condition was critical. On January 21, her fever dropped
suddenly. She came out of the coma and opened her eyes.
She looked around
dazed. Five minutes later, she died on January 21, 1965 in her
She was only 34,
leaving behind eight-year-old Aditya and three-year-old Kanchan
in the care of a devastated Shammi Kapoor.
Ironically, she was
cremated in Banganga, not far from where she was married.
Geeta Bali had a
short and sweet life span, but she gave a lot of happiness to
millions of cine goers and critics of art.