BALI: A VERSATILE DANCER ACTRESS: HER LIFE WAS CUT SHORT BY A SICKNESS
It drives me to tears of joy and
sorrow to compile this piece about one of India’s finest, bravest and
most humane actresses, the late Geeta Bali (Gurkirtan Kaur). Actress Geeta
Bali was born in the holy city of Amritsar in 1930. She was one of the all
time great acting professionals of the film industry of India. Her life
story was a spectrum of all colors and hues that a life can consist of.
She had in her life a lot of parental love, affection, understanding and
patronage, but her life was also full of tyranny, miseries and persecution
at the hands of the conservative society of Punjab. Her pleasant moments
and miseries went side by side in a span of just thirty five years.
Before talking about the trials and
tribulations of her fast moving short and eventful life, it will be
appropriate to talk about her scholarly, progressive, humane and loving
father. She was one of the two brilliant and charming daughters of highly
esteemed Pundit Kartar Singh Philosopher of Amritsar. Her mother was a
well educated daughter of a pioneer of education amongst Sikh women in
Punjab. People used to come to her father for seeking words of wisdom and
advice and he most unselfishly obliged everyone. A few generations ago,
the family originally lived in the pristine Valley of Kashmir. Perhaps
they were attracted towards the Sikhism after the Emperor of North Western
India Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s conquest of Kashmir.
This traditionally scholastic
family decided to leave the Valley of Kashmir to settle in the then city
of opportunity Amritsar, which is the spiritual Mecca of the Sikhs. This
was also one of the two premier cities of composite Punjab. Pundit Kartar
Singh was an accomplished Sikh religious musician and bestowed with a vast
reservoir of worldly knowledge and wisdom. But like most men of letters,
was always short of money. He never considered his two daughters a
financial burden, like most of his contemporaries did. In fact he treated
both his daughters as his most precious God gifted assets. He had a
sincere desire to bring up the two daughters Hardarshan Kaur and Gurkirtan
Kaur (later on known as Geeta Bali) under the contemporary education and
atmosphere of modern society. Within his limited means, he managed to
provide state of the art education and other facilities and excellent
personality grooming facilities for his daughters free from the shackles
of the ultra conservative religious disciplines of those times. From the
point of view of business opportunities and education, Amritsar of those
days was one of the most advanced cities of India. But it had more than
its share of religious orthodoxy too, which will stubbornly resist any
deviation from the centuries old customs and practices.
Even during the pre-independence
days, Amritsar enjoyed a fine tradition of theatre, but the theatre in
this city was basically catering to the religious sentiments of its
population, a far cry from the modern secular theatre of Lahore. Lahore
had a forward looking Parsi Theatre also, in which well trained girls
freely danced to the semi-classical and Punjabi folk music of the times.
Pundit Kartar Singh could never afford to buy his own house. But he
pursued a desire to fulfill every aspiration of his two daughters. So he
did not mind living in a rented accommodation in Amritsar. Pundit Kartar
Singh was one of the silent revolutionaries in the society who was
prepared to shower all he had on his daughters, if need arose, by breaking
all taboos of the Sikh society of those days. In order to fulfill their
ambitions, he arranged for their training in classical music and classical
dances. Obviously the two girls thoroughly enjoyed both classical arts.
According to an article written by
Amar Bharati and carried in a reputed Punjabi literary magazine
“Nagmani” published by Late Amrita Pritam, in its December 1982
edition, whenever the two sisters Hardarshan Kaur and Gurkirtan Kaur
publically performed classical dances on the stage, the so called
guardians of Sikh values, used to surround the theatre and demonstrate
against the exhibition of dance by Sikh girls. The brave father of two
brilliant daughters went on to arrange training in horse-riding and the
martial art of “Gatka” also. As a dancer, Geeta Bali exhibited a
unique synchronization between the “Taal” and the movement of eyes.
According to a highly acclaimed dance critic V.A.K. Rangaro, Gurkirtan
Kaur’s (Geeta Bali’s) eye movement during the song and dance sequences
was the best seen in any actress of the time.
Perhaps perturbed over the vehement
opposition and narrow minded intolerance of some Sikh activists of those
days, Pundit Kartar Singh decided to leave Amritsar to settle in the
permissive and liberal environments of the cosmopolitan city of Bombay.
According to one story Gurkirtan Kaur (actress Geeta Bali), bagged her
first minor role at the age of twelve in film “The Cobbler”. Training
in classical dances and classical music made the acting assignments much
easier to her.
Pundit Kartar Singh, in addition to
being a father was a very close friend to his two daughters. He always
used to listen carefully to his kids and whatever he could do for his
daughters within his limited means, he did that most willingly. Due to
modern scientific upbringing, both girls developed a very jovial and
positive attitude towards life. Geeta Bali was highly unselfish and always
ready to help everyone. If someone wanted to learn the art of playing
harmonium or wanted to learn “Saa Re Gaa Maa Paa” from her, she would
unhesitatingly teach him. Due to her skills in classical singing, dancing
and horse riding, a positive attitude towards life and fluency in Punjabi,
Hindi/Urdu and English, acting seemed to come naturally to this prodigy
called Geeta Bali. Only a good break was needed and that she got at the
age of twenty in 1950.
Geeta Bali was liked by everyone
she interacted with in the film industry of Bombay. She acted in not too
many films, but all her roles became immortal. According to an
acknowledged expert on Indian films of the yore Shiraz Sharief, Geeta Bali
could give the run for the money to the most well established male actors
of her time. She had a role opposite an acclaimed actor Raj Kapoor in film
“Bawre Nain” in 1950 and she ended up giving a sterling performance,
which the cine critics still remember fondly. In the very next year 1951,
she acted opposite the most handsome hero of the time, Dev Anand in film
“Baazi”. This film is remembered more for the role of Geeta Bali than
even the hero’s role. In 1951 again she acted in film “Albela”
opposite a great comedian Bhagwan and matched him move by move and wit by
wit. In 1952, Geeta Bali did film “Jaal” with two promising heroes
Guru Dutt and Dev Anand and she gave run for the money to both. In 1953,
she did film “Baaz” with distinction opposite Guru Dutt.
1955 was a great year for Geeta
Bali. She did film “Vachan” opposite two great stars Balraj Sahni and
Rajinder Kumar and came up with flying colors. She was nominated for the
award of best actress. Within the same year, she acted in film “Kavi”
and was nominated as the best supporting actress. In 1955, she worked with
actor Shammi Kapoor too in “Rangeen Raatein” and that became the
harbinger of one of the most romantic phases in the lives of both.
In fact film acting assignment in
“Rangeen Raatein” turned out to be an extremely romantic and enjoyable
experience in the lives of both Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali. According to
Shammi Kapoor’s own narration, this film was shot in tidy, cool, calm
and serene environments of a small place called Ranikhet near Nainital in
the then state of U.P. (now Uttarakhand). The hill station weather was
beautiful. Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali enjoyed several days in each
other’s company. Both being typical Punjabis, they enjoyed a unique
common chemistry. Shammi Kapoor said that during this month they both fell
in love. On his return to Bombay, he proposed marriage to Geeta Bali.
Geeta Bali liked the person and said she too loves him, but did not commit
to marriage citing commitments at home and other responsibilities. They
both started meeting more often and on every occasion Shammi Kapoor kept
renewing the marital proposal and each time he received a broad smile but
also a mischievous no to a marriage from Geeta Bali. After several months
Shammi Kapoor received a surprise call from Geeta Bali in August of 1955,
agreeing to get married and that too right there and then.
Shammi Kapoor was thoroughly
surprised. He was of course overjoyed, but he had no time to prepare for
the elaborate wedding. But, true to her nature, Geeta Bali was unprepared
to give him any more time. Only a week back, their common friend comedian
Johnny Walker had married all of a sudden and that too in a court of law.
So they went to his house to find out a way to get married immediately.
Johnny Walker told them that he was a Muslim, who never attended a Mosque
and he had difficulty getting married in a “Nikkah”, so he got married
in a court, but he advised the would be couple to get married in a Hindu
Temple. So they both went to a “Temple” at night and woke the priest
up from his slumber. The priest told them that the temple is closed for
the night, it will reopen at 4am the next morning and he will certainly
perform the wedding ceremony at that time. Next morning, they got dressed
up and went to the temple and the wedding ceremony was performed. After
that Shammi Kapoor got blessings from his father, who was wonderstruck and
from his elder brother Raj Kapoor.
According to Shammi Kapoor, Geeta
Bali was a great life partner. From every point of view she was a
beautiful person. She gave him immense love, fun, two lovely kids, a boy
and a girl and ten great years of happy, romantic married life.
Shammi Kapoor further stated that
in 1957, his film “Tumsa Nahin Dekha” became a super-hit. A
celebratory function was held in New Delhi. Shammi Kapoor asked Geeta Bali
to join him on his trip to New Delhi. But Geeta Bali declined the offer,
saying that she was busy elsewhere and therefore could not attend the
function. Shammi Kapoor, who cherished, admired and loved his better half
intensely, could never imagine a celebration of his success without her
physical presence by his side at the venue. He was shell shocked. He was
feeling like a fish out of water. All his pleasures had evaporated. He
boarded the Frontier Mail, but was feeling incomplete. After a few
stations, a message was received from the ladies compartment by his
entourage that a Muslim lady clad in a “Burqa” wants to talk to
someone. When Shammi Kapoor’s friend went there, the lady in “Burqa”
lifted her veil and it was none other than Geeta Bali, the jovial and
funny. For Shammi Kapoor there could be no bigger pleasure than having his
wife by his side. He enjoyed the journey and the celebration to the hilt.
This is how one and only one Geeta Bali gave one of several pleasant
surprises to her husband.
Geeta Bali did a few movies
afterwards including “Jailor” with Sohrab Modi (1958). For her role in
“Jailor” she certainly deserved a national award. She did great roles
in “Aji Bas Shukriya” (1958), “Anand Math” and “Mr. India”
(1961). But she preferred to spend more time in bringing up her children
and giving comfort and a pleasant company to her husband.
Early in 1965, she got smallpox
infection and that unfortunately consumed her precious life. She passed
away on January 21, 1965 leaving all her friends and admirers saddened and
flabbergasted. 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. Her early
death reminds me of an old adage, “In short measures life may perfect
be”. The Sikh community of today owes her an unqualified apology for
being cruel to her in her early life.
I thankfully acknowledge the help
given by two scholars Sardar Amarjit Chandan of London in the United
Kingdom and Sardar Chiranjeev Singh I.A.S. retired of Bangalore, as well
as writer Amar Bharati in compilation of this article.