Manna Dey! The name itself conjures up memories of such classics as “Sur Na Saje, Kya Gaoon Main” , “Kaun Aya Mere Man Ke Dware”, “Laaga Chunari Mein Daag”, “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli‘ Haaye” and countless others. The last male doyen of his times passed away recently, leaving a big void. Our GP team paid a tribute to him via our Facebook page, but we thought it would be fitting to write up an article on him for our beloved readers to get a brief window into about his life, his accomplishments and above all, his versatility and range.
Prabodh Chandra Dey (Manna was his pet name that meant “the little one” in Bengali) was born in Kolkata and breathed his last in Bengaluru, India at the age of 94. Although he sang mainly in Hindi & Bengali, he also recorded songs in several other languanges mainly Marathi, Gujarati and Bhojpuri. Even though he won only one Filmfare Award in 1971 for Mera Naam Joker number “Ai Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo”, he was the recipient of Padma Shri in 1971, the Padma Bhushan in 2005 and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2007.
He debuted in the film Tamanna in 1942, and went on to record more than 4000 songs in his career spanning from 1942 to 2013. He became nationally famous after release of Do Bigha Zamin 1953 where two of the songs sung by him “Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke” and “Hariyala Sawan Dhol Bajata” and composed by Salil Choudhury became hits. His association with Shankar-Jaikishan and producer Raj Kapoor had begun while working for Awara, since Mukesh had let it be known that he would have a few last songs to go on Raj Kapoor for some time to come, as he was bound by contract elsewhere. This worked to Manna’s favor as their combination became famous while working together for Boot Polish in 1954 and the trio worked in many films together from 1954-1971 whose musical scores were appreciated like Shree 420, Mera Naam Joker and Chori-Chori. Manna Dey gave superb expression to “Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua (Shree 420), “Dil Ka Haal Sune Diljala”; “Ye Raat Bheegi-Bheegi” (Chori-Chori) and the exquisite “Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh” ,with Asha (Shree 420).
Manna Dey, though very popular, and considered “technically perfect” in terms of his classical singing, never quite made it to the top as a quintessential romantic playback singer for the HF hero. ‘Dada, how do you manage to let your voice soar with such ease?’ Rafi is said to have asked of Manna. Rafi then proceeded to get his own voice to soar some attuning his vocals to romantic film singing in such a way that he took over the mantle of romantic playback singer from Manna, leaving the superior classical performer to perform the left-overs in most cases. However, he had his big chance to prove himself on the ‘courtly’ Baiju Bawra hero, Bharat Bhooshan, in competition with Mohd. Rafi and came up with gems like “Sur Na Saje”, “Bhay Bhanjana” and “Nain Mile Chain Kahan” (with Lata). Icing on the cake was the Ketaki gulaab juhi from Basant Bahaar, setting him up in climactic competition with none other than Pt. Bhimsen Joshi!
Not completely unaware of the fact that he wasn’t quite making the “cut” as a romantic playback singer… in his autobiography, he acknowledged that that by 1969, Kishore Kumar had left everyone else in the dust because his style of singing put even a classical colossus like Manna Dey behind. It is said that for “Ek Chatur Naar” (Padosan), Manna Da had refused to sing for Mehmood since the situation demanded him losing out to Kishore Kumar (as Sunil Dutt’s ventriloquist). It was at Kishore Kumar’s humble insistence, that he finally agreed to let Kishore steal musical scene after scene.
While it is widely known that Manna Dey’s forte was classical signing (who can forget songs like “Pritam Daras Dikhao” from Chacha Zindabad, “Poochho Na Kaise Maine Rain” from Meri Surat Teri Aankhen), “Jhanak Jhanak Tore Baje Payalia” from Mere Huzoor), he was equally at ease with fun–filled numbers such as “Chunari Sambhal Gori” from Baharon Ke Sapne, “Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen” from Waqt and “Masti Bhara Yeh Sama” from Parvarish. And not to forget his awesome romantic dueting with Lata Mangeshkar in “Tum Gagan Ke Chandrama” from Sati Savitri, “Dil Ki Girah” from Raat Aur Din. His rendition of “Kasame Vaade Pyar Wafa” from Upkar pictured on Pran and composed by Kalyanji Anandji won accolades for Manna-Da. However, offers for him to sing solo songs in Hindi films reduced since 1976 gradually; additionally songs sung by him were hardly ever picturized on the main lead.
Today, as I reflect back on this treasure left by Manna Dey, I can’t help but feel that he didn’t get his due …. I can only feel blessed that he lived and sang long enough to give us so many gems, that we and our generations will cherish for years to come.
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