Thursday, November 19, 2009


Indian music world in recent weeks saw the honouring of the 90 year old singer, Manna Dey, with the Dada Saheb Phalke Award [2007], the highest honour in Indian cinema. Padma Booshan Manna Dey who ruled Hindi Film Music world in the 50s ,60s, and 70s along with Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore, Talat, Mahendra Kapoor and Hemant Kumar is the last of these legends still living and is the last link[male] that connects the present with that golden era of film music. It is heartening that this living legend continues to be active in music and stage programmes as seen from reports that he was in USA in connection with a cultural programme when the award was announced.

The news about the award made me refresh my memories of those excellent Manna Dey songs we grew up listening to and a few stage programmes of his in the 60s which I was fortunate to watch.The image of Manna Dey singing and playing the harmonium is still in my memory. Lovers of Hindi film music are fully aware of those immortal songs of Manna Dey and a lot has already been written about them. Let me confine myself to a few aspects /features of his music which come to my mind readily.

1. Brought to Bombay's film world from Calcutta by his uncle, the famous music director and singer K.C.Dey, Manna Dey's first song was for the film Tamanna( Music by K.C.Dey), a duet with Suraiya. But it was his song 'Upar Gagan Vishal' from film 'Mashal'(1980-S.D.Burman) that got him the first real break in Hindi films.

2. While Manna Dey is at his best while rendering classical and semi-classical songs, it will be unfair to type him as such.He is a versatile singer who is at ease with any song, be it qwawali,bhajan,chorus, fast numbers, hilarious numbers or romantic songs. The sweetness of his voice is, in fact, suited more for melodies especially romantic melodies. Songs like ,'Yeh raat bheegi bheegi'(Chori Chori), 'Quasme wade pyar wafa'(Uphar), 'Chale Jaa Rahe hain(Kinare Kinare-Music Jaidev),' Kaun aaya mere man ke dware'(Dekh Kabira Roya-Madan Mohan),'Aye mere pyare watan'(Kabuliwallah-Salil Choudhury),'Ek Samay par do barsaati'(Jhoola-Salil Choudhury) are a few examples. In fact the song 'Ek Samay' is so soft and sweet that one may doubt it as a song of Talat!

3. While his romantic solo songs are very popular, there are several outstanding duets like 'Aaja sanam madhur chaandni', with Lata (Chori Chori), 'Mere dil mei hai ek baat' with Lata(Post Box .999), 'Zulfon ki khada lekar' with Asha(Reshmi our Rumal-music Babul), 'Tum gagan ke chandma'with Lata(Sati Savitri), "Jhoomta mausam mast mahina' with Lata(Ujala)etc.There are two other beautiful duets of his with Suman Kalyanpur, known as poor man's Lata. One is ,'Najane kaha tum se'(film zindagi aur Khwab-Music Duttaram) and the other , the romantic,'Tum jo aao to pyaar aa jaye' (Sakhi Robin Music Robin Banerje).

4. Another noteworthy contribution of Manna Dey is the numerous chorus songs he had sung with all the great singers. It even appeared that there cannot be a hit chorus without Manna Dey singing in it. " Hariyala sawan dhol bhajata aaya'(Do Bhiga Zameen)with Lata and chorus, Mud mudke na dekh mud mud ke' with Asha(Shree 420),'Tu pyar ka sagar hai(Seema),'Chad gayo papi bichhua'(Madhumati),and the two beautiful quawalis from film Barsat ki Raat,viz., 'To Karavan ke talash hai' and 'Yeh hai ishq ishq' and 'Ek Chatur Nar' with Kishore Kumar and Mahmood in film Padosan are a few examples.

5.Manna Dey's strength and range in singing classical and semiclassical songs are well known.The first song coming to my mind is the song 'Sur na saje kya ' (Basant Bahar) one of the best in this genre. 'Laga chunari' from film Dil Hi To Hai (Music-Roshan),'Tu Pyar ka Sagar hai'(Seema), a beautiful bhajan, 'Chum chum bhaje re payaliya'(Film Jane Anjane-Music Shankar Jaikishan)Poochona kaise maine'(Film Meri Surat Teri Ankhen-S.D.Burman) etc. all show Manna Dey's prowess. Though Manna Dey had sung for all the leading Music Directors of that era, it was Shankar Jaikishan who could bring out the best from Manna Dey. Films like Seema,Shree 420, Chori Chori,Ujala,Tesri Kasam,Boot Polish,Choti Bahen and Basant Bahar are a few examples.Writer Ravi Menon in his article on the late maestro, Pt.Bhimsen Joshi, had written how Manna Dey was selected for singing the song, "Chetaki Gulab juhi', in film Basant Bahar, with Pt.Bhimsen Joshi. I wonder how the great singer could have agreed to sing it with Manna Dey, how a diffident Manna Dey was persuaded to shake off his fear to sing with the maestro and how Pt. Bhimsen Joshi praised Manna Dey for his excellent rendering after recording the song!! Of course, this song remains as one of the best classical duets of all time.

6. Manna Dey has a special place in the hearts of Keralites for two reasons. One, his wife ,Smt. Sulochana is from Kerala. Two, his song, Maanasa Maine Varoo'from the President's Gold Medal winning Malayalam film,'Chemmeen'(Music: Salil Choudhury)is a favourite film of all Keralites.
Manna Dey faded from Hindi film music scene in the 80s and started concentrating on Bengali songs and stage programmes. In a few interviews he had mentioned about his inability to gel with the changing trends in Hindi film music and his desire to be away from the scene. A big loss for Hindi film music and its followers.

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