“People listen to my songs. But I listen to Manna Dey‘s songs,” are the words of the late Mohammed Rafi who was not only a contemporary but also a rival of Prabodh Chandra Dey alias Manna Dey who passed away at the ripe age of 94 in Bengalaru yesterday.
Manna Dey was one of our finest and most accomplished playback singers belonging to the golden era of Hindi film songs. In the olden days, pictures of playback singers would appear in filmy publications like the Screen, Filmfare and Star & Style wielding the harmonium. Manna Dey was the only singer who would be seen, not with a harmonium by his side, but with his fingers gently strumming a ‘tanpura’. The image speaks volumes for the musicianship of the man himself. Manna Dey was one of the few classically well-trained voices of the film world and he never lost touch with his classical roots which was the secret of his enduring success as a playback singer.
Nephew and pupil of Krishna Chandra Dey who was more known as K.C. Dey, Manna Dey began his career in playback singing with ‘Upar Gagan Vishal’ which was his first hit from the film Mashal. It was none other than Sachin Dev Burman who gave a real break to Manna Dey.
Manna Dey trained under Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendi bazar gharana and also under Abdul Rehman Khan of the Kirana gharana in Mumbai (then Bombay). His training made his vocal chords ultra flexible and he could put them to good use while executing songs like ‘Lapak jhapak tu aare badariya’ from the fllm Boot Polish.
His songs like ‘Banao batiya chalo’ or ‘Phul gendva na maro’ were wonderfully rendered melodies based on Bhairavi. Unfortunately, they were filmed as comic songs enacted by comedians like Aga or Mehmood.
Those have heard old Bollywood numbers like ‘Ai Mere Pyare Vatan’ from Kabuliwala or ‘Yari hai iman’ from Zanjeer by Manna Dey must have heard the distinctive sound of the rabab playing in the background. The rabab is a melodic instrument identified with Afganistan, the country with which undivided India shared her borders. The rabab is supposed to be a precursor to the present day sarod. In the films mentioned above, Manna Dey lends his voice to Pathan characters who sing these songs.
It is said that Naushad, the veteran composer was not enthusiastic about Manna Dey’s singing as he found his voice to be ‘dry’. The same Naushad was compelled to be effusive in his praise of the singer when he heard the song ‘Poochho Na Kaise Maine Rain Bitayi’ based on Ahir Bhairav from Meri Soorat Teri Aankhe. It is said that the entire studio was in tears when Manna Dey finished the take of the song composed by S.D. Burman. The romance that he brings into his velvety voice while rendering ‘Masti bhara hai sama’ (Parvarish/ Dattaram) or ‘Ae Meri Johrajabin’ (Waqt/ Ravi) is indeed tender and moving. Manna Dey was pitched in a jugalbandi sequence with the formidable Bhimsen Joshi for the film Basant Bahar. He was reluctant to take this up because he knew that Pandit Bhimsen was a great singer. However, Pt. Bhimsen was appreciative and invited him to give up film music and enter the classical arena. In Padosan he was supposed to have been out sung by Kishore Kumar, who was not at all trained in classical music. “It is odd that I have won against Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and lost to Kishore Kumar in a vocal duel. This is one of the ironies of life,” he would say. His death brings a glorious era of film music to a sad but inevitable end.
By Sandeep Hattangadi
Ravindra Jain (music composer)
He was a bright light spreading shine in the music world and it’s a great loss to our music world. My condolences to the bereaved family and I remember my composition in the film Saudagar, picturised on Amitabh Bachchan, which I recall fondly and I will miss this great man and singer.
Milind (music composer)
It’s a great loss to the music industry. My father Chitragupta had composed many songs for him and especially his compositions sung by Manna Da for the film Aulad were really popular. His voice was unique and could never be replicated.
Usha Khanna (music director)
I feel sad because he was a gem of a person and a great singer, always joking and laughing. The song I composed for him in Baadal became very popular. It’s sad to see most of the older generation passing away. Manna Da’s demise will create a void in the industry.
Uttam Singh (music director)
I had worked extensively as an arranger with Manna Da and his voice was so great, it couldn’t be copied at all and he was such a gentleman and a nice person. My favorite Manna Da song is ‘Poocha na kaise maine rain bitayee’; I have taken the same raga on which this song was based for a song in my forthcoming film Rajjo and we were remembering Manna Da all the while during the recording of the song.
It’s a great loss to the nation and the music industry. I have fond memories as I sang my first song in Haqeekat with him. He was a lively and gregarious human being always full of laughter. I will miss him terribly.
Ghanshyam Vaswani (playback and ghazal singer)
It’s a great loss to the industry. No one can match his voice. He attended many of my performances and encouraged me a lot. He was a great singer and a great man.
Babloo Mukherjee (playback singer)
He was a great man and a great singer. It’s a great loss. I used to sing in the chorus alongside him and had the opportunity to see him from close quarters and interact with him. I learnt a lot from him. His songs like ‘Poocho na kaise’, ‘Laaga Chunari Mein Daag’ and ‘Eh Meri Zohra Jabeen’ are evergreen classics.