Manna Dey, the last of the male golden voices of the 50s, 60s and 70s took classical and popular playback music and modern “adhunik” songs to great heights.
Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye,
kabhi toh hansaaye, kabhi yeh rulaaye…
Words that have become proverbial, a song that continues to charm music lovers across generations and the singer who has set benchmarks in playback music that are hard to surpass.
Manna Dey, the last of the male golden voices of the 50s, 60s and 70s who took classical and popular playback music and modern “adhunik” songs to great heights along with his contemporaries Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar and Talat Mahmood, passed away today, October 24, in a Bangalore hospital at the age of 94.
Dey had been ill for the past few months and was in hospital for a respiratory infection.
Born Prabodh Chandra Dey in Kolkata 1919 and known by his nickname Manna, this versatile singer became synonymous with classical songs and humorous songs in Hindi and Bengali film music and also “adhunik” Bengali songs. When it came to classical rendition of purely “raag-based” classical/semi-classical songs, music composers would straightaway look for Manna Dey.
Remember the intricate tarana that comes with “Laaga chunri mein daag chhupaaun kaise” (Dil Hi To Hai) based on Raag Bhairavi, or the hidden pathos in “Poochho na kaise maine raain bitai” (Meri Surat Teri Aankhen) based on Raag Ahir Bhairav, the romance in Jhanak jhanak tori baaje payelia (Mere Huzoor) based on Raag Darbari Kanada, or the proverbial Kaun aaya mere man ke dwaare, payal ki jhankar liye (Dekh Kabira Roya), based on Raag Raageshri?
Manna Dey’s songs became superhits not only because of the remarkable music but also because of the ease with which he sang those difficult classical compositions. He brought the elite “classical” music into the popular domain, making these songs hummable by anyone who loved to croon.
Those first songs
Recipient of Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2009, the Padma Bhushan in 2005, the Padma Shri in 1971 and the National Award twice, Dey began his career in playback singing with a duet with Suraiya “Jaago jaago aayee usha” in the film Tamanna in 1942, under the music direction of well known composer K C Dey, his uncle, tutor and mentor.
But it was only in 1943 that he got his first solo break with Ram Rajya. Incidentally, the producer of the film Vijay Bhatt and its composer Shankar Rao Vyas had approached K C Dey with an offer for playback in the film. When K C Dey refused the offer on the grounds that he would not lend his voice to other actors, they spotted Manna Dey sitting in the corner of the room and offered him the opportunity.
Shankar Rao Vyas taught Manna Dey the songs and he chose to sing them in his uncle’s distinct style. And thus started the illustrious career with the first song “Gayi tu gayi Seeta sati“(Ram Rajya, 1943).Though he sang quite a few songs after this, his first hit song was Kavi Pradeep’s “Oopar gagan vishal” for the film Mashal (1950).
He lived in a large, joint family “in an atmosphere drenched in music.” His immense control over his voice was due to his intense tutelage under stalwarts of classical music who visited his home and his uncle K C Dey, who was a well-known Bengali actor, singer, music composer and teacher.
A Powerful Classical Base
K C Dey mentored him and introduced him into a career which would eventually become legendary. “I was drawn towards my uncle’s ability to modify classical music to make it appealing to the layperson,” Manna Dey recalled in an insightful interview in Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song, the authoritative book by Ganesh Anantharaman.
The classical training set Manna Dey in a genre of his own but that did not any way affect his extensive repertoire of love songs, humorous songs and songs that could move you to tears.
Think of a romantic, moonlit night and “Yeh raat bheegi bheegi, yeh mast fizaayein, utha dheere dheere woh chand pyaara pyaara…” (the Manna Dey-Lata Mangeshkar duet from Chori Chori) sets the mood. The passion in “Aye meri zohra zabeen” (from Waqt) proves that middle aged people can be just as romantic as the youth and the song is played as a popular DJ track in parties. “Aao twist karein, jaag utha mausam” (Bhoot Bungla) connected with the youth with it Rock n’ Roll beats while “Tu pyaar ka saagar hai” (Seema) became one of the most popular bhajans of Hindi film music.
“Ek chatur naar”, Manna Dey’s hilarious duet with Kishore Kumar, which he sang with a deliberate accent, set a whole new standard in fun songs where the rendition had to be playful, yet intricately classical and not slip into slapstick.
The lyrics of “Kasme vaade pyar wafa sab, baatein hain baaton ka kya…” (Upkar) along with Manna Dey’s undeniably soulful rendition made this song a proverbial one, synonymous with broken promises and lost love.
Manna Dey not only set high standards in Hindi film playback, his repertoire of Bengali songs is just as outstanding. Bengali popular music has basically two genres – film music and modern “adhunik” songs and Manna Dey came up with superhit numbers in both.
Inimitable Niche in Bangla Music
“Coffee houser shei adda ta aaj aar neyi” reminiscenced the lost era of Kolkata’s famous coffee house gatherings or “adda” while the classical gems “Ami je jalsaghare” and “Aami jamini tumi shashi hey” (Antony Firingi) brought back the era of the 19th century music. “Ami shri shri bhajohori manna” is a fun song about cooking, “Bado aika laage” (Chowringhee) creates the mood of loneliness while “Jodi Himalay Alps er shomosto jaumat baraf” spells everlasting love. Manna Dey became the playback voice of Bengal’s King of Hearts Uttam Kumar when the star’s legendary partnership with Hemant Kumar faded out.
These are just a few gems from a treasure of finest music that Manna Dey has left behind. In the south, one of his most famous songs is the iconic “Manasa Maiyne Varu…” in the Malayalam classic Chemeen.
Manna Dey recorded more than 3,500 songs from 1942-2013. Apart from Hindi and Bengali, he also sang in Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Magadhi, Maithilee, Konkani, Sindhri and Chattisgarghi.
Out of his large repertoire, Manna Dey’s had his own favorite Hindi film songs and for particular reasons. Read about them here (the songs and quotes are sourced from: Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song)
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