Manna Dey worked with 195 music directors starting with KC Dey in the 1942 film Tamanna right up to Sameer Tandon in the 2005 film Umar. Silhouette presents the 2nd part of Bipin Parekh’s detailed study of Manna Dey’s musical life and discography with tables, charts and beautiful medley videos.
Manna Dey was fortunate to have enjoyed the rare opportunity of working with all the eminent music directors of the time. The variation of melodies that distinguished one music director from another had always been
 a source of eternal fascination for him,
 responsible for his perennially changing taste in music, and
 a motivating factor in sustaining interest in the world of music.
Manna Dey worked with 195 music directors starting in 1942 with KC Dey (film Tamanna) to the last one in 2005 Sameer Tandon (film Umar).
Figure Y shows a bar chart plots of the new music directors composing for Manna Dey over time. The data shows his popularity rose from the 1940s, stayed consistently high during the next 30 years and was steady even into the 1980s.
Table X summarises a selected list of key music directors and their films with hit songs of Manna Dey.
Table X: Worked with a Variety of Composers in Popular Films
|Naushad||Shabab, Mother India|
|SD Burman||Mashaal, Devdas, Manzil, Bandini, Meri Surat Teri Aankhen, Ziddi, Jyoti, Talaash|
|Salil Chowdhury||Do Bigha Zameen, Madhumati, Usne Kaha Tha, Kabuliwala, Anand|
|Kalyanji Anandji||Upkar, Zanjeer, Lawaris|
|Ravi||Waqt, Ghar Sansaar, Aankhen|
|Laxmikant Pyarelal||Sant Gyaneshwar, Anurodh, Pushpanjali, Bobby, Satyam Shivam Sundaram|
|Datta Ram||Parvarish, Qaidi # 911, Zindagi aur Khwab, Jab se Tumhe Dekha Hai|
|RD Burman||Bhoot Bangla, Padosan, Sholay, Buddha Mil Gaya|
|Roshan||Madhu, Dil Hi To Hai, Barsat Ki Raat|
|Vasant Desai||Do Aankhen Barah Haath|
|Pt Ravi Shankar||Anuradha|
|Madan Mohan||Dekh Kabira Roya, Baawarchi|
Three influential music directors who were instrumental in promoting his career were (1) Sachin Dev Burman, (2) Salil Chowdhury and (3) Shankar Jaikishan. Table Z lists Manna Dey’s song output by these three composers. Together, they represented less than 2% of music directors that Manna Dey worked with but produced a disproportionately large number (10% of songs) of memorable compositions for Manna Dey.
Table Z: Comparison of Song Output by Important Music Directors
|Music Director||# of Films||# of songs|
Manna Dey credits Sachin Dev Burman and his compositions for being instrumental in his initial success as a playback singer. It was Sachin-da’s song from Mashal, Upar gagan vishal that would propel his singing career. Sachin-da was a perfectionist, an unassuming person and childlike in his simplicity. Sachin-da had this uncanny talent for tracking down singers with voices ideally suited for his compositions. Manna Dey felt that despite giving his best to the songs composed by Sachin-da and even after becoming an established playback singer, Sachin-da did not ask Manna Dey to sing regularly for the films whose music he composed.
In Manna Dey’s opinion ‘no music directors can match either Salil-babu’s talent for innovation or versatility. The secret of Salil-babu’s incomparable compositions lay in his in-depth knowledge of Indian folk tunes and the exemplary thoroughness with which he conducted his research into music. I first met Salil-babu in 1953; he composed music for Bimal Roy’s film Do Bigha Zameen, in which I sang two songs composed as a fusion of Indian folk tunes and Western pop.’
Manna Dey credits the composer duo Shankar Jaikishan for their crucial role in promoting his singing career. He once said about the duo Shankar Jaikishan, ‘I would certainly not have attained the heights of success I enjoyed in my career had it not been for their patronage.’
‘Shankar had a clear conception of the range of my voice and began composing some of my popular numbers. He was the first composer who dared to experiment by making me sing romantic numbers. These compositions were more like light music than classical, which made me a versatile singer. The precedent set by S-J would be instrumental in furthering my career with other MDs… Also, S-J used my voice to lip-synch for younger characters.’
Songs of Manna Dey Composed by Shankar-Jaikishan
Popular Songs for a Variety of Composers
As illustrated in Table X, Manna Dey delivered melodies composed by a diverse group of music directors. The next video of mixed medley show cases a short list of composers and their very popular numbers in qawwali, folk, western and soulful genres.
★ RD Burman
★ Usha Khanna
★ Vasant Desai
Mixed medley of Manna Dey songs
Manna Dey’s autobiography provides an exhaustive list of songs in all languages. Of those, about 1363 are grouped as Hindi Film songs, rendered in a staggering number of about 932 films (1942-2005).
He reached a peak productivity of 93 songs in 1957.
Figure R shows song output over time. As his popularity increased with music directors (as shown in Fig. Y) came more opportunities and assignments to sing.
Figure R: Hindi Film Songs Output over Time
Figure S If we look at his ‘output per decade’ and it clearly shows a steady demand and commensurate output of Manna Dey’s melodious renditions. Decade after decade he consistently delivered a remarkably steady number of great songs.
Figure S: Song Production per Decade
Duets and Mixed Songs, Praise For Other Singers
Manna Dey graciously acknowledged admirations for his contemporary singers. It was his privilege of having sung duets and mixed songs with a number of talented singers during his long career.
Table T shows Duets and Mixed songs of Manna Dey with the top tier singers. The female duets and mixed songs account for over one fifth of his total song output.
Table T: Duets and Mixed songs of Manna Dey
|Singers||# of Films||# of Songs||# of Duets|
Asha Bhosle or ‘Asha Tai’ was very fond of him. ‘I blessed her with all my heart when she married Pancham as she was like a younger sister to me; I admire Asha for her versatility; in her voice modulation she exceeds even her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar,’ said Manna Dey.
Manna Dey greatly admired Lata: ‘Talent, determination and commitment are an unbeatable combination and Lata had all three in ample measure. It is hardly a wonder that she is called the Nightingale of India. Few can emulate the way she modulates her voice to suite that of the screen personality for whom she is singing.’
Lata reciprocated and complimented Manna Dey saying: ‘Dada, you arrange the tunes in such a manner that the final product is a hit.’ Praising his pronunciation Lata said, ‘Dada, your Marathi pronunciation is more impeccable than that of a learned Marathi Brahmin.’
A medley of romantic songs of Manna Dey
The male singers Manna Dey had to initially compete against included Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh and later Kishore Kumar. Manna Dey strongly believed that to be successful, one has to put in his best effort in the competitive film business and that meant being ingenious and innovative. The singers shared a healthy professional rivalry devoid of any personal ‘equation’. Outside the studio, they were best of friends and shared their joys and sorrows with one another. They each had their own area of strength where they excelled. In his autobiography Manna Dey shared his honest opinions about his contemporaries.
‘Mohammad Rafi’s renditions were like an early spring morning with its varied hues and shades and appealed to me immensely, his songs touched people’s heart. I had the opportunity of singing quite a few duets with him and I enjoyed the sessions.’
‘It was taken for granted that Talat Mahmood would be the best choice for a romantic song. He was something of an aberration in the sense that he seemed to lack perseverance and abandoned his singing career prematurely.’
‘Mukesh was tranquility incarnate. Few could surpass him in rendering a melancholy number. One could not have asked for a better human being, but it was rumored that when training him to sing a number, music directors were hard put to conceal their impatience. Once he had mastered the song, however, none could find fault with his rendition.’
‘Kishore was a phenomenon in the world of film music. He would create a niche for himself for the same kind of numbers. He cared a fig about classical conventions and sang the way he liked. That had mass appeal. It was Kishore’s inborn talent that helped him to reach the heights of excellence, and we have to accept this truth.’
‘Connoisseurs of music will agree that my songs were appreciated only by those acquainted with classical music. I have never been what one calls a ‘popular’ singer in the real sense of the word. I acknowledge this truth in all humility and this acceptance gives me strength to work against all odds. During my career I continued to hone my innate abilities to some level of perfection.’
Table U lists published statistics about the singers’ (a) number of songs, (b) number of films, and (c) number of music directors they worked with. Interestingly, Manna Dey ranks third in terms of number of songs and number of films and second for the number of music directors. However, his song ‘output per film’ is the lowest among the five singers.
Table U: Male Singers’ Songs Output Comparison
|Singer||# of songs||# of films||# of MDs|
A selection of Manna Dey’s duets with the top male singers
Manna Dey: ‘One actor who was adamant about using my voice was the comedian of Hindi films — Mehmood. We had developed a wonderful rapport which helped us both to succeed in our respective fields. He would often drop in at our place for a practice session to perfect his lip movements so that when he lip-synched a number I had sung for him, he would appear completely natural. That is how those unforgettable songs from Bhoot Bangla, Ziddi, Padosan and Johar Mehmood In Goa were created. I was especially cautious when asked to sing for Mehmood in the duet, Ek Chatur Nar, with Kishore Kumar. To be put in the shade by his flamboyant style of singing was a distinct possibility and to counter the risk, I decided to work with Pancham, striving to build on my strengths and find a way of holding my own. On the day we were to record the song, the entire staff at the studio stood outside the glass door to watch Kishore and me sing. For the two of us, the session had taken on the magnitude of a duel. It took us twelve hours to complete the recording (9 AM to 9 PM). The song went on to become a winner’.
A medley of comedy songs rendered by Manna Dey for comedians Mehmood, Agha, Dhumal and Johnny Walker
Manna Dey’s calm and soothing renditions in various scales do justice to the thoughtful and soulful lyrics in these philosophical songs.
Mellifluously rendered songs in this medley derive extensively from Manna Dey’s experience in rendering songs of multitude of ethnic languages/cultures. His melodic delivery brings out the dignity, seriousness and solemnity penned by the great lyricists.
Blessed and Grateful Manna Dey
Manna Dey’s singular goal in life had been to give his best to be a great singer. Along that life journey he had endured his share of the highs and lows, joys and regrets and achievements and failures. He always acknowledged, humbly, as being indebted to so many for helping him attain the goals he set for himself — mentors, teachers and above all his beloved mother. Upon a soul-searching introspection he was convinced that if he could, he would be very happy to re-live his life. Thinking metaphorically, Manna Dey observed:
‘…If reincarnation is, indeed, a reality, my fervent hope would be to be reborn in India once again. If my wishes were granted, I would want a mother just like the one I had been blessed with in this life, an uncle like my Babu Kaka and the teachers who came by my way like precious gifts.
I long to be incarnated as a singer once more, so that I can revive the lost art of many promising composers, lyricists and instrumentalists…’
Manna Dey’s Favorite Song
This song from the film Zindagi Zindagi is one of his all-time favorites because it epitomises the way Manna Dey, a singer, felt about music; ‘music is everything to me, who else can be my friend but music?’
Mera sab kuch mere geet re (Zindagi Zindagi, 1972) SD Burman / Anand Bakshi
Manna Dey married Sulochana Kumaran on December 18, 1953. They have two daughters Suroma Herekar and Sumita Deb. Manna Dey passed away on 24th October 2013.
Although Manna Dey songs in Bengali and Hindi languages are very well known, he also sang in other languages – Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Maithili, Punjabi, Assamese, Odia, Konkani, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, and Nepali. He recorded over 1360 Hindi film songs out of a total recording of around 3500 songs. His contribution was well recognised with many prestigious awards:
Government of India honors:
(Medley videos created by Monica Kar)
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