Manna Dey-the classical titan

Manna Dey-the classical titan

Manna Dey-The Classical Titan. When I conveyed the sad news of demise of Manna Dey on October 24, 2013 to one of my friends who is also an enthusiast...

When I conveyed the sad news of demise of Manna Dey on October 24, 2013 to one of my friends who is also an enthusiast of Hindi film music, asked me whether he was still alive. That is how people react when an artiste lives a full life of 94 years as Manna Dey.

The fact that this indomitable performer is the sole survivor after the singing giants like Mohd Rafi, Mukesh, Thalath Mahmood, Hemanth Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Mahendra Kapoor left this world long long ago. With the demise of Manna Dey, the golden period of Hindi film music of 1950s, 60s and 70s comes to an end.

Manna Dey (Praboth Chandra Dey in real life) was born on May 1, 1919 at Kolkata in a big joint family where 30 people were living under one roof. His uncle was an engineer who carried the responsibility of the family wanted Manna Dey to become a lawyer. But Manna Dey had already made up his mind to become a singer as music was his first love. He lived in an atmosphere drenched in music. All the stalwarts of classical music of that era would visit their home very often. K C Dey (Krishna Chandra Dey), the great classical singer was his uncle. K C Dey was an extremely popular film musician. He composed music for films and also a play back singer. He made it a point to present all the richness of classical music in the form that was accessible and enjoyable to the common man.

Manna Dey was greatly impressed by his uncle and learnt the rudiments of music from him. He had also learnt classical music from others but Manna Dey himself said that pure classical music never caught his imagination. He was drawn towards his uncle’s ability to modify classical music to make it appealing to a layman. This is the reason why some of the classical songs like “Chuneri mein daag chupalu Kaise” sung by Manna Dey became such great hits. He came to Bombay in 1942, when he was 23 years of age, to work as an Assistant to his uncle, K C Dey. Sachin Dev Burman, was one of the students of K C Dey.
Manna Dey was big admirer of SD Burman and he was copying his style of singing. When KC Dey came to know this habit of his nephew, he was furious and reprimanded Manna Dey. In the beginning of his career, Manna Dey wanted to be a music director. He worked as Assistant Music Director to KC Dey, Anil Biswas, Khemchand Prakash and SD Burman. But he realized that composing music was a difficult job and decided to take play back singing as his career. His uncle prepared him for facing the hardships of the tinsel world- the competition, rivalry, fame and rejection etc. he had developed the habit of accepting success and failure equally.
Early in his career, he had the bitter experience of rejection by his own uncle. When KC Dey, was recording a song, he wanted it to be in the voice of Mohd Rafi. Manna Dey was crestfallen. “Why wasn’t uncle allowing me to sing this fine composition when I could certainly sing it better than Rafi,” he thought. He asked his uncle, “Can’t I be allowed to sing this song?” But KC Dey replied, “Absolutely not.” However, Manna Dey felt that his uncle was right after listening to the song in Rafi’s voice. “I couldn’t have sung that composition better than Rafi- At least not at that time,” said Manna Dey. Though endowed with rich masculine voice, Maana Dey, throughout his singing career never occupied number one position.
He was always second to Rafi or Kishore. When Manna Dey was writing his autobiography “Memories Come Alive”, his friend BK Nehru (former ambassador to the USA and Governor of States such as Gujarath, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and cousin of Indira Gandhi) suggested that the better title would have been “Nice Guys Finish Second”. His first break in play back singing was in 1943 by sheer chance as producer Vijay Bhat and Composer Shankar Rao Vyas came to request his uncle to be a playback singer for their film ‘Ram Rajya’ but KC Dey refused to lend his voice for others. Then they chose the young Manna Dey to sing playback for their film and they were delighted with his marvelous voice.
Thus with his first song ‘gaiyi thu gaiyi Sita sati’, he never looked back. His first big hit was ‘ooper gagan vishal’ written by Kavi Pradeep from the movie ‘Marshal’ under the music direction of SD Burman. Manna Dey’s next big break was ‘Basant Bahar’ composed by Shankar (of Shankar Jai Kishan fame) who was adamant in choosing the voice of Manna Dey when others wanted Rafi to sing the song ‘sur na saje’ in the film which was a great classical number. Shanker knew that the only singer who was capable of making improvisations at that time was none other than Manna Dey.
Every other singer- Talat, Mukesh, Kishore would sing what was given to them. Only Rafi tried to improvise but not that successful. Improvisation required a command over classical music which was Manna’s forte. But having abundant knowledge in classical music Manna claims that he was petrified of singing the pure classical song “Kataki gulab juhi chapmpak ban phool” along with Bhimsen Joshi, a giant in classical singing. Everybody believed including SD Burman that Manna Dey can sing only classical songs and fails if he sings light songs.
But, that impression was broken when he was chosen by Shanker for Rajkapoor’s ‘Shree 420’. In spite of Rajkapoor’s preference for Mukesh, Shanker made Manna Dey as RK’s voice in films like ‘Shree 420’and ‘Chori Chori’. Who can forget Manna’s rendition of songs like ‘Dil ka hal Sunane waala’, ‘Pyaar hua ikrar hua’, ‘Ye raat bheegi bheegi’, ‘Aaja Sanam Madhura Chandnime Hum’, ‘Aye Bhai Zara Dekh ke chalo’, ‘Kaha gaye O Din’ etc. He had also sung a rock-n-role song like ‘Aao twist kare’ for Mahmood in ‘Bhooth Banglow’. Manna Dey says that RD Burman was a great music composer that many tunes credited to his father SD Burman were actually tuned by RD Burman.
The great Mohd Rafi said “You listen to my songs I listen to Manna Dey’s songs only”. Lata Mangeshkar said “Mannada, your kasme wade (on Pran in Upkaar, 1967) has enchanted me as to how did you manage to emote so well? The melody haunts me relentlessly”. Raju Bharathan, musician in his book ‘Journey Down Melody Lane’ says, “Manna Dey is a singing giant and shall remain one. His inherent strength lies in the fact that no opponent could ever afford to take him vocally for granted.”
Manna’s last words were: ‘I do feel I have not got my share of recognition ‘Sur naa saje’, ‘Poocho na kaise maine’, and ‘Laaga chunri mein Daag’ were all praised over for best play back singer award. Even the extremely popular ‘Aye meri Zohra Jabeen’ didn’t fetch me one. But I am happy my music is remembered till date and remembered with respect. I consider myself lucky to have been part of an era when a creative and outstanding music was brought to light. For that I thank God”.
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