He always got to sing the most difficult compositions. He was a master in classical music and most of his renditions had a classical touch. He was regarded as an exceptional singer who wasn’t always a regular or preferable choice of composers for conventional playback singing. During the era, when every lead actor had their own favoured choice of voice, it was difficult for this classical maestro to create a space for himself in the music industry.
Manna Dey is no more with us. But the legacy that is left behind by this legendary vocalist is an evident musical heritage. He has forever been grateful to the Shankar-Jaikishan duo for the first milestone success of his career. From Calcutta to Bombay, the man commenced his musical ride back in the black and white era of 1940s.
‘Aye Mere Pyaare Watan, Aye Mere Bichde Chaman,Tujh Pe Dil Qurbaan’
- one simply cannot deny the aura of his voice that enriched the song. The very essence of patriotism is depicted through the song would bring tears to any one’s eyes.
Manna Dey originally named as Prabodh Chandra Dey was born on the 1st of May 1919 to Purna Chandra Dey and Mahamaya Dey. After completing his schooling from Scottish Church Collegiate and graduated from Vidyasagar College of Kolkata, he received his musical training from his uncle Pandit K. C. Dey.
He stepped into the city of Mumbai in 1942 along with his uncle and started assisting him in music direction. Khemchand Prakash seeing this young lad working with his uncle invited him to be his assistant as well. Soon, Anil Biswas too asked him to come over whenever he has any time left.
‘Jaago Aayi Usha Ponchi Bole Jaago’ was his very first recorded song under the music direction of K. C. Dey. Soon in 1944, Shankar Bhatt and Vijay Bhatt offered a song to K. C. Dey for the film ‘Ram Rajjya’ which the composer cordially denied and instead suggested them to use his nephew Manna Dey. A not very convinced Bhatt gave a chance to the young lad. His voice and style surprised them to no end and Manna Dey finally ended up singing almost three songs for the movie. ‘Ajob Bidhi Ka Lekh Se Porra Nahi Jaye’, ‘Tyagmoyee Tu Gayee’, ‘Bharat Ki Ek Sannari Ke Hum’ were the most popular tracks from the super hit movie ‘Ram Rajjya’.
Manna Dey, an adept singer of devotional songs still didn’t receive much playback offers for songs of other genres. He was tagged solely as a singer for classical or devotional songs only.
In 1950, S. D. Burman called him to render a song for the film ‘Mashaal’. It was the song ‘Upar Gagan Vishaal, Neeche Gehra Paataal’ that brought him into considerable limelight.
In 1953, Bimal Roy’s ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ gave him the track ‘Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke, Bij Bicha Le Pyar Ke’, which was a duet with Lata Mangeshkar. He also sang a song for ‘Parineeta’ in the same year. However, still he was not considered as one of the main spotlight playback singer of Bollywood. Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mahmood and Mukesh were still ruling the charts.
It was Shankar-Jaikishan duo who recognised the real versatility of Manna Dey’s voice. They nurtured, analysed and made his voice explore all the possible style of film music. In the movie ‘Basant Bahar’ when Shankar was questioned about why Dey and why not Rafi? He sternly answered saying that the song suits best to Manna Dey’s voice.
Manna Dey straightaway denied recording the song for ‘Basant Bahar’ when he came to know that it was a song that was to be sung in a competitive manner with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and the winning crown would go to Manna Dey only. He decided to flee from Mumbai and even planned to stay in Pune until the recording. However, finally he was convinced by Bhimsen Joshi himself along with Shankar-Jaikishan to give it a go.
Even during the recording the unforgettable melody ‘Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi’ from ‘Chori Chori’, the producer complained by asking why Mukesh have not been called for the recording. Shankar and Raj Kapoor himself very patiently made him understand that it was Manna Dey who can add the required ambience to the song. True to their prophecy, Manna Dey’s ‘Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi’ turned out to be a magical piece. Later, he went on to render many timeless melodies for Raj Kapoor. ‘Pyar Hua Iqraar Hua Hai’ from ‘Shree 420′ was a blockbuster super hit song that is still popular even today.
His ‘Ae Bhai Zaraa Dekh Ke Chalo’ from ‘Mera Naam Joker’ is more like a musical talking! The stamp of being only a classical singer got erased eventually with this song. If Mukesh’s voice suited Raj Kapoor the most then Manna Dey was no less. He sang for Raj Kapoor’s ‘Awara’, ‘Boot Polish’ and also he rendered the song ‘Lalla Allah Tere Nigaahen’ for Raj Kapoor in the movie ‘Abdullah’. ‘Laaga Chunri Mein Daag’ from Raj Kapoor’s ‘Dil Hi To Hai’ is another example of musical brilliance.
‘Ae Meri Zohra Jabin, Tujhe Maalum Nahi, Tu Abhi Tak Hai Haseen Aur Main Jawaan, Tujhpe Qurbaan Meri Jaan Meri Jaan’,
-This was a smashing super hit piece from Yash Chopra’s 1965 release ‘Waqt’. Such was the everlasting effect of the song that it was revived in the movie ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge’ again in 1995. ‘Kasme Wade Pyar Wafa’ from Manoj Kumar’s ‘Upkar’ is another perfectly rendered piece by Manna Dey that depicts pain and sorrow beautifully.
The ever so joyous ‘Yaari Hai Imaan Mera Yaar Meri Zindagi’ from ‘Zanjeer’ is another stupendous track by Manna Dey in 1973. Picturised on Pran, this song never fails to make one hum along the tune.
A vivid musical example of friendship ‘Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Chodenge, Todenge Dum Magar, Tera Saath Na Chodenge’ from ‘Sholay’ was also sung by Manna Dey along with Kishore Kumar. This is an evergreen musical piece that continues to define friendship through generations.
‘Ek Chatur Naar Karke Singaar’
– The fabulous humorous piece from ‘Padosan’ needs no introduction to anybody. The song is been heard and watched over by one and all through the years. It features a musical competition between Mahmood and Sunil Dutt on screen where Manna Dey lent his voice to Mahmood and Kishore Kumar sang for Sunil Dutt. The stunning expressive vocal lent by both the singers would amaze any listener.
‘Tu Chupi Hai Kahaan Main Tadapta Yahaan’ with Asha Bhosle from ‘Navrag’ is also a beautiful rendition depicting the grief of a husband for his lost wife.
The eminent singer rendered innumerable splendid compositions. He sang songs from several other regional languages as well. In Bengali, ‘Aami Je Jalsaghare’ is an evergreen melody by him. The devotional ‘Amaaye Ektu Jaiga Daao Maayer Mondire Boshi’ did hit the charts almost instantly and is still one of the most popular devotional renditions by him in Bengali.
He received his first National Award in 1969 followed by his second and third National Award in 1971. He was honoured with the Padmashri in 1971. In 2005, he received the Padma Bhushan followed by the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2007. He was conferred the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He also received an honorary D.Litt from the JadavPur University, West Bengal. The list of awards conferred upon him is simply uncountable.
Manna Dey lived for 94 years. Although he was not regular in playback in the recent years but still he actively was engaged in popular concerts both in India and in abroad. He lost his wife last year and took his last breath this year in Bangalore due to lung and renal failure. The ever so magical voice is lost but he left behind a legacy that will be lived and cherished forever.
We can only remember him through his soulful classics like the one he sang for Rajesh Khanna in Anand;
‘Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli Haye…Kabhi Yeh Hasaaye, Kabhi Yeh Rulaaye…Jinhone sajaaye Yahaan Mele Sukh Dukh Sang Sang Jhele, Wahin Chunkar Khamoshi Yun Chali Jaye Akela Kahaan Zindagi…’