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Manna dey

Manna Dey at his best
Dr Mandar V Bichu
Published: April 30, 2006, 00:00

On Friday, the select audience of music lovers and media people at the Cinemasangeet dot com-MMI-organised luncheon were in for a real treat as the legendary singer Manna Dey regaled them with an amazing array of anecdotes, shedding light not only on his own career but also offering a rare personalised glimpse into the historic golden era of Hindi film music.

The octogenarian (who performed in a Signature Events concert later that evening) was in top form as he remembered every minute detail, mimicked personalities at will and even broke into songs in mid-sentence!

Hates interviews

To get Manna Day to talk in this intimate fashion takes some doing for the man simply abhors interviews and interviewers.

"I simply detest people who ask questions without knowing anything about the subject" - is his frank explanation.

I still remember how he had tried to wriggle out of an interview 12 years ago giving me 10 different excuses before agreeing for a short chat.

But then that chat had extended into a three hour-session at the end of which I had even managed to make him sing one-on-one!

While making him agree to do this live public interview session, I reminded him of that encounter, which brought a mischievous smile to his face.

The moment I saw it, I was sure the great man was ready for the challenge!

The history behind Manna

He started off with a tale about his unusual name Manna and said, "Prabodhchandra was the real name given to me by my father Purnachandra Dey but I never liked it.

My uncle and Guru - K.C. Dey, (the great blind singer of Bengal) always used to call me by the nickname - Manna. Somehow I liked that name and changed it officially when I reached college!"

Recounting his early memories of film-industry, Manna Da said, "Composer Shankar Rao Vyas gave me my first film-song in the 1943-film Ramrajya. Actually the producer wanted my uncle to sing that song but he refused and instead suggested my name. In the film, the song was picturised on an old sage Valmiki. In fact, as a twenty-something young guy I mostly ended up singing for white haired old men!"

First real break

"In the 1940s, the playback singers were not given credits on records and that's why many of my earlier songs never received any attention. In those days, I worked as an assistant to music directors like S.D.Burman and Khemchand Prakash and even composed music for many mythological films at the ripe old age of 25. So embarrassed was I to be associated with that music that I used to flatly deny any role in composing such serious, pious songs! Finally in 1950-film Mashal, I got my real break as playback singer when my song Upar Gagan Vishal became a hit. "

A tough fight

Manna Da candidly accepted the fact that he had to always fight for second place as the top spot in those days was reserved for the great Mohammed Rafi.

Without rancour, he remembered how the producers openly pressurised composers to choose other singers over him.

Thus in Basant Bahar, (where he sang superb songs like Sur Na Saje and Bhay Bhanjana), the hero Bharat Bhushan's brother Shashi Bhushan wanted Rafi and in Chori Chori (where he rendered classics like Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi and Aaja Sanam) producer A.V. Mayyappan wanted Mukesh as their main singers.

Dey said he remains indebted to composers Shankar- Jaikishan for recognising his talent.

No regrets

He said he didn't rue the missed opportunity of becoming superstar Raj Kapoor's regular playback singer.

According to him, Mukesh shared a great personal friendship with Kapoor and the undercurrent of pathos in that singer's voice suited RK's screen image better.

Remembering Raj Kapoor's great sense of music, Manna Da recounted how the thespian first made the singer sing the Malhar raga and then made composers Shankar- Jaikishan compose a brilliant comedy - classical number Lapak Jhapak for Boot Polish.

Such was Kapoor's musical passion that he even joined Manna Da in the song, lending some comic vocal gimmickry.

The bond with Mehmood

Manna Da fondly remembered his musical bond with comedian Mehmood. He recalled how Pancham (R.D.Burman) had first used his (Manna Da's) voice for Mehmood in the Pati Patni comic number Allah Jaane Main Hoon Kaun, which later became a popular trend.

He also recounted how the comedian used to coax and cajole him to add more masala (spice) to his songs.

Concluding the session, when he lightheartedly described how he absolutely hated finally getting the Filmfare award for an 'ordinary' song like Aye Bhai Zara Dekhke Chalo instead of earlier, better deserving numbers like Nirbal Se Ladai Balwan Ki, Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ke Dware, Poochho Na Kaise and Kasme Vaade Pyar Wafa, the smilingly made observation was subtly tinged with a lingering regret of a great singer who never really got his due!


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for such a nice writing on Padmabhusan Manna Dey.
For your information - we have developed "Manna Dey Sangeet Academy" (A registered society) and developing a complete archive on Sri Manna Dey. You may visit our website: for more information.

Dr. Gautam Roy, Secretary

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