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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Master of Many Moods


SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: November 10, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Kalyanji-Anandji | Upkar | Kasme vaade pyyar waffa | Kishore Kumar | Manna Dey |

In the late 1960s, Kalyanji-Anandji were composing a song for Manoj Kumar’s directorial debut Upkar. The number, Kasme vaade pyyar waffa, was to be sung by a character played by ace villain Pran, cast in the film for the first time in a non-negative character role.

The composer duo approached Kishore Kumar because they felt his would be just the right voice for the composition. But Kishore, on hearing it, is reported to have exclaimed: “Only Mannada would be able to do justice to the song!” He did. And how!

Manna Dey’s eventful musical career, which lasted six decades, was replete with such magnificent gems. He was a consummate master who wasn’t, as many thought, only a singer of classical numbers. He was perfect at creating myriad moods.

Manna Dey could flit across moods and musical idioms without missing a trick. His matchless, masculine voice sprang from the innermost depths of the heart and was honed through years of passion and toil. Till the very end, he never skipped his riyaaz.

One of the most accomplished popular singers India has ever heard, he was the last surviving luminary from a generation of voices that defined the contours of modern Hindi film music. He was an integral part of a glorious tradition of outstanding male singers, but he stood apart from all of them.  

What made him truly unique were his amazing versatility and unwavering grasp over his craft. The latter enabled him to make every song-type his own without compromising on the quality of the singing.

That was probably the reason why he, unlike the other great voices in the golden quartet of Hindi film music (Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar), was not identified with any actor.

Rafi was Shammi Kapoor’s voice, Mukesh sang for Raj Kapoor, and Kishore was Dev Anand’s playback singer, but Manna Dey wasn’t tied down to any one star. Composers went to him when they needed a male singer to render a particularly difficult composition. He always delivered.

Such was Manna Dey’s vocal range that no song – from the classical to the comical, the philosophical to the pathos-filled, the peppy to the profound – was beyond him. He sang the semi-classical (Poocho na kaise rain beetayi and Sur na saje kya gaaoon main) and the mock-classical (Phool gendwa na maaro) with equal conviction.

Born in Calcutta on May 1, 1919, Prabodh Chandra Dey – that was Manna Dey’s real name – gravitated towards music under the tutelage of his uncle, the blind singer Krishna Chandra Dey. He was also trained by Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan, two doyens of classical music.

His first Hindi number was for the 1942 film, Tamanna. His co-singer was Suraiya. And then the big break arrived. Filmmaker Vijay Bhatt wanted Dey senior to sing for the sage Valmiki in the film Ram Rajya.

K.C. Dey, however, only sang in films in which he also acted. He suggested his nephew’s name to Bhatt as a replacement. The filmmaker was in two minds but eventually gave in. Manna Dey grabbed the chance with both hands. He was only 22.

But as a result of being the voice of sage Valmiki, he was, for a long time, confined to singing for old men on the screen. But every song was a challenge and he left nothing to chance. Whether it was the soulful Ae mere pyaare watan in Kabuliwala or the robust Aao twist karen in Bhoot Bangla, he gave it his all.

A true-blue pro, he never let the fact that he was the voice of choice for older characters in Hindi films – remember Ai meri zohraa zabeen in Waqt or Kasme vaade pyaar waffa? – throw him off. He made the most of every opportunity that came his way and left an indelible mark.

Manna Dey continued to be in the thick of the action until the late 1970s, churning out one magical number after another with effortless ease in a multiplicity of Indian languages.

Hindi and Bengali were the languages in which he sang a majority of his songs. He also rendered numbers in Marathi, Malayalam, Gujarati and Bhojpuri, among others.

He retreated from the Mumbai movie industry in the early 1990s, disillusioned with the quality of the music being produced. But he continued to sing in his native Bengal, besides lending his voice to non-film numbers.

Many in the Mumbai movie industry felt his rich, full-throated, classical style was not suited to romantic numbers, which explains why he was rarely used to render conventional love songs in Hindi cinema. But he was the go-to man when it came to raga-based numbers.

However, it wasn’t as if he did not have romantic songs in his repertoire – the duet with Lata Mangeshkar in the Raj Kapoor-Nargis starrer Chori Chori, Yeh raat bheegi bheegi springs to mind.

Besides, as the leading male voice in Bengali cinema for decades, he sang a wide range of love songs, many of them for the legendary Uttam Kumar.

He was ailing for several months and his admirers knew that the end was nigh. Yet, Manna Dey’s demise has triggered a wave of gloom among lovers of Hindi and Bengali film music.

And that is quite understandable: both the man and the voice were priceless. Neither of the two is likely to be replaced in the foreseeable future.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017