Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida


The Magic of Manna Dey – Part II

Lavanya Dinesh

By Lavanya Dinesh

The world of music lost one of its last mellifluous minstrels of Indian cinema in 2013 with the passing of veteran playback singer Manna Dey. Manna Da, as he was fondly known, leaves behind a rich treasure-trove of unforgettable compositions, songs and melodies for future generations to relish. This inimitable vocalist’s niche was a repertoire of songs steeped in Indian classical tunes. The colors of beautiful raagas such as Yaman, Lalit, Ahir Bhairav, Bhairavi, Malkauns, Khamaaj, Chaayanat, Rageshree, Bageshree, etc., formed the basis of many songs so adeptly attractively rendered by Manna Dey.

A somber, reflective morning melody ‘Poocho Na Kaise Maine Raina Bitayi’ describing the travails of a dark lonely night, the haunting ‘Tu Chupi Hain Kaha’ from “Navrang” conveying the futile search for a long lost love, a silly comedian from the rip-roaring film “Dekh Kabira Roya” singing a serious love song ‘Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ke Dwaare’ and an exquisite ‘Tu Hain Mera Prem Devta’ are only few of the melodious examples of Manna Da’s versatile song collection. The singer was inevitably called upon whenever a classical based challenge arose in Hindi film music. The memorable collaboration of Manna Dey and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi in the singing duel ‘Ketaki Gulab Juhi Champak’ from “Basant Bahar” is most notable. ‘Jhanak Jhanak Tori Baje Payaliya’ based on raaga Darbari, ‘Suno Mere Laal’ from “Anuradha” with music by Pandit Ravi Shankar, ‘Aayo Kahan Se Ghan Shyam’, ‘Re Man Sur Mein Ga’, ‘Tere Naina Talaash’ - an S. D. Burman composition and ‘Darshan Do Ghanshyam’ based on raaga Kedar are some of Manna Dey’s other classical gems.

The artist was fearless in experimenting with semi-classical music genres such as thumri in the film composition ‘Ajahu Na Aaye Baalam’, the ghazal with ‘Hasne Ki Chah Mein’, my all-time favorite Qawwali composition from the film “Barsaat Ki Raat” ‘Na Toh Karwan Ki Talash Hain’ with its enjoyable question-answer challenge format and Western-influenced songs like ‘Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh’ from “Shree 420.” When poignant gut-wrenching emotion had to be conveyed or inevitable universal truths needed to be declared through song, Manna Dey was the obvious choice. Manna Da was never pigeonholed into singing for only the romantic leads or heroes of movies. His playback voice was used even for older, incidental or periphery characters and these songs undisputedly became popular upon merit alone – that of the singer, composer and lyricist. In an era when the composer, singers and instrumentalists recorded as an ensemble, all in one shot/take/recording without the aid of current technologies like audio scrubbing, dubbing and punching, sometimes rehearsing just one song for days and even weeks, the high quality of music was always evident.

The heartrending ‘Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hain”’ from “Seema” enacted by an equally serious actor Balraj Sahani, ‘Zindagi Kaisi Hain Paheli’ from “Anand” picturized upon a dying character played by superstar Rajesh Khanna and ‘Aye Bhayi Zara Dekh Ke Chalo’ from “Mera Naam Joker” acted by Raj Kapoor are a few life-affirming ditties. One of my most favorite songs of Manna Dey, the moving ‘Aye Mere Pyaare Watan’ from the film “Kabuliwala” laments the longing for a distant homeland. Among Manna Da’s numerous duets I simply adore the uplifting romantic number ‘Rang Birangi Phoolon Ki’ from “Janam Janam Ke Phere” sung with Geeta Dutt. ‘Aye Meri Zohare Jabin’ from “Waqt” playfully conveys the strong bond of love between an older couple. Among the singer’s regional language film songs ‘Maanasa Maini Varum’ from “Chammeen” (in Malayalam) is a beautiful collaboration with music director Salil Chowdhury, a fellow Bengali.

Manna Dey also tirelessly worked for the cause of Indian music throughout his life, performing at live shows and concerts almost until the end. How can I end my homage to this extraordinary playback singer without remembering the fun-loving humorous side to Manna Dey's music? One cannot but joyously recall ‘Babu Samjho Ishaare’ – a hilarious duet with Kishore Kumar from “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi,” or fall off your chair laughing at the ridiculously awesome ‘Lapak Jhapak Tu Aa Re Badarwa’ from “Boot Polish.” All devoted fans of Hindi cinema will remember ‘Ek Chatura Naar’ a memorable song from the evergreen comedy “Padosan.” This is one of the best comedic songs rendered by the singer in a duet with Kishore Kumar, masterfully enacted by Mehmood. Manna Dey brought an abundance of joy and depth of emotion to the hearts and minds of Indian film music lovers … so long maestro!

Lavanya Dinesh, an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music, lives in Tampa. She regularly performs at musical venues in India and the United States. The singer has three album releases to her credit. She can be reached at lavanya@lavanyadinesh.com

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