JANUARY 2014
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida

Music

The Magic of Manna Dey – Part I

Lavanya Dinesh

By Lavanya Dinesh

Oct. 24 was the swan song for a truly legendary playback singer of yesteryear Indian cinema. The great Manna Dey passed away in Bangalore at the age of 94. India lost the last of an iconic coterie of the greatest male playback singers of all time. Subtle, robust, playful, poignant and masterful, Manna Dey brought myriad shades to his astute and often astounding vocalism. The musician recorded/performed such a variety of songs in so many different languages of India such that every music lover, fan, aficionado and lay listener has a different shade of Manna Dey that he/she chooses to remember.

The journey of a golden voice that touched a million hearts was as mesmerizing as the moving song ‘Mausam Beeta Jaye’ from the film “Do Bheega Zameen” (1953). The talented young Bengali lad born with the name Probodh Chandra Dey moved from Calcutta to Bombay to try his luck in the Hindi film industry under the guidance and tutelage of his accomplished uncle, the great Krishna Chandra Dey. Armed with a foundation of rigorous training in Indian classical music from a tender age, Manna Dey (stage name) initially served as assistant music director to his illustrious uncle as well as to maestro S. D. Burman. The budding singer got into playback in the early 1940s, producing hits with lead female stars of the era such as Suraiya.

Once Manna Dey established his credentials as a fluent playback singer, there was no looking back. The 1950s and 60s ushered in an era of iconic indelible songs rendered by the rich, seasoned and adroit voice of Dey sahib (sir). In a career that lasted almost seven decades, the inimitable Manna Dey vocalized thousands of songs not just for Hindi cinema but also in his native tongue of Bengali as well as many other beautiful sophisticated languages of India like Marathi, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Assamese, Oriya, Malayalam (Manna Dey’s wife Sulochana Kumaran’s mother tongue), Kannada, Konkani and even in Nepali. The artist’s sincere interpretation and unpretentious rendering always did absolute justice to the lyrics loaded with meaning suitable for distinct moods and situations on the big screen. Veteran music directors such as Shankar Jaikishan, Salil Choudhury, S. D. Burman, Anil Biswas, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Roshan trusted Manna Dey to bring to life their masterpieces.

This peerless singer is most popular for Indian classical music based compositions and songs. Through Manna Dey’s sincere singing, North Indian classical music became accessible to the common masses. Manna Dey’s name became synonymous with arguably his most popular song ‘Laga Chunari Mein Daag’ – vibrant composition based on raaga Bhairavi. The rendition is at once weighty and playful appealing to both lay and knowledgeable listeners alike. ‘Phool Gendava Na Maaro’ is another gem based on the same melody sung in the genre of the ‘Thappa’. Manna Dey gave a powerful voice to cine artists and heroes like Bharat Bhushan for amazing period films such as “Basant Bahar” from the 1950s – The Golden Age of Indian cinema. The soul-stirring ‘Bhay Bhanjana Vandana’ and ‘Sur Na Saje’ in this movie are dripping with melody and pathos.

The vocalist’s smooth silky resonant baritone was also well suited to highly romantic numbers like ‘Nain Mile Chain Kaha’ (Basant Bahar) and ‘Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi’ from “Chori Chori” starring the dynamic duo Raj Kapoor and Nargis. Manna Dey was especially favored by composers Shankar-Jaikishan to lend his voice to Raj Kapoor second only to Mukesh. The film “Shree 420” has Manna Da’s mellifluous songs like ‘Pyar Hua Ikraar Hua’ and ‘Aa Ja Sanam.’ This unassuming singer had beautiful collaborations and duets with the greatest playback singers of the day like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar.

Manna Dey’s memorable playlist to be continued in Part II.

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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