When I wrote on KC Dey’s songs in Devdas (1935), it just gave a glimpse to the readers of how great a singer he was if he could be so moving in the songs which are relatively unknown. Long before that post, I had planned to present my top favourite songs of KC Dey which got delayed for one reason or the other. With the desire rekindled I had to do it sooner than later.
Born on the holy Janmashtami day in August 1893, he was named Krishna by his parents Shibchandra Dey and Ratnmala Devi. He had interest in music since childhood. At the age of 13 he lost his eyesight due to some illness, but his dedication to music did not wane. His physical handicap seems to have endowed him with an inner vision and a divine voice, making his songs deeply moving. He received training under eminent musicians of Calcutta such as Shashi Bhushan Chatterjee, Harindranath Sheel, Karmatullah Khan, Badal Khan and several others. He received training of tabla-playing from Kanthey Maharaj of Banaras.
He is among the earliest composers of our films, his first film as a music director being East India Film Company’s Aab-e-Hayat (1933). He had an innate capacity to visualise the story, action and situation of a film and compose accordingly. He worked for both Bombay and Calcutta film industry. Some of the other films for which he gave music are the following:
Kismat Ki Kasauti (1934)
Shahar Ka Jadoo (1934)
Sunahra Sansaar (1936)
Mera Gaaon (1942)
Badalti Duniya (1943) with Haribhai Bhojak, Khan Mastana and Madhukar
Suno Sunata Hun (1944)
Door Chalen (1946)
As a composer his contribution to film music is historically important. He gave the first break to his nephew Manna Dey in Tamanna. Motilal sang his first song, Humse sundar koi nahi hai, under KC Dey’s baton in Shahar Ka Jadoo, and Meena Kapoor had her first song under him in Door Chalen. And as we all know he was also the mentor of SD Burman.
It is as a singer that I regard him as one of the greatest of the vintage era. Besides singing in the films composed by him, he also sang for other composers like RC Boral, Pankaj Mullick and Timir Baran. His film songs number about 70 in 20 films. But he also sang a large number of non-film geets, bhajans, naats , ghazals in classical ragas in Hindi and Bengali. (Acknowledgement: The above information is based on Pankaj Raag’s Dhunon Ki Yatra and Anil Bhargav’s Swaron Ki Yatra)
I present my greatest favourite songs of KC Dey as a tribute to this divine and specially abled singer.
1. Jaao jaao ae mere sadho raho guru ke sang from Puran Bahgat (1933), music RC Boral
How do you feel when a dear one comes after sixteen years, but has to leave soon for some higher purpose in life? Pain, resigned acceptance, good wishes – जितनी दूर भी जाओ रहोगे हिरदय ही के समीप. One fellow blogger used a phrase – songs that elevate you. This film had four songs by KL Saigal, who had no acting role, but was there only to sing his songs – Bhajun main to bhaav se Shri Giridhari, Din neeke beete jaat hain, Awasar beeto jaaye and Radhe Rani de daaro na bansari mori re – all well-known and excellent songs in their own right. But Jaao jaao ae mere sadho is the song that elevates me and never fails to bring tear to my eyes every time I hear it. This must be one of the earliest film songs available now, whose charm has not dimmed for over 80 years.
2. Panghat pe Kanhaiya aata hai from Vidyapati (1937), lyrics Kedar Sharma, music RC Boral
I mentioned the powerful image of a blind singer with a child in my post on KC Dey’s songs in Devdas. This song starts with a slow recital हरि चरणन में सफल होत सब पूजा/ जब कोई मुसाफिर अंधियारे में अपनी राह खो जाता है. There is pain of helplessness in his voice as KC Dey stumbles. He is helped by the child to regain his balance. He now completes the recital in a joyous and fast pace as if Manmohan has himself come to help him – फिर मनमोहन आ हाथ पकड़ कर उसको राह दिखाता है. He now pauses, prompting the child to ask him why did he stop singing. Then the main song Panghat pe Kanhaiya aata hai starts at a still faster pace, now joined by a chorus of other children. A slow recital before the main song, somewhat akin to alaap in classical singing was used later with great success in many songs which have become now iconic for the recital part – from a very short ‘Akeli mat jaiyo Radhe Jamuna ke teer’ in Tu Ganga ki mauj to a very long ‘Khamosh hai zamana..’ in Ayega anewala and in-between ‘Insaan kisi se duniya mein ek baar mohabbat karta hai..’ in Jab pyar kiya to darna kya – these songs now cannot be imagined without their prose style recital. Was Panghat pe Kanhaiya aata hai the first song to have introduced this style? From this lyrical movie which I saw about three decades ago on the Doordarshan, what I remember is its beautiful songs by KC Dey and Kanan Devi. Panghat pe Kanhaiya left an indelible imprint on me.
Here is its audio of better quality.
3. Gokul se gaye Giridhari from Vidyapati (1937), lyrics Kedar Sharma, music RC Boral
KC Dey narrates to Kanan Devi (Anuradha) the story of departure of Krishna from Gokul which has left the gopis forlorn. When he sings their feeling कैसे जाऊं जमुना जल भरने तट पे ना आये मुरारी, KC Dey seems to embody all the pain of the gopis. (A trivia: In Padosan, Kishore Kumar parodies KC Dey’s syle of Anuradha, Anuradha in the song Meri pyari Bindu, when he is corrected by his gang at the Natak mandali, ‘Guru, her name is not Anuradha but Bindu’).
4. Baba man ki ankhen khol/ Teri ghatri mein laga chor jag zara from Dhoop Chhaon (1935), lyrics Pt Sudarshan, music RC Boral and Pankaj Mulick
Now we come to what are probably two of the most recognizable songs of KC Dey. Fortunately, we have a very good quality video of these songs which come almost in continuity. As the Surdas (a common name for a blind singer) regales the village folk selflessly with his divine singing, two city-slickers – a theatre owner and his companion – make a tempting offer to him to sing in their theatre. He politely but firmly refuses – How would those who can’t pay listen to him? And while theatre would give him money, music brings him closer to God. Only someone who can see with inner eyes can have such lofty principles.
One website mentions the two interlocutors as Nawab and Kedar Sharma. There are some more interesting trivia about this film and the songs. Dhoop Chaaon and its Bengali version Bhagya Chakra are the first films in which playback technique for song picturisation was introduced, though it would take more than a decade for independent playback singers to come in full force. Two songs from this movie, Jeevan ka such aaj mohe prabhu and Andhe ki lathi tu hi hai, which we all know as KL Saigal songs, are actually sung by KC Dey in the movie. These were later issued on gramophone records in Saigal’s voice. KC Dey’s versions, though of poor quality, can be heard at:
Another trivia – Kishore Kumar spoofs Teri gathari mein laga chor in the last interlude of Paanch rupaiya barah ana.
5. Maan na kar ab sajni from Aandhi (1940), lyrics Arzoo Lakhanvi, music KC Dey
Very sound advice to the haughty and sullen nayika in semi-classical style (Raga Jaunpuri?) composed by KC Dey himself.
6. Man moorakh kahna maan from Meenakshi (1942), lyrics Pt Bhushan, music Pankaj Mullick
Can anything be more divine than this? KC Dey now sings for Pankaj Mullick. Jaunpuri again? Incredibly sweet.
7. Hori khele Kanhaiya baro ragri, non-film Holi, music KC Dey
Krishna lore is not complete without Holi, and it would be surprising if KC Key didn’t sing a Holi song. Among several sung by him, I like this most. Please note the evocative expression baro ragri (‘very vigoruously’) – you can imagine a naughty Krishna teasing and playing Holi with abandon.
8. Shri Ram bhajo such mein dukh mein, non-film bhajan
From Krishna to Ram, they are the reincarnations of the same Supreme Being. I do not think I have heard a more moving Sri Ram bhajan. Jaunpuri again. I request our experts to explain if KC Dey had something with this Raga. Supposedly a Raga of lighter mood, KC Dey makes it extremely profound.
9. Japo re Ram naam sukhdayi, non-film bhajan
You can’t have enough of KC Dey. We can’t end without Bhairvi, so we have another Ram bhajan, in this sada suhagan Raga.
10. Rozey pe pahunchi ye jab tauseef-e-sana keejey
I have discovered KC Dey’s naats and qawwalis in the internet era. Mr Venkataraman had added a beautiful one Kali kamli ka tukda mujhe bheekh de in my earlier post on him. Here is another fascinating naat with beautiful harmonium and tabla accompaniment. His Urdu pronunciation is without any tinge of accent. The supreme being is one no matter by what name we call him. KC Dey’s pleading Allah Madine mein ek baar jo pahuncha de is as if he has already reached there with his inner eyes. (I request the knowledgeable readers to explain the verse and its meaning).