A tribute to Manna Dey (1 May 1919 – 24 October 2013) on his 97th birth anniversary
Mumbaikar8 has rightly pointed out that Manna Dey has not yet got the importance on SoY he deserves. That in a way is also a reflection of his career. Recognised as an unparalleled singer of classical songs, he sang songs ranging from classical to romantic to comic, from devotional to patriotic to qawwalis which became synonymous with his voice. Yet his voice could not be identified with any top hero on a sustained basis, unlike Mukesh for Raj Kapoor, Rafi/Talat Mahmood for Dilip Kumar or Kishore Kumar for Dev Anand. Along the way, Rafi, with his range and fluidity, became the voice for almost every major hero, which mantle was taken by Kishore Kumar post-70s. In this marketplace, Manna Dey somehow became typecast as a niche singer. Yet, in this not a very happy scenario for him, if Manna Dey was especially beholden to any music director for doing the most for his career, it was Shankar-Jaikishan.
Born Prabodh Chandra Dey on 1 May 1919 to Purna Chandra Dey and Mahamaya Devi in a sprawling joint family home in Calcutta, his childhood nick name Manna stuck with him forever. His uncle, the legendary KC Dey, lived in the same house. When KC Dey lost his eyesight at the age of 13, Manna became his constant companion. That gave him excellent education in music. He showed his musical prowess while studying in Scottish Church College in Calcutta where he won several competitions. During this period he also learnt music from Dabir Khan.
When KC Dey headed for Bombay in the early 40s, Manna Dey had to be a part of the entourage. He assisted his uncle for music in Tamanna (1942) in which he also sang his first song Jago ayi usha. Manna Dey later assisted Hari Prasanna Das, Khemchand Prakash, and SD Burman who had also learnt music from his uncle. All this while he took lessons in classical music from Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan.
Though he became largely associated as singer for side characters, there was no dearth of awards for him. Filmfare/National Award for Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo to Padmashri in 1971 to Padma Bhushan in 2005 to Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2007 – he got everything a singer could aspire for. Yet, something rankled in him that he was not treated as a mainstream singer. It is here that the importance of SJ comes in his career.
After his debut, there seems to be a period of relative anonymity for him, when SD Burman gave him his first major hit Upar gagan vishal in Mashal (1950). SD Burman gave some more iconic songs for him, including Poochho na kaise maine rain bitayi. But, Manna Dey probably expected more from his guru bhai. In one of his interviews I sense some grudge in him that SD Burman rehearsed some songs with him, only to get them finally recorded in the voice of Rafi. Anil Biswas, too, gave some outstanding songs for him. He sang immortal songs for several composers, such as Kaun aya mere man ke dwaare (Madan Mohan), Ae mere pyare watan (Salil Chaudhary), Laaga chunri mein daag (Roshan) and Ae meri zohrajabeen (Ravi). But SJ’s Shree 420 (1955) and Chori Chori (1956) put him on a different plane. Now he could sing Dil ka haal sune dilwala for the hero, and one of the trinity – Raj Kapoor – at that. And he could sing a romantic duet Pyar hua iqraar hua which is more than a song as it leaves an indelible visual imprint of dreamy lovers under an umbrella in drizzly weather. And he could sing Aa ja sanam madhur chaandni mein hum, and Ye raat bhigi bhigi. SJ would use him in Ujala (1959) to give a haunting Ab kahan jayein hum and a breezy duet Jhoomta mausam mast maheena.
When Basant Bahaar (1956), a classical music-based film with Bharat Bhushan as the hero, was planned, the producer naturally wanted Naushad, with Baiju Bawra and Shabab under his belt, to be its music director. But its Director Raja Nawathe, who as assistant to Raj Kapoor in some films was highly impressed with Shankar-Jaikishan, insisted on them doing the music. There was another hurdle on the way. The producer insisted on Rafi to sing for the hero, but Shankar (of the SJ duo) put his foot down that he had composed Sur na saje with Manna Dey in mind. The film was not a great commercial success, but can we ever forget this song and Bhay bhanjana vandana sun hamari? SJ did another unique thing for Manna Dey. He was pitted against the redoubtable Pt Bhimsen Joshi in a competition in Ketaki gulab juhi champa ban phoole in which Panditji was to lose. Manna Dey considered this a sacrilege and was reluctant to sing it. However, he overcame his hesitation on his wife’s encouragement that he should take it as a requirement of the film scene. Thus, SJ also had the credit of having Manna Dey beat the great doyen of Kirana Gharana in singing classical music.
And while I mention some of their great songs, readers would recall Tu pyar ka sagar hai from Seema, which came for immense admiration in our review of the best solos of 1955.
It is my great pleasure to pay my tribute to Manna Dey on his 97th birth anniversary with his songs by Shankar-Jaikishan as a part of the celebrations of SJ Year. (I hope Mumbaikar8 would consider it as some recompense on my part.)
1. Lapak jhapak tu aa re badarawa from Boot Polish (1953), lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri
SJ first used Manna Dey in the two-in-one song Tere bina aag ye chaandni (with Lata Mangeshkar) which segues into Ghar aya mera pardesi in the iconic dream sequence in Awara (1951). This shows that very early they realized the special power of Manna Dey’s voice. In Boot Polish, he has two duets with Asha Bhosle, and the unparalleled Lapak jhapak tu aa re badarwa. Composed in Raagmala style, based on Kanada and Malhar family, it evokes admiration for its wonderful composition. Some comments have pompously suggested that the mix of Ragas, i.e. not having one pure identifiable Raga, shows SJ’s ignorance of classical music. In film music strict adherence to the grammar was never considered important. Slight departure or blending of different Ragas was resorted to for creating the right emotion or mood. Invoking clouds by music to quench the parched earth has been oft mentioned ritual in our myths and also used in several songs. Manna Dey’s singing has all the gravity of classical music for the profound objective, but soon you realise the jailbirds’ invocation is meant to water their own bald pate so that some hair grows on them. One of the earliest and the best of Manna Dey’s classical songs which were used for comic effect, this song has been the subject of some very scholarly study titled “The semblance of raga, rasa and hasya: The Lapak jhapak approach to Bollywood, Indian aesthetics and Vedic ritual” (link courtesy Gaddeswarupji).
2. Dil ka haal sune dilwala from Shree 420 (1955), lyrics Shailendra
The movie opens with Mukesh’s Mera joota hai Japani, but probably that was the time when Mukesh got distracted in his misguided venture of film production and acting, which gave great opening to Manna Dey. And what superb way he sings! SJ show their command over rhythm. Shailendra writes some very interesting, simple and funny lyrics.
3. Sur na saje kya gaaun main from Basant Bahar (1956), lyrics Shailendra
This film virtually rested on the vocals of Manna Dey. Besides two solos and a duet with Bhimsen Johi I have mentioned in my write-up, it also had a wonderful duet with Lata Mangeshkar, Nain mile nain kahan. Sur na saje is a beautiful composition in Pilu.
4. Ab kahan jaayein hum from Ujala (1959), lyrics Shailendra
Shammi Kapoor is a good-hearted hero who has been trapped into working for an outlaw. As he reforms, Manna Dey sings a wonderful haunting song of remorse.
5. Chalat musafir moh liya re from Teesri Qasam (1966), lyrics Shailendra
Shailendra, who had been a top lyricist, invested everything he had in producing this masterpiece. The film bombed and it shattered him physically and emotionally, leading to his untimely death. The film subsequently won the National Award for the best film and is now regarded as a classic. Manna Dey gets to sing this immortal folk song picturised on Krishna Dayal. The hero, coachman Raj Kapoor, joins in the revelry as the theatre bai Waheeda Rahman, inside the canopied cart, smiles. Lovely scene all through, enhanced by Manna Dey’s superb singing.
6. Jhanak jhanak tori baaje payaliya from Mere Huzoor (1968), lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri
If there was any doubt on SJ’s command over classical, this composition in Darbari Kanada is a definitive answer. Raj Kumar playing a drunken nawab on the kotha is superb.
7. Kaal ka pahiya ghoome bhaiya from Chanda Aur Bijli (1969), lyrics Neeraj
Manna Dey had earned special fame for singing message songs. SJ compose this philosophical song in Chanda Aur Bijli.
8. Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo from Mera Naam Joker (1970), lyrics Neeraj
This song for the Joker in conversational style is difficult to pull through. Therefore, Manna Dey rather than Mukesh was chosen for this song. Though it fetched him Filmfare and the National Award, he was not too pleased as he thought his much worthier songs he had sung in his career, such as Laaga churi mein daag and Poochho na kaise main rain bitaayi had been ignored for the awards.
9. Chham chham baaje re payaliya from Jane Anjane (1971), lyrics SH Bihari
Ustadji Shammi Kapoor (in disguise) does what Raj Kapoor did with Laga chunri mei daag. Leena Chandravarkar, recognizing him, dances with great vigour. A wonderful song, again in Darbari.
10. Jhoomta mausam mast maheena (with Lata Mangeshkar) from Ujala (1959), lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri
I could have posted one of the famous solos of Manna Dey, but I remember Hans once specially mentioned fast duets of Manna Dey. They do not come faster than Jhoomta mauasm mast maheena. Shammi Kapoor was always livewire; Mala Sinha is a perfect foil to him.
11. Chham chham lo suno chham chham (with Lata Mangeshkar), lyrics Shailendra
I have to give this bonus song from the same movie. I had mentioned in my post on SJ’s dance songs for Lata Mangeshkar that they could make your feet dance with rhythm, and your heart sway with melody. Ujala showed their immense talent with a number of dance songs. Here is another Manna Dey duet with Lata Mangeshkar, again set to a dance, now less frenzied and extremely melodious with SJ’s superb rhythm.