Mera sab kuchh mere geet re sang Manna Dey for SD Burman in Zindagi Zindagi. In a sad coincidence, in the midst of my SD Burman series, Manna Dey passed away exactly a week ago at the age of 94 (b. 1 May 1919, d. 24 Oct 2013). Today happens to be SD Burman’s death anniversary (b. 1 Oct 1906, d. 31 Oct 1975). It is deeply mysterious how people, who are connected in various ways, also get connected in their birth or death anniversaries. Both from Bengal, they were both trained by Manna Dey’s uncle, the legendary singer-actor-composer, KC Dey, which led to their close friendship even though SD Burman was 13 years senior to Manna Dey in age. Both shared the Bengali’s characteristic passion for football.
Manna Dey got his first break as a singer in 1942 in Tamanna in which he sang a duet with Suraiya, Jago aayi usha, composed by KC Dey. He sang about 50 songs in 28 films from 1943 to 50, but without much success. His first major success was under the baton of SD Burman in Mashal with Upar gagan vishal. During this period, Manna Dey was also assistant to SD Burman in a number of films, including Mashal in which he was credited as Associate Music Director. He also assisted some other composers including his uncle KC Dey, and gave music independently in some films.
Among all his contemporaries, he was the best trained in classical music and was endowed with a powerful voice. He was also amazingly versatile who could effortlessly traverse from classical to folk, from bhajan to patriotic to qawwali to comic to romantic songs. A large number of his songs are among all time greats. Yet in the queer dynamic of the film music industry, a singer needed to be identified with one of the major stars. Manna Dey could not get slotted to any major banner or singer; he was a singer for special occasions, and left an indelible mark with whatever he sang. He won many honours and awards including Padma Shri (1971), Padma Bhushan (2005), and Daasaheb Phalke Award (2007), the highest honour for a film personality.
With his passing away the last titan of male playback singers of the Golden Era has gone. While he sang for all the major composers, the person whom he admired most, with whom he had the closest personal bond and was in awe of, was SD Burman, who gave him about 40 songs. This is far behind Kishore Kumar’s 114 and Rafi’s 94 songs, and also probably far behind his songs for other prolific composers such as Shankar Jaikishan. But there is something about SD Burman which makes his songs for Manna Dey very special and unique. I present my favourite ten songs of this combination as my joint tribute to the two great talents.
1. Upar gagan vishal from Mashal (1950), lyrics Pradeep
Let us start with the first SD Burman-Manna Dey song. You cannot imagine any other singer to give voice to Pradeep’s deeply philosophical lyrics. SD Burman brilliantly composes Upar gagan vishal in high notes, and just the next phrase Neeche gahra paataal in lower octave. Manna Dey glides down like a virtuoso.
2. Hato kahe ko jhoothi banaao batiya from Manzil (1960), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Can classical be comic? We have already seen Manna Dey’s talent in Lapak jhapak in Boot Polish. SD Burman now harnesses his talent by giving a new turn to the classical Bhairavi Thumri. Mehmood’s acting of a Purabia is equally awesome. Thus you have this matchless song where the lyrics, the voice, the composition and picturisation, all combine to create a magical effect.
SD Burman was a great fan of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan. Here is this thumri in the voice of Aftab-e-Mausiqui
3. Kisne chilman se mara nazara mujhe from Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Same team, except now Johnny Walker has replaced Mehmood, and the style is qawwali. The infectious energy of Johnny Walker, the gorgeous dance by Sabita Chaterjee and others, and great composition by SD Burman, are enhanced by the unique full throated singing by Manna Dey in which the inflexion in his voice and the complex taans perfectly mirror the actors’ actions.
4. Mat ro mata laal tere bahutere from Bandini (1963), lyrics Shailendra
As the revolutionary is being taken to the gallows, his mother and sister are silent witness. This invocation by the revolutionary to his mother not to cry because he would take birth again when the river Ganga would flow in a free land gives you goose bumps every time you hear it. I rank it with Ae mere pyare watan. From classical-comic to emotional-patriotic – what a genius both Manna Dey and SD Burman.
5. Poochho na kaise maine rain bitaayi from Meri Surat Teri Aankhen, lyrics Shailendra
Among classical songs in films this one has acquired a cult status. I leave it for the experts to describe its beauty and significance. We have seen SD Burman using classical in a comic setting. Now he does it in an absolutely sombre style befitting a grave Raga like Ahir Bhairav. The effect is serene and calm.
6. Pyar ki aag mein tan badan jal gaya from Ziddi (1964), lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri
SD Burman-Manna Dey take us on a roller coaster ride. Now they bring us back to comic, picturised on Mehmood. The experts may confirm, at places it appeared to me as Darbari. And in a quirky twist, SD Burman seamlessly inserts at 3.40 the title tune of Come September. It is clear these songs were the precursor of the mad act in Padosan – Ek chatur naar – composed by RD Burman.
7. Hey Ram hamare Ramchandra from Guide (1965), lyrics Shailendra
This one is relatively less known among the songs from Guide, but it comes at an important point in the movie. Was Dev Anand a crook or a saint? Despite his protestations, and his disclosure of his fallen past, the gullible villagers insist on treating him as a high soul having come in their midst to redeem from their suffering. Was it their superstition or faith or selfishness that Dev Anand’s sacrifice may bring them rains? A song deserving notice in this very complex movie.
8. Tere naina talash karein from Talash (1969), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Manna Dey in his elements now in Chhayanat, one of the Ragas in Subodh’s romantic quartet. The dance by Madhumati enhances the picturisation.
9. Mere sab kuchh mere geet re from Zindagi Zindagi (1972), lyrics Anand Bakshi
‘My songs are everything for me’ – Manna Dey truly believed in this. Even at the age of 90 he used to give public performances.
10. Piya maine kya kiya mujhe chhod ke jaiyo na from Us Paar (1974), lyrics Yogesh
I started with the first song composed by SD Burman for Manna Dey. I end with what should be probably the last of their collaboration. As Maushmi Chatterjee leaves, Vinod Mehra is seen pleading with her to stay back, but to no avail, when this beautiful atmospheric song in the voice of Manna Dey comes. The setting is perfect for the song to be in Dada’s voice himself. His biography by Khagesh Dev Barman mentions that had he not been very sick he would have sung it himself.
SD Burman did sing a very short Piya tune kya kiya re in Zindagi Zindagi, but picturised against a happy setting with Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rahman. I end this article with this song.