A few years ago as I was waiting at the Bangalore airport, I saw an elderly gentleman walking past me in a decrepit suit. He resembled the legendary playback singer Manna Dey but I wasn’t too sure. I also had doubts about why a singer like Manna Dey would visit the garden city. It was only much later that I realized that Manna Dey had shifted base to the city during the 90’s.
Until his death last year (2013), Manna Dey always remained a low profile playback singer. Even the details about his personal life were revealed only after his death. May be he wanted things to remain that way.
Look at all the music channels today – they continue to bombard us with old Bollywood hit songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh or Mohammed Rafi. But on very few occasions do we get the rare opportunity to hear Manna Dey’s soulful renditions.
It is not just the corporate world but also Bollywood which is guilty of never acknowledging real talent. Politics rules Bollywood to such an extent that legendary lyricist cum poet Neeraj (aka Gopaldas Saxena) threw the hat and called it a day when he could no longer compromise on his self respect to win his bread and butter.
It was only much later that the Bhatts invited him to pen a few lyrics for their movies. Neeraj wrote the super hit songs in movies like Gambler (Dil Aaj Shayar Hai, Choodi Nahi Hai Mera Dil Hai), Prem Pujari (Shokiyon Mein Gola Jaye, Phoolon Ke Range Se), Cha Cha Cha ( “Subah Na Ayee, Shyam Na Ayee”) and the unforgettable Sharmilee (“Aaj Madhosh Hua Jaye Re, Khilte Hain Gul Yahan”).
Coming back to Manna Dey, the singer, according to me, holds the unique distinction of being able to sing both fun-filled songs and soulful melodies with equal panache and elan. Even Mohammed Rafi would only come a close second to Dey. Despite his talent, Manna Dey was never ever given an award until it was too late. I think he was one of the few singers who could sing Hindi film songs with a classical base. The only song that he sang with another legend Bhimsen Joshi (the immortal musical stalwart) in a Hindi movie is a visual treat for the ears and reportedly Joshi even praised Manna Dey for his rendition.
This is the problem with this world. If someone has specialist skills or knowledge, either he is not considered fit for anything else or he is saddled with tasks that only he can do. While the latter part is understandable, one fails to understand how an individual’s strength also becomes his weakness.
Notwithstanding the fact that Manna Dey never got his due from Bollywood, none can deny the effect his singing had on his fans. Think of “ Phir Kahin Koi Phool Khila” (Anubhav, 1971) or “ Hasne Ki Chah Ne Kitna Mujhe Rulaya Hai” (Aavishkar, 1974). Not many know that “Aavishkar” was made by Basu Bhattacharya, son-in-law of veteran director Bimal Roy. Basu ran away with Rinki, Bimal Roy’s daughter but their marital life was marked by turbulence and violence of the highest order.
It is the same old story. If the husband and wife’s father do not get along, the wife bears the brunt of all the ego battles between them. If we look at Basu’s movies it is clear that they were almost semi autobiographical. It remains a mystery how Basu coaxed Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore to play non descript roles in “Aavishkar”. The narcissist that she was, it remains a mystery how Tagore agreed to appear in the movie without any make up. “Hasne Ki Chah Ne” the soulful rendition composed by Kanu Roy and sung by Manna Dey in the movie was the title song and picturised on Khanna and Tagore.
Legend has it that the experience of singing with the eccentric Kishore Kumar was not a good one for Manna Dey as the latter was more of a serious person and presumably he didn’t enjoy the antics of the unpredictable Kishore Kumar. The other day I happened to watch a song on a television channel. It was a qawwali from a 1960 movie “Barsat Ki Rat” that featured Bharat Bhushan and the beauteous Madhubala. The song “ Yeh Ishq Ishq Hai” appeared to be something that was so difficult to sing but trust Manna Dey to sing the song so effortlessly. I do not think any other singer could have done justice to this rendition.
Here are a few of my favorite Manna Dey renditions.
1. Hasne Ki Chah Ne Mujhe Kitna Rulaya Hai
2. Phir Kahin Koi Phool Khila
3. Chunri Sambal Gori
4. Door Hai Kinara
5. Hey Bhai, zara dekh ke chalo
6. Poocho Na Kaise Main ne Rain Bithayi
7. Laga Chunri Mein Daag
8. Aye Mere Pyare Watan
There are so many other songs of Manna Dey which I am unable to recollect. I hope readers of this blog share their favourite songs of Manna Dey so that this blog can be updated with this information. I also urge the Radio Jockeys to air Manna Dey’s songs so that younger generation gets a clue about what melody is all about. That will be the greatest tribute that India can offer to this legendary, immortal singer par excellence.