RMIM Archive Article "351".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: RMIM's Manna Dey interview
# Posted by: Chandrashekhar firstname.lastname@example.org
# Source: interview with Manna
# Author: Chandrashekhar email@example.com
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
It was an exhilarating experience meeting Manna Dey - it
always is. I had done one earlier interview for a local
newspaper (here in Dubai), but at least a third of its actual
length never got into print, so outspoken is the man in his
off-the-record comments. This one was no different, but I've
tried to cover all the questions RMIMers sent me. Please note,
comments within asterisks are my own, not part of the
*This first lot of questions were posed by Satish Subramaniam*
Q : Your uncle K.C. Dey was undoubtedly a major influence on
your singing career. Has K.C. Dey given music to any Hindi
A : Yes, he did. Now let me see. There was "Aandhi", "Tamanna"
(*In an aside I must mention here that "Tamanna" (1942) marked
Manna's debut song, a duet with Suraiya - then Baby Suraiya -
called "Jaago aai usha, panchi bole jaago" I read a post by
Ashok quoting Manna as being unable to remember the exact
title of his first song, but this little factoid was told to
me by Manna Dey himself on an earler visit to Dubai*)
Q : Was S.D. Burman working under K.C. Dey or learning from
A : Burman and uncle never worked together although Burman was
learning music from him.
Q : What about your own association with S.D. Burman? Did you
work under him as assistant music director?
A : That I did, in several films. For "Mashaal" the producer
asked me (prompted by Burman) to compose some songs, and so I
was credited as associate music director.
Q : A reader wonders why the song "saanjh dhali dil ki lagi"
from "Kaala Pani" was assigned to you by S.D. Burman, rather
than to Rafi, who sang all the other songs. Any reason for
A : That kind of decision is generally taken by the music
director. Although I can't recall why that happened in "Kaala
Pani", Dev Anand certainly objected to my voice being used for
the title 'qawwali' song from "Chhupa Rustom" years
later. Burmanda stood firm, but I still wonder why Dev made a
fuss. After all, he was not born a Dev Anand, just a normal
human being. Although (*eyes twinkling*) I'm not so sure now.
Q : You sang many of R.D. Burman's early songs. What was your
impression of him? How long did you know him?
A : I knew him from the day he was born. He was definitely one
of the most creative and innovative of our music directors. My
first song for him was "Allah jaane main hoon kaun, kya hai
mera naam" from "Pati Patni". The combination of R.D, Mehmood,
and myself was particularly good, because we had such fun in
the recording room. I did whatever vocal gags I thought were
appropriate, and sometimes the three of us would just fall
down laughing. But underneath all the playfulness Pancham was
a serious and dedicated music director. Did you know he was
well trained in classical music?
Q : I've read that he was. Tell me, have you given music for
any Bengali films?
A : Oh, many. Offhand I can think of "Ram Dhakka", "Babu
Moshai"... there are others.
Q : The reader, Mr. Satish, now wants to know if you can add
to this list of films for which you were music director or
assistant: Hum Bhi Insaan Hai (1948, with H.P. Das) Jaan
Pehchan (1950, with Khemchand Prakash), Mashaal (1950, with
S.D. Burman), Shree Ganesh Janma (1951, with Khemchand
Prakash), Chamkee, and Tamasha (1952, with Khemchand Prakash),
Naina and Shuk Rambha (1953, with Khemchand Prakash), Maha
Puja (1954, with Shankar Rao Vyas and Bharat Vyas), Jai
Mahadev (1955), Gauri Puja (1956) Naag Champa (1959) and Sonal
(1973). Were there others?
A : Goodness, that seems to be a complete list! Who are the
people asking these questions?
Q : (*At this point I had to break to explain what a newsgroup
was, and the die-hard music buffs that constitute RMIM*)
A : I can think of a film called "Kadambari" and another,
"Sati Toral", both in the '40s with Hari Prasanna Das.
Q : You sang "Maanase maine varoo" in the Malayalam film
'Chemmeen', for Salil Choudhury. The beginning of the tune
appears similar to "Seema"'s "Tu pyar ka saagar hai". Was
there any connection?
A : (*Tilts head back, eyes closed, and hums 'Maanase maine
varoo'*) No, I think it was just a coincidence.
*This next lot of questions came from Prince Kohli*
Q : Who in your opinion was the music director most fun to
A : As I've already said, R.D. Burman.
Q : The most capable?
A : It depends on what you mean by capable.
Q : I suppose it refers to a music director who was thoroughly
able to give the film's director exactly what he wanted, in
terms of the song situation in the film.
A : That would be Shankar-Jaikishan. There were absolute
masters in delivering the goods exactly the way the director
Q : And the strictest?
A : C. Ramachandra. C.Ramachandra and Naushad are both hard
taskmasters and knew how to extract work from a singer, and
there was no fooling around with them. (*Another aside. In a
previous meeting I had asked Manna Dey why although both he
and Naushad were inclined towards classical music, there had
been hardly any collaboration bet- ween them I could only
think of "Dukh bhare din" from "Mother India", and a duet with
Rafi in "Palki". He seemed reluctant to discuss it, but told
me that even though sound recordist Minoo Katrak had strongly
recommended him to Naushad, the maestro preferred Rafi over
Manna for his compositions, for whatever reason. Still, Manna
holds Naushad in great esteem as one of our supreme music
*This question from Chetan Vinchhi*
Q: In songs based on classical music which require a singer to
perform a few complicated phrases or taans, typically what
fraction of these in pre-composed? How much is the singer
allowed to do impromptu? Is the singer asked to emulate
classical artists or styles? What happens if the artist is not
familiar with the raag?
A: There is always scope for improvisation, and a good music
director will always be receptive to suggestions. I can
confidently say that in all my songs, my own contribution has
been at least 25%. Yes, we were asked occasionally to imitate
the styles of great classical singers, but I've never done it.
Q : Does this mean that the taans at the end of "Laaga chunri
mein daag" or "Phulgendwa na maaro" were yours?
A : That's Roshan! No, never with the likes of Roshan or
Naushad. For those two songs Roshan had the whole thing down
pat and I just did what I was told. What a composer! The
question of improvising on such a masterwork never even arose.
*Gautam Choudhury asks this question*
Q : In India famous playback singers continue to sing past
their ability to sing properly or correctly. A good example
was Hemant. Towards his last days he could never say 'No' and
the results were terrible. And now it's happening with
Lata. Would you stop when you think you're unable to perform
the way you did, or continue, saying 'My fans want me to
A : I have completely stopped singing for Hindi films, but
it's not because of any inability. I think I'm in good voice,
and my riyaz keeps me in tune for my stage programmes. I just
don't fit in with the present crop of music directors. But if
I were to be approached with a good song, meant for filming on
a character-actor, then per- haps I would still consider it.
*By now Mannada was a little tired, so I decided to slip in
just one question of my own*
Q : You sang 'Ketaki gulab juhi champak', with Bimsen Joshi,
in 'Basant Bahar'. What was the experience like?
A : Haven't I told you that story? It's interesting. At first
the film's hero Bharat Bhooshan didn't want my voice. After
the success of 'Baiju Bawra' Rafi was understandably his first
choice. But Shankar, ever my supporter, prevailed upon him,
and some tact was called for since Bhooshan's brother was the
film's producer. The first song recorded was 'Sur na saje',
and that won Bharat Bhooshan over completely. Next came 'Nain
mile chain kahan'. Then Shankar called up and said, "I need
you for a duet. The film's situation calls for the hero to
sing with a music ustad, and defeats the ustad in the
process". I said "Sure. When do we do it?", confident that my
co-singer would be Rafi or another playback singer. "Well,
we're trying to get either Pt. Bhimsen Joshi or Ustad Aamir
Khan for the ustad's voise", Shankar said. (*Eyes wide open,
thunderstruck*) My heart sank. ME? Sing with Bhimsen Joshi?
And 'defeat' him in a duet? I tried at once to get out of
it. "Why don't you get two classical singers for the duet", I
asked him. Shankar's firmness could cut both ways - he lost no
time in pointing out that after two songs had already been
recorded, I was now the established voice of the hero, and who
was going to explain to Bharat Bhooshan why another voice was
now being used? I went home depressed, and told my wife,
"Pack! We leave Bombay tonight and return only after six
weeks". When I told her why, she chided me and said "Shame on
you! It is after all, a playback song". After much arguing and
convincing I finally decided to take it up as a challenge. I
made Shankar give me the song a full four weeks in advance. We
has two rehearsals, and Bhimsen Joshi's voice was
incredible. Standing next to him in the recording booth was an
experience. But then I was also appeciated, especially for my
'entry' in the song, with an alaap in a single long breath.
That was it. Manna Dey had spoken for almost two hours, and I hope
I've covered most of the ground based on the questions sent to
me. Sadly, some more questions arrived too late, but since Mannada is
expected again in Dubai on a private visit next month, I'll try and
get those answered too, and post them later, along with his 'ten
best', which he told me about two years ago. I asked him whether he
ever considered writing his autobiography, or at least a memoir, but
he said that would open up a whole Pandora's box. Anyway, I trust you
all enjoyed the interview.