RMIM Archive Article "352".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: Manna Dey
# Posted by: Arvind Agarwalla (firstname.lastname@example.org)
# Source: Asian Age, Apr 23, 1998
# Author: Afsana Ahmed
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
No room here for a melody king
By Afsana Ahmed - Calcutta - The Asian Age - April 23, 1998
Fortunately Manna Dey belonged to an era when cinema meant pure
entertainment and melody was queen. Unfortunately, he also belonged
to the era when Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor dominated the
screen and Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh and later Kishore Kumar were
identified as the voices of the trio.
There was no room left at the top for this equally talented singer.
But the humble singing master has no complaint against the film
industry even though it forgot to give him his due.
Manna Dey was blessed with a voice that could carry off any time, but
fortune failed to come to his aid. People wondered why. Was it
because he lacked that killer instinct?
The singer agrees. ''Had it not been for my wife Sulochanna. I would
have packed my bags and left for Calcutta long ago. She has been a
major source of moral strength for me ever since we met.''
The sonorous sweep of Manna Dey's voice still haunts music lovers. No
compilation of songs from golden era of film music is complete without
his voice. His songs are still popular, but the singer is relegated
to an archaic cupboard with only his memories and his music.
Though Manna Dey is slotted in the semi classical mould, his capacity
to widen his range from the deep Ae mere watan or Kasme vade pyar wafa
sab upkaar to open renderings like Laaga chunri me daag, Tu pyaar ka
sagar hai and Ao twist kare established his as a playback singer in
every sense of the word. However he was best appreciated for romantic
songs like yeh raat bhigi bhigi, Dil ki girah khol do chup na, Aaja
sanam madhur chandni mein hum, which are still hummed by young and old
alike. When he lent his voice to Raj Kapoor in the evergreen rain
song , pyaar hua ikraar hua, a nation led its breath in fascination.
Tucked away in a corner of Juhu, Manna Dey's old bungalow stand tall.
Like him, it is seasoned and timeless. Sitting in his music room, the
78 year old singer walks down memory lane.
Born in Calcutta to a family that was musically inclined (his uncle
was K.C.Dey, the singer), melody came naturally to him. '' Since
Uncle was a musician, the best of Ustaads frequented our home and I
gradually learned and understood it, he recalls . ''But I never
dreamed of making it my profession.''
After a brief stint with Calcutta's famous new Theatre, he left home
to seek his fortune in Mumbai with his uncle K.C. Dey. ''I had to
accompany him as he was blind. We stayed in Shivaji Park, Dadar. I
found a guide and mentor in my uncle who showed me how to make my
voice presentable and appealing.''
His break in the industry came when filmmaker Vijay Bhatt asked
K.C. Dey to sing for his film. ''Uncle refused to lend his voice for
some other artist because he sang only when he acted. He suggested me
instead,'' says Dey. ''Bhatt was apprehensive as the character of
Balmiki required an open-throated voice, like that of an old man. And
I was barely 22 then. But he asked me to go to the studio and take a
test. I sang a few songs in Hindi and Marathi and was selected to
sing playback inn the film Ram Rajya.''
Playback singers' names never appeared on the credits in those days,
but the film was a hit and people took notice of Dey.
However, this film slotted him as a singer in mythological films and
much against his will he was flooded with similar offers. I was
frustrated and wanted to go back to Calcutta, as I had to sing play
back for old people at such a tender age, he says. For instance, I
sang for a film called Pareenita. I was very happy and gave it my
best as it had some big names and was not the usual mythological film.
When I saw the film, I was shattered to find that my voice was again
used for an old beggar. The industry stamp you once you start with
something and if it is big. I was not satisfied with what I was
doing, though the feedback was good.
Fortunately he stayed in Mumbai and soon producers were turning to
Manna Dey to do difficult or semi-classical music made him the right
" I never claimed to be a classical singer though I enjoy singing,"
says Dey. "And I wanted to sing for the heroes. But at times I
seriously thought of switching to classical singing as I wasn't given
pride of place in the mainstream genre."
Dejected though he was however, he started assisting Khemchand
Prakash, Anil Biswas and finally S.D. Burman. It was then that he got
the opportunity to sing Oopar gagan vishaal from the film Mashal which
actually established him as a playback singer in the true sense.
Still he wasn't very happy. " I started to sing through provoking,
philosophical songs, but it didn't satisfy me," he says. "The fact
that with a voice like mine, I was still not considered good enough to
sing playback for heroes kept eating me from inside."
Raj Kapoor was a good friend of his. Recalling their growing
association he says, "Once I was reahearsing in a studio and Raj was
shooting. He heard me and barged into the room. I was singing a
malhar song. After listening to it he urged me to join them
downstairs." This resulted in Dey penning Lapak Jhapak Ke tu aa re
badariya which went to become one of the biggest hits ever from the
film Boot Polish. His association with Raj Kapoor grew and he sang
some of the best songs of his career for the RK camp.
Manna Dey's professional lifehas been full of contradictions. But the
singer remains unfazed. " My progress was slow but definite." He
says. He recalls a bitter-sweet anecdote that was pivotal in building
up his career.
"I was slotted as a semi classical singer. Once I got an offer to
classical number for Basant Bahar. As usual I accepted without fuss.
Later they told me that it would be a competition with Bhimsen Joshi,
and I went blank. I knew I could effortlessly sing classical songs
but how could I compete with Joshi and defeat him? I went home
quietely and suggested to my wife that we disappear for 15 days, and
come back only when the recordings are over. She was very angry. I
don't know what she injected in me and I religiously went there the
next day and sat for the recording without fear."
He remembers another humiliating incident which he feels determined
his need to Make it big. "It happened during the recording of AVM
production's Chori Chori. Shankar (of Shankar-Jaikishan fame) wanted
Lata and me to sing the song Yeh raat bhigi bhigi. As per schedule,
all of us were rehearsing in the now famous studio. Suddenly the
producer of the film, Mr Shetty dropped in and enquired about Mukesh (
ahot name in those days) as he thought Mukesh was singing. Shankar
introduced me, but to my humiliation, he ignored me completely and
insisted on Mukesh and finally cancelled the recording."
"Raj Kapoor who was also there took the situation in hand. After much
convincing, Shetty agreed. But by then I lost my mood. I was
heartbroken. Lata and Shankar brought back my confidence and
swallowing the humiliation. I sang the song and was appreciated by
Shetty, who later apologised. It was thanks to Raj that I have this
beautiful song in my career."
In a career spanning more than two decades, he sang 2,500 songs.
Manna Dey drew most of his inspiration from western singers, including
Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. "But my greatest strength and
inspiration remains my wife," he says.
A new breed of singers took over from where Kishore, Mukesh and Rafi
left off, leaving Manna Dey in the shadows. Years of public neglect
and the sorrow of knowing that he has not got his due. Don't make him
He is happy.