It’s not as if I’ve not done a Manna Dey song list before (I have, several years back). But today, when Manna Dey would have turned a hundred years old, cannot pass without my doing a tribute to the beautiful voice and the versatility of one of my favourite singers.
Born in Calcutta on May 1, 1919, Prabodh Chandra Dey (as he was formally named) was highly influenced by his uncle, the renowned singer Krishna Chandra (KC) Dey. Manna Dey trained under Ustad Dabir Khan and KC Dey, accompanying the latter to Bombay and the film industry in 1942. In the same year, Manna Dey began his career in Hindi cinema, both as a playback singer (he debuted in the film Tamanna, for which KC Dey had composed the music) and as a composer who first assisted KC Dey and then SD Burman.
Over the next five decades, Manna Dey sang thousands of songs, not just in Hindi and Bengali but in a number of other regional languages as well, including Maithili, Punjabi, Marathi, and Gujarati (and not surprisingly, considering his wife Sulochana Kumaran was from Kerala, in Malayalam). Although most people automatically associate Manna Dey with classical Hindustani music, the fact remains that though he was probably unparalleled in this field when it came to mainstream playback singing, he was also extremely versatile, singing everything from rock-and-roll to comic songs.
It has been nearly six years since Manna Dey passed away (in October 2013), but he does, in some way, live on. In hundreds of much-loved songs, in the name of a (very good) chain of Bengali restaurants. In the hearts of thousands who still swoon over his songs.
So, without any more dilly-dallying, on to the songs. The first list I had posted of my favourite Manna Dey songs had been a list of primarily solos (though there were a couple of duets there, too). This post, therefore, has a different focus: it’s a list of my favourite Manna Dey duets. And, to make this a little more challenging, no two duets are with the same singer. As always, the songs are all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve watched. Note that when I talk of duets, I discount choruses. So some of these songs do have a chorus as well, but there are always two lead singers—Manna Dey and someone else.
1. Na jaane kahaan tum thhe (Zindagi aur Khwaab, 1961): With Suman Kalyanpur. One of my very favourite romantic songs, this is a really magical song—that ‘jaadoo yeh dekho’ in the lyrics is singularly apt! Dattaram Wadkar’s music is beautiful, and Kavi Pradeep shows that he was much more than just a writer of patriotic or philosophical lyrics, but a poet very capable of capturing that starry-eyed joy of love. The icing on the cake is the rendition by Manna Dey and Suman Kalyanpur: they are so perfectly matched, her voice sweet and his velvety.
2. Tu hai mera prem devta (Kalpana, 1960): With Mohammad Rafi. Manna Dey once said in an interview that when music directors were called upon to choose between various male playback singers, Manna Dey would feel offended if they chose someone over him—except in the case of Mohammad Rafi. He said he never felt slighted if a composer chose Rafi, because “Rafi could do what others could not.”
Rafi and Manna Dey sang a number of songs together, and I choose this classic one, which is not just an example of superb dancing (by Padmini and Ragini) but also a display of the vocals of two of Hindi cinema playback singing’s greatest exponents. The way both Rafi and Manna Dey sing in tandem, their voices so controlled and seeming to so effortlessly sing such a difficult song: awesome. And I mean that in the literal sense of the word: Tu hai mera prem devta evokes awe in me.
3. Dil ki gireh khol do chup na baitho (Raat aur Din, 1967): With Lata Mangeshkar. I have a confession to make. Many years ago, when all we had was a dial-up and listening to a Youtube playlist was out of the question, I built up a collection of downloaded songs from the 1950s and 60s on my computer. Some were subpar quality, and some were obviously cut (and badly too) from what must have been a recorded radio programme. That was how I came across Manna Dey’s comments on Lata Mangeshkar. “High notes or low notes…nothing! She would never be told as to what to do while singing… she was never told. She never needed to.”
Manna Dey sang some great songs with Lata, including Aaja sanam madhur chaandni mein hum, Pyaar hua ikraar hua hai, Mausam beeta jaaye, Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata, and Yeh raat bheegi-bheegi. And this one, the song which followed that comment I’ve quoted. A waltz, picturized on a glamorous Nargis (who plays a schizophrenic woman, here in her hip, bold alter-ego) and Feroz Khan, the man she picks up at Firpo’s. Lata dominates the song when it comes to singing time, but Manna Dey is right there with her, coming in at a crucial moment and making the song what it is: a paean to the philosophy of living in the moment.
4. Ek chatur naar karke singaar (Padosan, 1968): With Kishore Kumar. Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar had an unusual tie that bound them together—Manna Dey had actually sung playback for Kishore in the film Krorepati. But the two of them did sing several songs together too, including that almost iconic song in praise of friendship, Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge.
And this one, also iconic in its own way. Manna Dey and Kishore team up to ‘compete’ in a classical sing-off. If you see (hear?) past the exaggerated pronunciation—which, by the way, does echo Mehmood’s pronunciation in the film—Manna Dey’s singing is laudable: he’s so accomplished. And yet he manages to be so funny, too: getting into the rhythm of things and seeming to have as much fun as the clownish Kishore has onscreen and off. Hilarious, and good.
5. O meri maina tu maan le mera kehna (Pyaar Kiye Jaa, 1966): With Usha Mangeshkar. Manna Dey may be better known for his duets with Lata Mangeshkar, but one of my absolute favourites of his duets is this one with younger sister Usha. A completely whacky song from a completely whacky film (if you like comedies and haven’t watched Pyaar Kiye Jaa so far, please amend that as soon as you can—it’s a delightful film!).
O meri maina has all the fizz and bubble and pep and hilarity you’d expect of a song featuring Mehmood and Mumtaz, their characters acting out a song-and-dance sequence that will be a highlight of the blockbuster film Mehmood’s character is making (in which he’s writer, director, music director, lead, and pretty much everything else). So much fun here, and Manna Dey and Usha Mangeshkar absolutely nail the fun element in their singing. If you thought Manna Dey was good only at classical, check this one out.
6. Aan milo aan milo Shyam saanwre (Devdas, 1955): With Geeta Dutt. This song was pretty much an obvious choice on this list, because I love it so much (Aan milo aan milo Shyam saanwre has appeared on several song lists on this blog over the years). SD Burman based this tune on Baul music, and two Bengali voices—Geeta Dutt and Manna Dey’s—brought it to life in a way that makes it hauntingly beautiful. Geeta Dutt gets to sing most of the song, with Manna Dey’s voice acting as a sort of echo at the end of every line, singing again just those few last words, and their perfect co-ordination makes for a song that is truly memorable.
7. Jaanewaale sipaahi se poochho (Usne Kaha Tha, 1961): With Sabita Banerjee. Sabita Banerjee (Banerjee was her birth name; after her marriage to Salil Chowdhury, she became known as Sabita Chowdhury) sang some 60-odd songs in Hindi cinema, but was never really successful; eventually, she returned to Bengali music, which was her first love and in which she excelled.
Despite her otherwise lacklustre career in Hindi film music, Sabita Banerjee does sing (although in a somewhat muted way) in one of the most poignant anti-war songs Hindi cinema has ever seen—and she sings to a tune composed by her husband. Jaanewaale sipaahi se poochho, written by the 1940s Urdu poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin, is a stark reminder of the very personal losses borne by soldiers and their loved ones in war. Manna Dey’s voice in this song gives me gooseflesh, he sings it with so much feeling. Sabita Banerjee’s voice mostly blends in with that of the choir, but also stands out, since her notes take a slightly different course.
8. Yaaron hamaara kya (Abhilasha, 1968): With Bhupinder. Abhilasha had a pretty good score (by RD Burman), but most of the songs from the film get eclipsed by one song: the super hit Rafi rendition of Waadiyaan mera daaman (even the female version of the song, sung by Lata, pales into insignificance compared to Rafi’s song). The film however does have this infectious song, a footloose-and-fancy-free men-only song that’s sung by Manna Dey and Bhupinder. Bhupinder’s raw young voice and Manna Dey’s more rounded, more mellow voice, meld together well, and do a good job of conveying the no-worries attitude of the men singing it. Maruti pitches in now and then with a couple of words, but the real singing is done by Manna Dey and Bhupinder.
9. Yeh hawa yeh nadi ka kinaara (Ghar Sansar, 1958): With Asha Bhonsle. As with Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Mangeshkar, Manna Dey sang lots of songs with Asha Bhonsle too. Some were relatively little-known; others, like Tu chhupi hai kahaan, Saanjh dhali dil ki lagi thhak chali, and Zulfon ki ghata lekar saawan ki pari aayi, were and are still popular.
I was torn between two very romantic songs: Zulfon ki ghata lekar and Yeh hawa yeh nadi ka kinaara, and finally chose the latter, because this song has such interesting music (by Ravi). There’s a very Westernized feel to the start of the song (which is reflected in its picturization, along a swimming pool and with couples dancing by the poolside) and then segues into a rural milieu, again reflected in the picturization: Kumkum, wearing a ghagra-choli and wandering through sugar cane fields (or tall grass? I can’t tell) with Rajendra Kumar. Asha sings the first two stanzas, and is then joined by Manna Dey in a song that’s gorgeously romantic, their voices silken and beautiful.
10. Ketaki gulab juhi champak ban phoole (Basant Bahar, 1956): With Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Bharat Bhushan seemed to be every film director’s go-to actor to play the singer or the poet: the more tormented and struggling, the better. And, in most such roles, he ended up at some point or the other, in competition with someone else, both vying to surpass the other in either vocals or shaayari, or both. In Basant Bahar, Bharat Bhushan’s character gatecrashes a music competition where his old (and very jealous) rival is ruling the roost, impressing everyone with his singing… until the hero appears.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi sang playback for a handful of other films (including the Bengali film Tansen) and here he sings in tandem with Manna Dey. I must admit I know nothing about Hindustani classical music, but I know what impresses me—and this does. Both men sing, seemingly effortlessly, a song that sounds so complex and is so beautiful. Stunning.
(It’s interesting to note that while a lot of people were upset that Manna Dey’s singing ‘lost’ in the battle of Ek chatur naar to Kishore Kumar, few seem to appreciate that it’s Manna Dey who triumphs, or has the last word, in Ketaki gulab juhi champak ban phoole).
Thank you for the songs, Manna Dey! May your voice live on, mesmerizing future generations too.