Manna Dey was born on 1st May 1919 at Kolkata the then Calcutta. Hemant Kumar also belongs to same place. Uncle of Manna Dey namely K. C. Dey was renowned singer and music expert of the time and under his guidance Manna Dey obtained education & training of music. Music was embedded in his mind since childhood. But his father was not of the view that he should concentrate only on music, however his mother encouraged him.
When at the age of 23 when Manna Dey came to Mumbai, it was not his wish to go for playback singing in spite of having education & training of singing. He started working as an assistant in a film company. One day famous singer Shankarrao Vyas had been to K. C. Dey and he wanted Dey to sing a song for his film ‘’Ram Rajya’. K. C. Dey told that as he is not feeling well, he is unable to sing and then on his instructions, Vyas gave that song to Manna Dey for the film. Thus, this great singer started his career in singing.
In Indian cinema, the number of songs sung by Manna Dey is less as compared to others; however, the singing voice like him could not emerge ever till date and this is the secret of his success. There were and there are many singers who can sing same like Mohammad Rafi or copying Kishor, nasal like Mukesh or with soft silky voice of Talat; but no voice is heard till date with tone like Manna Dey.
Manna Dey was that good hearted singer who used say for a song given to him that he cannot sing it and some other singer may be searched. Manna Dey used to sing any song only if he liked the lyrics, tune and was confident that he would sing it.
If we have a look on the singing career of Manna Dey, we will see so many classical music-based songs. The song ‘Puchho Na Kaise Maine Rain Bitaayi’ based on Ahir Bhairav raga from ‘Meri Surat Teri Ankhen’ film is just amazing. Music lovers forget everything while listening Bhairavi raga in ‘Laga Chunari Me Daag Chhupaau Kaise’. Bageshree Raga must be listened in the voice of Manna Dey only in the song, ‘Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ke Dware, Payal Ki Zankar Liye’. On the same lines, Darbari Kanada is worth to listen in ‘Zanak Zanak Tori Baaje Payaliya’, from film Mere Hujur.
These all songs are classical – based. Other than these songs, there are much more songs which are so beautiful. Which film and music lover would ever forget ‘Ey Meri Joharajabi, Tuze Malum Nahi’ from B. R. Chopra’s movie Waqt picurised on Balraj Sahani, the song ‘Tere Naina Talash Kare’ filmed on Shahu Modak in movie Talash and ‘Kasme Vaade Pyaar Wafa Sab Baate Hai Baato ka Kya’ sung for Pran in Upakar or in later times, ‘Yari Hai Imaan Mera Yaar Meri Jindagi’ again for Pran in Amitabh Bachchan’s famous Zanjeer?
He has sung songs from all languages in Indian cinema. You must remember the song in Marathi film ‘Ya Malak’ sung by him for Mehmood. One of his Malayalam songs received National Award. His award-winning song is still listened in every house of Kerala. His songs in Punjabi film ‘Nanak Naam Jahaaj Hai’ were very popular. For those songs the Punjabi people had given a sword to him as a gift. Avinash Vyas gave him opportunity to sing in Gujrati. He sang ‘Pinjaru Te Pinjaru, Sonanu Ke Rupanu’ at Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan and of course he sang many beautiful songs in Bengali movies.
When in 1995 he was honoured with Kalidas Award by Madhya Pradesh government, I conducted his interview and wished to see that award. At that time Manna Dey started searching the award and after lots of efforts he found it covered with dust. When I started watching that book like award and read the matter in honour of music career of Manna Dey, I showed it to him and Manna Dey said, ‘Oh I have not seen this! Whether there is appreciation for me?’ I made a question that whether he had brought the cheque of one lac rupees in award or not? He said, ‘Yes’ with a smiling face. At that time, he expressed his views about new cinemas in critical way and clearly said that considering the quality of movies, now he will not sing.
He said, “I prefer to stop singing after considering today’s music which lacks art. The music directors like Shankar Jaikishan, C. Ramchandra, Roshan with whom I worked are not there today. Today there is a market of music without quality and art. I don’t want to live with such people. Today there are no good lyricists. There are no good singers who sing with proper Riyaaz. I feel that today’s music directors are lazy. Can we see any singer today who sings with tanpura and harmonium?”
As he did not have any wish to sing in cinema that time, Manna Dey used to Riyaaz at home in morning and evening. He used to sing Bhairavi in morning and then Yaman in evening and in night. He was ready to teach music till last time. He performed in music programs in all countries of world except South Africa. He had been to America for ten times.
In the interview he shared many memories out of which one is very nice. The music director of song ‘Ketaki Gulab Juhi Champak Ban Phool’ from Basant Bahar was Shankar Jaikishan. On recording of this song Shankar called Manna Dey many a times to come for recording. Every time he was told that Manna Dey is not at home when in fact he was at his home itself. At last, some persons came to his home and took him along with them. When asked as to why he was avoiding to sing that song, was it difficult, he replied, ‘song was not difficult, but with whom it was to sing, that singer was very great. He was Bhimsen Joshi!’ Manna Dey used to get very much impressed by high pitch singing of Bhimsen Joshi ji and now with him he was to sing. At last Shankar Jaikishan was successful to record the song in the voices of Bhimsen Joshi and Mana Dey. After recording of the song, Bhimsen Joshi himself appreciated Manna Dey.
In earlier days, singer used to sing songs considering the hero on whom it was to be picturized. Recall songs of Rafi for Shammi Kapoor, songs of Mukesh for Raj Kapoor, songs of Lata for Meena, Nargis. It is not seen today. Lyricist writes song at 10 in the morning, singer reads it at 11, music director gives instructions at 12 noon and gets the song recorded at 2 pm and at 7 in the evening the audio disc gets ready. Singers who used to practice/ riyaaz the song for seven or eight days and the music directors who used to obtain best songs from them by this method all can not be seen today.
Today also when Manna Dey is remembered, the tone in ‘Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hai’ is recalled. The songs with Lata ‘Yah Raat Bhigi Bhigi’ and ‘Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandani Me Ham Tum Mile To’ make us mad. In his last years the decision of Manna Dey about not to sing in films seems proper, but due to that we have to listen only his old songs.
An artist like Manna Dey who expresses his grief in the song, ‘Sur Na Saje Kya Gaau Mai, Sur Ke Bina Yah Jivan Suna’ is really different than others. Whenever classical music – based songs in Indian movies will be referred, no doubt, the name of manna Dey will be taken at the first instance.
It is needless to mention that who has sung ‘Sur Na Saje Kya Gaau Mai’. I got an opportunity to conduct interview of singer of this song on the evening of 7th August 1988. When I reached his residence at 25, Presidency Society, near the bungalow of Amitabh Bachchan, I received the answer as ‘Sur Na Saje Kya Gaau Mai.’