Manna Dey is the man with the silken voice and the singer who always was requisitioned by music directors down the ages when a tough classical number had to be rendered. He is the last among his contemporaries in the male category that still is fighting fit; his contemporaries who are now regaling the courts of god include Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and Hemant Kumar. His talent could not be justified probably owing to the fact that here was a voice that could not become a signature tune of a famous star so it had to carve its own niche in its own way.
Inspite of this drawback his voice has got such a silken charm that in any list of all time great songs of Hindi cinema that is compiled, his songs would indeed figure with prominence.
Manna Dey’s oeuvre could be broadly bracketed under the following categories:
1. Manna Dey’s association with Raj Kapoor
It was indeed the golden phase of his singing career, as there was not a single film in the black and white era in which Raj Kapoor acted and Manna Dey did not give a hit song. Be it “Pyaar Hua ikraar hua from “SHREE 420 or “Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni mein hum tum” from CHORI CHORI, they are the romantic songs having eternity written all over them. Besides, if Raj Kapoor had to sing a song with classical nuances Manna Dey had to do the job and how competently he did is evident from “ laga Chunri Mein Daag” from DIL HI TO HAI, or “ Chalat Musafir Moh liya re” from TEESRI KASAM. Within the domains of classical nuances these songs have a sense of mischief written all over them.
Incidentally, when he was given an opportunity to sing for Dev Anand in KAALA BAZAR he produced a gem in the form of “Saanjh Dhale Dil ki lagi” but sadly his association as a playback for Dev Anand was too short lived.
2. Manna Dey’s association with Mehmood
His second innings as a playback singer got really in a groove when he started singing for Mehmood, and literally emerged as his voice. It all started with “ Aao Twist karein “ from BHOOT BANGLA and got into its element really at its zenith with PADOSAN where the complete transformation of Mehmood into a South Indian could be facilitated only by the range of vocal experimentation that Manna Dey could provide him through his magical voice, through different exciting phase including songs from AANKHEIN, etc.
3. Manna Dey as a play back for Balraj Sahni
Manna Dey in a sensitive manner added a sense of respect to the characters portrayed by Balraj Sahni on the silver screen. It all started with “ Aie mere pyaare watan from “KABULIWALA” followed by “ Ae meri Zohra Jabien” from WAQT, or “ Tu pyaar ka saagar hai” from SEEMA, or “ Tujhe Sooraj Kahoon ya Chanda” from EK PHOOL DO MAALI. As a matter of fact “Tu Pyaar ka Saagar” seems more of a pain of Manna Dey’s self for the recognition that he did not get from the Hindi film industry.
4. Manna Dey’s contribution towards evolution of Pran as a character artist
Manna Dey’s voice also played a yeomen’s role in evolution of Pran as a character artist par excellence. It all started with UPKAAR’s “ Kasme Waade Pyaar Wafa” and with “ Yaari Hai Imaan Mera” in ZANJEER Pran really stamped his authority as a character artist and Manna Dey’s silken voice played important role in it.
5. Manna Dey’s famous songs sung for small actors
Manna Dey sang his best songs for B category actors, and had it been for bigger stars, his career would have been in a different orbit. Be it “ Sur na saje Kya gaaon main” from BASANT BAHAR which was picturised on Bharat Bhushan, “ Kaun aaya mere mun ke dwaare” from DEKH KABEERA ROYA filmed on Anup Kumar, or “ Poocho na kaise maine Ran bitayee” from DEKH KABEERA ROYA picturised on Ashok Kumar.
When he got a chance to sing for Rajesh Khanna in ANAND, the song “ Zindagi kaisi hai Paheli” again was an existentialist dilemma that life had posed for him and he also had no clue to it.
As long as the world of Hindi cinema is there Manna Dey’s name would continue to be held in reverence. It is a tribute to his vocal prowess, that his songs have still not been remixed, he is one of a kind. May be, after this award, the present generation could rediscover him and give him the dues that he deserves.
By: Suman Rai