Manna Dey is probably one of the most talented singers who had glorified the golden age of Bollywood cinema. Born on May 1st, 1919, Probodh Chandra Dey, better known as Manna Dey, studied in Scottish Church College, in Kolkata, where Swami Vivekananda and other great men studied at a point of time. Although his father was a Chartered Accountant, his uncle K.C. Dey’s influence had turned his attention towards music and he completed his classical talim from Ustad Aman Ali Khan. His uncle, K.C. Dey also acted in famous theatre in Kolkata during the period when Natyacharya Sisir Bhaduri’s classic plays Chanakya, Alamgir, Shahjahan, mesmerised the Bengali audience.
Manna Dey went to Bombay with his uncle KC Dey and also worked as assistant of SD Burman. His song “upar gagan bishal” in the film Mashal, stationed him permanently among other singers during the golden age. He stormed into the bollywood arena with successful songs in Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420, namely “mur mur ke na dekh mur mur ke”, “pyar hua ikrar hua hai” and “dil ka hal sune dilwala” and caught the attention of Shankar Jaikishan, the famous musical duo. His classical background was fully exploited in the film Basant Bahar, 1957, where Shankar Jaikishan’s composition “sur na saje kya gayun mai” and his contest with Bhim Sen Joshi was well acclaimed by music lovers.
Manna Dey got the opportunity of singing almost all the songs of Raj Kapoor’s Chori Chori, 1956, where songs like “yeh raat bheegi bheegi”, “aja sanam madhur chadni me hum” brought the first filmfare award for Shankar Jaikishan. Within a short time Manna Dey got the recognition of singing challenging songs in the film industry including qawallis, Hindustani classical, bhajan’s, etc. Madanmohan’s composition “kaun aya mere man ke dware” in the film Dekh Kabira Roya, shows his immense classical control.
Roshan, exploited the range of Manna Dey in Raj Kapoor’s film Dil hi to hai, where his song “laga chunari me daag chupayun kaise” brought his supreme command over sargam, taal, tempo, etc. His qawalli in Barsaat ki Raat, in 1960, composed by Roshan, and sung along with Mohammad Rafi, showed the capability of transforming the grammer of these songs into effortless, flawless pursuits which were simplified for the common audiences.
In the mean time, Manna Dey brought out his supreme performance in Bengali films during the golden age, and his songs “ogo tomar shesh bicharer asay” in the film Dak Harkora, 1958, composed by Sudhin Dasgupta, and “uthali pathali amar buk” in the film Ganga, 1960, composed by Salil Chowdhury flabbergasted the listeners, people wondered how could Manna Dey, coming from complete urbanised background provide perfect intonation for folk songs including bayul and bhatiyali.
Manna Dey’s songs “pucho na kaise maine rain bitayi” in the film Meri surat Teri Ankhen, composed by SD Burman, “ay mere pyare watan” in the film Kabuliwala, composed by Salil Chowdhury, “kasme wade pyar wafa sab” in the film Upkar composed by Kalyanji Anandji, are all masterpieces, some having patriotic feeling, others having pure classical raga embedded in them. Salil Chowdhury even exploited the chorus oriented command of Manna Dey in the song “zindagi kaisi hai paheli hai” in the film Anand, 1970. Other than Mohammad Rafi, no other playback singer could show the versatility and elegance of singing classical, thumris, qawallis, rock and roll, etc., as displayed by Manna Dey.
From mid-sixties, Manna Dey, played the second innings of his musical career by lending his voice for the superstar of Bengali films Uttamkumar in Shonkhobela, 1966. His songs “ami agantuk ami barta dilam” and “dekechi ke age” composed by Sudhin Dasgupta, became super duper hits, and Manna Dey became the most legendary singer of bengali modern songs of all times. His songs in Uttamkumar’s films Antony Firingi, 1967, “ami je jalsaghare,” “ami jamini tumi sashi he”, Nishi Poddo, 1970, “ora je ja bole boluk”, Stri, 1971, “hajar takar jhar batita”, “ose jatai kalo hok”, Sanyasi Raja, 1975, “shashikanto tumi dekhchi”, “bhalobashar agun jalao”, transformed Bengali film music into an invaluable khazana (tressure) which contained Manna Dey’s rock and roll effect, to tappas, to kajris, to other Hindustani raga oriented performances. Manna Dey also had the supreme calibre of imitating a drunkard and the way he sung “ei duniyay bhai sabi hoy sab satti” for legendary actor Chabi Biswas, in Raj Kapoor’s Bengali film Ekdin Ratre, 1955, which was remade in hindi under the title Jagte Raho, 1956, one wonders that he had synchronised his singing capabilities with acting qualities. At the same time his Bengali adhunik (modern) songs most of which were composed by himself like “kotodure aaj niye jabe bolo”, 1953, “hay hay go raat jay go” “ami aaj akasher moto akela” show the romantic appeal of his voice where pathos and classical touch complimented each other.
Manna Dey received filmfare award for best singer in 1972 for the film Mera Naam Joker, national award for singing in Nishi Padda, 1970, a number of Bengal Film Journalist Association Awards (BFJA), Padmashri and Padmabhushan. Besides his versatile talent was exhibited while he did sing songs in regional languages like marathi, malayali, gujrathi, etc. Lata Mangeshkar in her speech in DD1 had said, Manna Dey’s marathi intonation is even better than Marathi Brahmins. No award is sufficient for acknowledging the superlative skills of Manna Dey. An archive should be created where all the songs of Manna Dey in different languages should be preserved and restored, and whenever people here “o mere zohr zabi” or “ek chatun nar” or “yari hai iman mera”, the nostalgia of qawallis, Hindustani ragas and grammatical presentation of ustadi gharana will reflect in their minds.