Still singing at 90, Manna Dey will be among the most deserving recipients of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award. The award was given for the first time to the Indian silver screen’s first leading lady, Devika Rani in 1970. Manna Dey, selected for the award on Wednesday, will get it for 2008 for his contribution to Indian cinema on October 21.
Manna Dey is the 11th singer, musician or lyricist to get the award. An immensely talented singer who did his musical apprenticeship under his famous uncle, legendary singer K C Dey, Manna Dey was never utilised to his full potential. He had the voice, range, classical training and above all the temperament but music composers somehow preferred other male singers such as Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Talat Mehmood and Mukesh rather than his golden voice.
The strangest paradox of Indian cinema was that though Manna Dey’s voice had the closest resemblance top showman Raj Kapoor’s voice, the latter always chose Mukesh to sing in his films. Music composer Shankar once told me that Raj Kapoor’s view was that Mukesh was his voice but as a composer he found Manna Dey more suitable. It is no wonder that Shankar-Jaikishan, the top composers of that era used Manna Dey for Raj Kapoor frequently. Dil ka haal sune dil wala, pyar hua ikraar hua hai (Shri 420), Yeh raat bheegi bheegi and Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum (Chori Chori) and Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo (Mera Naam Joker) are some songs Manna Dey sang for Raj Kapoor under Shankar-Jaikishan’s baton.
Manna Dey had great command over classicial music and was a natural choice for many songs composed with classical flair. Laga chunri mein daag (Dil Hi to Hai) for music director Roshan, Puchho na kaisa maine rein bitai, Sur na saje kya gaon main, Tu hai mera prem devta (with Mohammad Rafi), Tu chhupi hai kahan, Jhanak jhanak mohe baje payaliya and many others became big hits.
Manna Dey could render any type of song and it did not surprise anyone when he sang along with several others the most famous Indian film qawwali, Na to karvan ki talaash hai. Bimal Roy was very fond of his voice and made him sing for his Do Bigha Zamin, Dharti kahe pukar ke, a song composed by Salil Chaudhury. Incidentally, Salil Chaudhury used Manna Dey’s voice liberally and even in the hit movie, Anand, he directed him to sing the memorable Zindagi kaisi hai peheli haae.
This talented singer also rendered some of his best songs for Kalyanji-Anandji. Kasme wade pyar wafa sab and Yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagi became big hits. He sang a duet, Yeh dosti hum nahin torenge with Kishore in the blockbuster Sholay for R D Burman. Manna Dey has a wide range of Bengali compositions to his credit and has sung in many other Indian languages.
Born in Kolkata on May 1, 1919 Manna Dey went to the city’s Scottish Church Collegiate School, Scottish Church College and Vidyasagar College. He is married to Sulochana Dey and they have two daughters.
He has also won several awards, including the Padma Bhushan.