H is true calibre as a singer - as selflessly assessed by living legend Manna Dey – is what I will unravel today, on Kishore Kumar's 20th death anniversary.
How Trojan Manna's mellowed to elevate Kishore to a rare singing status! A status impelling Rafi-rooters to reconsider their musical insights. If only because, in the Memories Come Alive: An Autobiography, Padma Bhushan awardee, Manna Dey sublimates his ego to note:
"I was especially cautious when asked to sing for Mehmood in Ek chatur naar with Kishore Kumar. The latter had a unique and unaffected style of singing which tended to eclipse the subtleties of classical music, and place his singing partner, in a duet, at a disadvantage. To be put in the shade by Kishore's flamboyant style of singing was a distinct possibility and, to counter the risk, I decided to work with Pancham, striving to build on my strengths and find a way of holding my own."
What modesty – Mohican Manna Dey candidly confessing to being nervous about singing with the classically unschooled Kishore!
Some notable thoughts
Continues Manna,"On the day we were to record Ek chatur naar, the entire staff at the studio stood outside the glass-door to watch Kishore and me sing. For the two of us, the session had taken on the magnitude of a duel. It took us 12 hours - the recording started at 9 am and ended at 9 pm - to complete it, and I must admit, Kishore was in his element that day. Out of this tough battle to outshine one another, would emerge a new star in the world of music."
<b1>Is this the same Kishore whom Salil Chowdhury had proclaimed as "not knowing the ABC of music?" For Manna now says:
"Kishore was indeed a phenomenon in the world of film music. He cared a fig about classical conventions and sang the way he liked."
"I remember," adds Manna, "The episode of recording the duet, Mere pyaale mein sharaab daal de, phir dekh tamashaa (for Amir Garib). Laxmikant had asked me to improvise the tune for the lyric. I'd done so to the best of my ability and earned high praise from that music director. Laxmikant had expected Kishore to sing it my way. But Kishore walked in and rendered the song in his own inimitable style.
Which led Laxmikant to suggest: ‘Kishore-da, why don't you try Manna's tune?'
In all humility
"Instead of complying," reveals Manna, "Kishore lost his temper. ‘Listen, Laxmi,' Kishore said in a threatening voice, "if my style doesn't satisfy you, I'm leaving. If you want me to sing this number, I'll do it my way. Take it or leave it!"
"We had no alternative but to fall in line," admits Manna. "Finally, when the film was released, I realised Kishore's style of singing had completely eclipsed the classical nuances of my rendition. I acknowledge this in all humility."
"When I made my foray into Mumbai's film industry," continues Manna, "Mohammed Rafi was its blue-eyed boy. His songs touched people's hearts. With Kishore's arrival on the scene, however, Rafi gradually started losing ground. With their pulse on what the audience wanted, most producers clamoured for Kishore.."
"Rafi was naturally quite disheartened by the way he'd been sidelined from his once prominent position," concludes Manna. "Had Rafi come to terms with the capricious ways of a transient world and decided to be content with the public adulation he'd once enjoyed, he wouldn't, perhaps, have suffered quite so much over his rejection, and ended up so bitter over the whole affair."
"It was, in fact, Kishore's inborn talent," insists Manna, "that helped him reach the heights of excellence. We have to accept this truth. It's always possible to hone one's innate abilities to some level of perfection - as I attempted to do during my career. But Kishore didn't need to work too hard to polish his art."
What say now, ye Rafi-buffs? To Manna's gut-feeling, that all grounding could be so much hot air before Kishore? Such a titan as Manna, does he, at last, help us comprehend the Yaadon kee baarat niklee hai Pancham phenomenon?