Songs that transcend time
Manna Dey, the singer whose mellifluous voice continues to enthrall listeners, turned 90 yesterday. He’s been in the film industry, both Hindi and Bengali, for 70 years now. But he still practices daily, singing sargams three hours a day. “My wife has been my inspiration for all my romantic songs, be it in Bengali or Hindi,” he says, relaxing at his Bangalore residence on a sunny afternoon.
Manna Dey entered Bollywood at a time when giants like Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mehmood, Mukesh and Hemant Kumar ruled the roost.
After him came Kishore Kumar. It was an exciting time, as new kinds of films were being made and new kinds of music experimented with.
Reminiscing about some of the songs he is still loved for, Dey says, “Rafi, Talat, I and Bhupinder rendered the pathos-filled Hoke Majboor Mujhe in Hakeekat. Madan Mohan, the music director, gave equal scope to each of us, and what a song it was!”
It was Rafi who recommended Dey for Laaga Chunri Mein Daag in Dil Hi To Hai, telling Roshan that no other singer could render it as well. As for his ever-green duet from Padosan — Ek Chatur Naar Kar Ke Singar — Dey recollects, “R.D. Burman made it clear that none of us was singing to overshadow the other. If any one of us tried it, the essence of humour in the song would have died.”
Dey, whose voice suited Raj Kapoor, remembers, “Raj Kapoor and Nargis were present throughout the rehearsal of Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua for Shree 420. They enacted the entire sequence and at the end, all of us — Shanker-Jaikishen, Lata Mangeshkar and I — had tears in all our eyes. Such dedication is unknown today.”
Dey sighs when he remembers music directors like Naushad, S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Shanker-Jaikishen of yore, lamenting there is none today of their class. “In Kabuliwala, the sequence with the song Aye Mere Pyare Watan had Balraj Sahni singing in a room he shared with ten others in such a way that it did not disturb the others. So I had to deliver the song from one side of my vocal chords.”
Films today don’t require the versatility of Dey, but the singer continues to record modern Bengali songs. But Tagore’s songs are his favourites — he claims, they give him a “divine satisfaction”. “Today sound and recording facilities are much improved. Effects can be created easily.”
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