And with that, goes our last link with the golden era of playback singing in Hindi cinema. Manna Dey, who died yesterday, was the last among the six legends of that era—Talat, Mukesh, Rafi, Hemant, and Kishore being the other five—to depart.
Many critics and musicologists say Manna Dey was the most underrated among his peer group. I personally do not subscribe to that view. Any artiste should be considered underrated if his work would not gain the popularity or critical appreciation that it deserves. Neither was the case with Manna Dey. Music composers always turned to Manna Dey when they needed him. They knew his capability. While he came to be identified with classical/philosophical numbers, many of his songs were chartbusters too. Chunari sambhal gori, Pyaar hua ikrar hua, Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum, Yeh raat bhigi bhigi, Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo, and of course, the all time favorite, Ae mere zohara jabi are but just a few examples. I am of course, not counting those that are popular but belong to the category of classical/philosophical numbers which went to become superhits, such as Ae mere pyare watan, Zindagi kaisi hai paheli, Laga chunari mein daag and many more.
The reason he was not elevated to that cult status is because he was never part of any composer’s camp or was identified as any particular actor’s voice. So, he got much less number of songs as compared to others. On the other hand, if you have to calculate the the quality songs sung by any singer as a percentage of all songs sung by that singer, it is a no-brainer that Manna Dey would clearly come on top. It is not that Manna Dey chose to sing only a few good songs. Composers came to him only when they needed him. He was not the default choice. So, he was not underrated; neither by the composers nor by the audience. He was under-used. That did not impact the popularity of his songs. But that did prevent him from being prolific and in the commercial world of Hindi music, that factor worked against him.
A lot of good playlists have been created by admirers and fans of Manna Dey, like this one. So, I am going to refrain from getting into that. What I am doing here is highlighting his contribution to the playback singing in films made in Odia, my mother tongue.
How many would know that among all the greats of Hindi playback singing of that era—the above six as well as Lata, Asha and Geeta Dutt—Manna Dey sang the most number of songs for Odia movies? How many would know that he was the first among these greats to sing for Odia films?
Manna Dey was brought in by Santanu Mohapatra, the music director, who created a unique identity for himself, even as the other three great composers of that era—Balakrushna Dash, Bhubaneswar Mishra and Akshaya Mohanty—often worked with each other and used mostly the same set of singers. It is Mohapatra who brought in popular singers from Hindi cinema to sing for Odia movies. Manna Dey was introduced to Odia film audience in Mohapatra’s first movie as music composer—Suryamukhi. Manna Dey, true to his image in Bombay, rendered a philosophical number, Bandhure…Duniya re samayara naee bahi jae re. Lata Mangeshkar too debuted in Odia playback singing in the same movie, with her popular sei chuna chuna tara.
But while Mohapatra kept experimenting with other Hindi playback singers—he brought in Rafi, Usha Mangeshkar and Lata again in his next movie as composer, Arundhati—other composers did turn to Manna Dey when they needed him. I have listed here seven songs he has sung for Odia movies. Interestingly, they are for seven different movies, composed by six different music directors. So, here too, he clearly did not belong to any camp.
And like in Hindi movies, here too, he was always brought in to sing that odd song with a classical/philosophical undertone. As you can notice, six of the seven songs listed here, clearly belong to these categories. The sole exception is Dharichi jebe chaadibi nahin in Samaya, incidentally composed by the classical duo Pt Bhubaneswar Mishra and Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia under the name, Bhuban-Hari.
Here is the list. The information in the bracket are the name of the film, year of the movie, and the composer’s name.
- Bandhure…Duniare samayara naee bahi jae (Suryamukhi, 1963, Santanu Mohapatra)
- Jali jae dahana dipali (Bhai Bahuja, 1967, Balakrushna Dash)
- Dharichi jebe chaadibi nahin (Samaya, 1975, Bhuban Hari)
- Manini ja’ana karana bahana (Sakhi Gopinath, 1978, Basudev Rath)
- Kichhi nuhe tora, kichhi nuhe mora (Pujarini, 1981, J Adeni)
- Asichhi mu Bagharaja (Arati, 1981, Basudev Rath)
My respectful homage to this great singer.