- Birth Date: 01 May 1919
- Birth Place: Kolkata
Manna Dey was a flawless singer who could sing any type of song. From Qawwalis (Yeh Ishq Ishq hai) to romantic duets (Pyar hua iqraar hua), fast nubers (Aaoo twist karen, Jhoomta mausam mast mahina) to patriotic songs (Aye mere pyare watan) or prayer numbers (Tu pyar ka saagar hai) -- he was the versatile genius. His mastery over semi-classical geets was something, which even the multi-faceted voice of Rafi could not match.Being the versatile genius he was, he won the Filmfare award for his toe-tapping number "Aae bhai zara dekh ke chalo" from "Mera Naam Joker". The song happens to be one of the most intricate compositions of Shankar-Jaikishen and it was the genius of Manna Dey that made it sound so simple and fluent.
It was almost half a century ago, when Prabodhchandra Dey, now famous as Manna Dey fresh from Vidyasagar college in Calcutta, was in two minds about whether to make music and singing his career or take up a job for a living. His Father Purnachandra Dey, a chartered accountant, wanted his son, a Bachelor of Arts, to be a Barrister. Prabodh, like countless young students of Calcutta, was under the mesmeric spell of his uncle K.C.Dey, who was a well-known actor-singer and popular star of New Theatres. The uncle took his nephew as his disciple. Manna Dey was later taught by Ustad Aman Ali Khan, and thus the young singer gained proficiency in the classical music, a foundation on which he built his reputation. This learning equipped him to present any form of Indian music, classical, light and even Western pop with finesse.
Manna Dey grew up to the soft strains of Baul songs, Rabindra-sangeet, and khayal. K.C. Dey put his nephew through the paces acquainting him with the subtleties of tappa, thumri, bhajan and qawwali. With the disintegration of the New Theaters in 1940, K.C. Dey left for Bombay in search of fresh pastures. Manna joined his uncle and started off in Bombay as the assistant to music director H.P. Das.
In a strange and hostile environment he found his road to fame strewn with obstacles. The main stumbling block for him was the language barrier which threatened to impede his career. By a systematic study of the Hindi language he mastered the phonetic presentation of words which enabled him to sing with ease and felicity songs not only in Hindi, but also in many other languages of India.
Though Manna Dey had been initiated into the world of music at the tender age of 11 by his uncle and guru K.C. Dey by recording a Suraiyya and Manna Dey duet for the film Tammanna, years of struggle followed, at times compelling the talented singer to wonder if his choice of career was the right one. He even thought of coming back to Calcutta and take up his law. However, "Upar Gagan Vishal", the marching song from "Mashaal", turned into a super-hit and made him stay in the music line. Soon, a string of hits followed which established his career on a firm footing.
From the very beginning, Manna Dey has been a perfectionist. He is the only artiste who makes notations before recording a song,so that he can sing and record a song just after one rehearsal. Anil Biswas rightly observed that though Manna Dey could sing everything that Rafi, Talat and Mukesh sang they could not sing what Manna Dey sang.
During his five decades in the film industry, Manna Dey always marshalled all his recourses to render his songs to the highest standards he was capable of achieving to the demands of the moment. However, with the dominance of violence and vulgarity, he found the atmosphere stifling. He thought it better to call it a day. He worked off and on only when the opportunity challenged him. Hit numbers such as ‘Poochho na kaise maine rain beetayee’, ‘Laga chunari mein daag’, ‘Aye meri zohra jabeen’, ‘Na to karavaan ki talaash hai’ and ‘Chunri sambhaal gori’ (the last with Lata) and the absolutely mad ‘Ek chatur naar’ from Padosan to name a few, spin a tale of Indian life. Though his career graph never soared to dizzy heights, Manna Dey doubtless stands apart because of his deep voice and a wide repertoire: from qawwali to light, romantic duets to classical numbers. ‘All that I have attained in music is because of my uncle's training,’ says Manna Dey with a sense of modesty.The last film he sang for was Nana Patekar’s Prahar.
In Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen, he sang Dharti kahe pukar key for Balraj Sahni who looked emaciated in the film. His another hit number Chali Radhey Rani was filmed on a beggar in Parneeta. Unfortunately, that became Manna Dey’s image. Music Directors always summoned him to sing for character actors or for older stars which is the reason that most of his numbers lacked youthful exuberance. He rarely lent his voice to any hero of great stature except occasionally, for Raj Kapoor. While Talat Mahmood and Mukesh went on to become the voices of Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor respectively Manna Dey was banished to complement the acrobatics of Mehmood in songs like Ek chatur nar kar ke singaar; Aao twist karen; Hato Jaono jhoti banao batian; Pyar ki aag mein tan badan jal gaya; Khali dabba khali botal etc. He turned such crass numbers into class numbers. Once he admitted that he was forced to accept such stuff just to keep his body and soul together.
The singer’s had a special affection for R.D.Burman and Shankar -Jaikishan.Manna Dey sang a song ‘Aao twist kare’ for Mehmood's ‘Bhoot Bangla’ which was a lift from ‘Come let us twist’. Before recording the Hindi number, R.D.Burman sang the original English song 4ae in such great style that Manna Dey, the recordist and the musicians were breathless. With Shankar –Jaikishan too Manna Dey shared a special bond of affection and friendship. He cherishes his long meetings with them in their music room where he would sing for them for hours. The singer won his Filmfare award for ‘Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo’, the toe-tapping number, from Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker.
Manna Dey feels grieved at the deterioration that has crept into the Hindi film music. He laments to say that the Hindi film music has lost its ‘Indian-ness’. He holds the presentday music directors responsible for the desecration of film music. Living a peaceful life in Simla the singer is stubbornly unwilling to croon vulgar and suggestive songs. He would rather spend the rest of his life continuing his affair with his first love -- music.