Straight from the heart

Straight from the heart

Straight from the heart

Yesteryear singer Manna Dey turned 92 earlier this month. Ranjan Das Gupta speaks to the legendary playback singer on his time in the music industry. 

 At 92, Manna Dey has not lost his passion for singing and music. He still practices singing Tagore melodies and never forgets to conduct his riwaz of classical music. A composed Manna Dey says over a telephonic conversation from Bangalore, “Mamata Banerjee called and greeted me on my birthday. She paid genuine respect to my talent and requested that I come back and reside in Kolkata. I was deeply touched by this gesture of hers.”

I ask him to share a few words about his experience in the music industry, to which he replies, “There is really nothing new to say, nothing that can be said that hasn’t already been said.” Nevertheless, I insist that he share a few words about his experiences. Gradually, he begins to open up, and in doing so, he focuses specifically on his association with Shankar Jaikishan, the greatest duo in Indian film music. 

“I was recording Ae bhai zara dekhe for Mera Naam Joker, which was composed by the duo. Jaikishan, who knew about my singing abilities, asked me to mingle a rollicking effect of pathos for a vital number in the film. I understood him instantly and rendered exactly what he wanted from me. The results are there for all to see,” the soulful singer shares.
The iconic singer does not believe in comparing the talents of Shankar Jaikishan with S D Burman, Madan Mohan and Salil Chowdhury. He explains, “Comparing one genius to another is a wrong thing to do and I will never indulge in such inane activities. Each composer had his own distinct style and creative identity. They have stood the test of time. From amongst the next generation, R D Burman was, of course, highly gifted.”
Versatile
Aside from classical numbers like Ketaki gulab juhi (duet with Bhimsen Joshi) and Laga chunari mein daag, Manna Dey has also showcased his wide-ranging talent with lilting, sentimental and comic numbers. He reminiscences, “The best comic numbers I have rendered were Pyaar ki aag mein (Ziddi) and Ek chatur naar karke singaar (duet with Kishore Kumar in Padosan). While singing together, neither Kishore nor I tried to dominate the other.”

The singer, who literally played with his vocal octaves to create great musical waves, says, “I have always stated and still say proudly that Mohd Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar are the greatest playback singers of India. Mukesh was unique with his nasal tragic tone, Hemant Kumar was a god-gifted genius and Talat Mehmood had a divine, silky voice. Kishore Kumar was versatile and talented in his own way. Asha Bhonsle has also rendered some superb melodies.”
Which actors did maximum justice to his numbers whilst singing? Manna Dey thinks for a while and answers, “Raj Kapoor in Hindi and Uttam Kumar in Bengali. Balraj Sahni, Pran and Soumitra Chatterjee have also lipped some of my songs very effectively, as did Shammi Kapoor.”
Speaking about Tagore’s songs, Manna Dey says, “I am astonished and sorry to learn that many of the present generation are not interested in songs of Gurudev Tagore. If Tagore’s songs are not admirable, then what is? I still get goosebumps when I hear Pankaj Mullick, Debabrata Biswas and Hemant Kumar’s Tagore numbers on radio or CD.”
Never a pessimist, Manna Dey feels there is lot of talent amongst today’s singers. He explains, “Kavita Krishnamurthy and Shreya Ghoshal are very gifted singers and they will go far. I particularly admire Shreya for her dedication and range.”
Has he forgotten his own roots in Bengal? Manna Dey strongly denies this, “Who on earth says so? I still sing Bengali numbers. How can I forget maestros like Salil Chowdhury, Nachiketa Ghosh, Sudhin Das Gupta and Ratu Mukhopadhyay, who composed most of my memorable tunes in Bengali. Though singer Sandhya Mukherjee is younger to me, I address her as didi. She is unparalleled. I also fondly remember Shyamal Mitra, whose presentation of Bengali songs was incomparable.”
No interview with Manna Dey can end without referring to his famous number, Gori tore bake from Adha Din Adhe Raat. He laughs heartily and answers, “It was composed by Chitragupta. It had a classical base against a western musical backdrop. I had to combine Indian ragas effectively with the rock-and-roll effect to render that number; that was a challenge for me as a singer.”

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