Posted by: Duncan Chowdhury | December 6, 2013

Manna Dey the Legendary Singer Passes Away

Manna Dey the legendary singer has left us for his heavenly  abode on October 24. He was 94 when he died of cardiac arrest at a Hospital in Bangalore, South India. He has been in the hospital for quite some time with health complications.

Manna Dey does not need to be introduced to a Bangalee who has acquaintance with our music. He had been admired by millions, perhaps by crores and had been dominating the realm of Bangla music for more than six decades as a luminary.

Born on 1st May of 1919 in Calcutta. His real name was Probodh Chandra Dey. He became famous by his nick name Manna Dey to his music lovers. Though he was a Bangalee and primarily sang in Bangla but he had ventured in the music arenas of other regional languages too, which had elevated him to be an unparalleled vocalists of our sub-continent. He was a versatile singer with a melodious voice but with a profound depth.

With the news of his death, the media has been over-flowing with tributes from heads of states, governments to renowned musicians and other dignitaries of our sub-continent. The President of India Pranab Mukherjee, who himself is a fan of Manna Dey paid his tribute to the late singer saying that India  “has lost a veteran playback singer, a versatile artist of extraordinary ability and a creative genius who mesmerised listeners with his enchanting voice.”

When I was a small boy, I first came to know about Manna Dey during early Seventies. I still remember to discover one of his 45rpm records, with Hoyto Tomar Jonno. I was enthralled by this song at my tender age, perhaps because it was a sort of fusion of oriental tune with western beats and even now I cherish it as one of the best songs of Manna Dey.

In his early life Manny Dey had studied and practiced classical music extensively. Then in 1942, his uncle Krishna Chandra Dey who was also his mentor, a contemporary renowned  musician had showed him the way to Bombay, where he started his music career as an assistant music director under his uncle. He later worked with music legend Sachin Dev Burman also.  He was still taking lessons in music from Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan while directing music during that time.

It is said that he had recorded more than 3,500 songs in his life time. He sang in the major languages of the Indian Sub-Continent  and a large number of  Bangla songs. He sang more than 1,200 Bangla songs and around 600 of them as playback singer. He also sang a few dozens of Rabindra Sangeet too. From the Fifties he played a lead role in the Hindi music, as a playback singer.  He also sang Bhojpuri, Panjabi, Assamese, Oriya, Gujrati, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam and even in Nepali.

The important feature of most of his songs is that they have a classical base, rooted to ragas. He was chiefly a classical singer, he possessed the skill of expressing various moods with wide variations in his songs. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Manna Dey always adhered the basics of classical music in his songs. Most of his songs are classical or light classical whether it is in Bangla or in Hindi or in other languages. It was his feat to put lyrics of light words within the classical framework and thus give birth of a new genre of classical pop songs. Simple words become live and melodious with classical tone in his songs. Perhaps Yesudas the musical maestro of South India could be mentioned whose work also follow the same path. This is also one of the reasons that his songs had so much appeal to the audience spanning for more than half a century.

His debut as a playback singer was in the film Tamanna in 1943 , but his songs in Do Bigha Zamin in 1953 made in popular in Bollywood. In between he worked as playback singer for several movies but these didn’t bear much fruit to make him a popular singer.

Pyar hua ikraar hua  is the duet with legendary maestro Lata Mangeshkar in the film Shri 240 had been one of his most romantic hits. Perhaps the popular  one is Yeh Dosti, in the film  Sholay  released in 1975, this was a duet song with Kishore Kumar. This is one of the few songs he sang with Kishore Kumar.

Manna Dey put a pause in his singing career in the 1990s, he seldom sang after that. He reigned the Bollywood in the sphere where Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar had also reigned the Hindi music arena.  He had a lot of contribution to the Hindi music, however, I would rather like to emphasis on his contribution to Bangla music now.

He had travelled extensively around the world in his life time for stage performances and also visited Bangladesh on several occasions and enthralled our audience with his evergreen classic numbers.

In Bangla, Teer Bhanga Dhau was his earlier hits, later in course of time his Bangla hit songs climbed to hundreds. It will be difficult for one to pin point his best hit song. Lalita Go, and after that Jhokhon Keu Amake Pagol Bole, Kagoje Likho Nam, or Shee Amar Chotto Bone, Khub Jante Ische Kore and without debate ‘Coffee Houser Shei Addata are amongst his super hits. It is easily possible for anyone to express his or her emotions through his songs in his own way, especially any romantic mood.

In recognition to Manny Dey’s invaluable contribution to music, we was awarded the Padma Shri in 1971 and the Padma Bhushan in 2005 the highest civilian award by the Government of India. He also received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2007.

He was married in 1953 to Sulochana Kumaran who hails from Kerala and they had been blessed with two daughters, Sumita and Suroma. During his last days he had been with his daughter Sumita in Bangalore and Suroma his other daughter now resides in the United States. As Kabita Krisnamurti one of his ardent disciples pointed out that Manna Dey really lost his will to live after the death of his wife, Sulochana who died in 2012.

The death of Manna Dey has created a huge vacuum in our musical arena which cannot be replaced. His absence will be felt more and more when we need a music guru like him to guide our present day music students to learn music in a more systematic and classical way. We shall surely miss him as “tar gan theme geche”, and “… eka boshe aschi smriti nea tar”.

Duncan Chowdhury is a YMCA Executive, writes from Hong Kong.

(Published in  The Daily Independent, Bangladesh on 9th of November 2013)

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