Remembering Manna Dey

Growing up, I was fed a regular dose of old Hindi film music. My late uncle used to live in Delhi. Those were the days when an upstart music company called T-Series led by a daring entrepreneur, the late Gulshan Kumar was challenging established stalwart HMV. T-Series released compilations of old Hindi songs for Rs.18 and completely upset HMV’s applecart. T-Series tapes used to be sold on the streets at Nehru Place. My uncle used to pick up a whole lot of these and send it to us by mail. We listened to them over and over again until the tapes started getting worn out and eventually totally done. One of the artists who I did not get exposed to quite as much then was Manna Dey. 

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Years later, as I expanded my horizons listening to Hindi music on TV and with my old music crazy uncles and aunts, Manna Dey saab entered my world. And having missed out on his music all those years, I caught up with his music rapidly and came to admire his remarkable talent. This past week, on Oct 24th, Manna Dey saab passed away leaving us with his rich legacy of music. Here is my humble selection of a very small list of songs that I continue to  listen to this day. This is by no means a representation of his sheer breadth of talent but just a small sampler.

1. Jhanak Jhanak Tori

This song set to tune by Shankar-Jaikishan for the movie “Mere Huzoor” is a good starting point for Manna Da’s voice. The song set to the beautiful Raag Darbari Kanada (Darbari) showcases his classical side. 

2. Laaga Chunari mein daag

This song carries some wonderful lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi for the movie “Dil Hi To Hai”. Music is by Roshan. Another piece with a strong classical bent and set to Raag Bhairavi, the visuals and Manna da’s voice create wonderful symphony that has to truly be experienced. 

3. Ae mere zohra jabeen

This song from Waqt featuring the brilliant Balraj Sahni in a career defining role is remembered by the younger generation courtesy its reprisal in DDLJ by Amrish Puri. The original song is a sheer joy to watch and listen to and Manna Dey brings a playfulness to it that elevates the song to a different level.

4. Yaari hai imaan meri

This next song is an iconic ode to friendship featuring the versatile Pran and a young Amitabh Bachchan from the movie Zanjeer. Kalyanji-Anandji offer a complex tune with varying tempo that Manna Dey does full justice to. 

6. Yeh Dosti

In a remarkable coincidence, Manna Dey and Amitabh Bachchan feature in the other iconic Hindi film music piece on friendship that has withstood the test of time from “Sholay”. Kishore da voices for Dharmendra while Manna Dey offers an excellent counter balance for Amitabh Bachchan in this rollicking composition by Rahul Dev Burman.

7. Ae mere pyare watan

So this song is a personal favorite. Everything about this is so rich- the poignant lyrics by Prem Dhawan, the sensitive composition by Salil Chowdhary, spectacular acting by Balraj Sahni and of course the subtle rendition by Manna Dey. Every time I hear this song, it triggers this instinctive response that is indescribable.

8. Poocho Na Kaise

A remarkable composition in Ahir Bhairav that touches like no other. Ashok Kumar emotes to perfection as Manna Dey brings out the depth and pathos in the scene through this composition of Shailendra set to tune by Sachin Dev Burman.

9. Ek Chatur naar

As an excellent counterpoint to the pathos in Poocho na kaise, Manna Dey lets it all go with Kishore Kumar in the laugh riot, Ek Chatur naar from Padosan. Manna Dey offers his voice for Mehmood. The song starts off in classical Kalyani and then devolves into a creative oneupmanship piece in Brindavana Saranga. The singing battle is as awesome to hear as it is to see. 

10/ 11. Dil ka haal / Mud Mud ke

This entry formally kicks off the Raj Kapoor section of this list. Manna Dey gave his voice to some megahits for R.K. This song impresses with its sheer simplicity of composition and rendition. In the movie, it is symbolic of all things simple and pure just as “Mud mud ke” represents all things dark and powerful. Coincidentally, Manna Dey is the voice of simplicity in Dil Ka Haal and the transformed one in Mud Mud ke. And the transformation has to be seen to be believed. 

12. Jahaan main jati hoon

A playful number from Chori Chori featuring Raj Kapoor and Nargis in the background and a set of puppets in the front. In due course, Raj and Nargis become the puppets. Music is by Shankar-Jaikishan and features Manna Dey at his playful best with Lata.

13. Aaja sanam

No old film music collection is complete without a song featuring Raj Kapoor and Nargis. And Chori Chori is up there in the pantheon of musical albums that last a lifetime. Featuring unforgettable music by Shankar-Jaikishan, every song is worth a thousand listens. Here is one such- watch when Manna da first enters the piece with “Bheegi Bheegi raat mein” and you’ll fall in love with the piece.

14. Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi

This song is from the same movie, Chori Chori as the previous song. I thought hard about which song to finish with. This one was a close second. Lata and Manna Dey take the song to such heights that it deserves multiple hearings.

15.  Pyaar hua

There is Raj Kapoor and then there is Nargis. There is rain (in the sets atleast). That lone umbrella does its job pretty poorly as expected. But there is magic. Shankar-Jaikishan weave a song that represents romance to an entire generation. Indeed, love happened. In my case, with the voice of Manna Dey. 

Manna Da, you will be missed. 

Entire playlist featured on this blog can be found on youtube here