Manna Dey – how the Bollywood underrated the legendary singer!

Manna Dey was a legendary Indian classical singer who equalled another legend and his fellow Mohammed Rafi. You will be surprised to know that Rafi used to consider Dey as his Guru. Rafi had even mentioned on record that the audience would listen to him but he listened to Manna Dey. There was such a camaraderie between the two.

Indian Singer Manna Dey Singing Live on stage
Indian Singer Manna Dey Singing Live on stage

Manna Dey’s initial years

Born as Prabodh Chandra Dey on 1 May 1919 in Calcutta, his paternal uncle Krishna Chandra Dey influenced him to take up singing and music as a career option. In his uncle’s leadership, he started learning singing. He also studied Hindustani classical music from Ustad Dabir Khan. He consistently won and participated in several singing competitions during his college days which helped him polish his talent further.

Later, he travelled to Mumbai with his uncle Kishna Chandra and worked as an Assistant Music Director under him and took up the stage name as Mann Dey which was short, crisp and easy to remember.

But the fact that Manna Dey was classically trained didn’t always result in his favour. The industry proudly typecast him when it came to assigning the work. How a classical singer would do justice to commercial and mainstream songs featured on the Superstars either dancing or romancing was often the argument.

Manna Dey was kept limited to songs requiring special feel, surrounding or style only. The industry forgot and never appreciated the fact that Dey’s classical learning added to his versatility and not impeded it. Most of his songs he sung were either shot on supporting actors or maybe an exclusive genre. You would hardly seem him having done a romantic number.

Also, the kind of Music director-singer pair was in tradition then didn’t allow Dey to reserve his place unobstructed. For example, the duo of Laxmikant-Pyarelal would often pair with Mohammed Rafi. Similarly, R D Burman paired with Kishor Kumar. Dey couldn’t fit in any such pairs or maybe the industry didn’t invite to him to form one. More such information is available in article

When you listen to Manna Dey’s songs, you would see he had a kind of Sufi or spiritual touch in his voice which reminds of the likes of Bhupen Hazarika. His best songs till date come in the form of charismatically sung prayers, patriotic songs, ghazals and offbeat songs which don’t feature the showbiz of forced romanticism. His range of versatility can be gauzed from the below songs which differ to each other in sense, style and the genre.

  • Kasme Waade Pyaar Wafa – A song that will move you internally stating the lack of piousness in human relations.
  • Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen – A romantic song featured on females as opposed to the regular ones which generally define greatness of male counterpart.
  • Pyar Hua Ikraar Hua – Again a romantic number featuring a couple in black and white background.
  • A Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo – Featured on Raj Kapoor, this song portrays the social strata of the society and is truly one of most remarkable songs by Manna Dey.
  • Ek Chatur Naar – A entertaining song which Dey sung opposite Kishor Da while he was himself playing a lead. Dey’s song was featured on the supporting actor Mehmood.

But, despite not having a place in popular culture, Dey left an indelible imprint of Indian music on us. He had a voice to be considered the best among all Indian playback singers then, and even now. His versatility was a force to be reckoned with on an unparallel scale. He carried a fusion style through which he also tried to infuse pop into classical. Manna Dey was and remains the greatest Indian playback singers, though his contemporaries viz. Rafi Sahab, Kishor Da, Mahendra Kapoor etc. were no less. But Manna Dey was distinctive.

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