One of Hindi film music’s most beautiful voices fell silent on the early morning of 24th October 2013 when Manna Dey or Prabodh Chandra Dey to use his real name, passed away due to multiple organ failure. Manna Dey was not the voice of any particular hero, in the way that Mukesh was the voice of Raj Kapoor or Mohammed Rafi was the voice of Shammi Kapoor or as Kishore Kumar was the voice of Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna. But because of his tremendous classical ability, he frequently was called upon to sing the most difficult songs which others either didn’t want to or could not sing.
Starting his career in 1942 with Tamanna, the duet he sang with Suraiya was his first hit, however during his long and illustrious career, the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke award winner sang many unforgettable songs not only in Hindi and his native Bengali but many other Indian languages as well. As a long time admirer of the vocal renditions of Manna Dey I would like to pay my own small tribute to the singing legend by compiling my list of the top ten Manna Dey songs (in no particular order).
1. Poochho na kaise main ne rain beetayi (Meri Surat Teri Ankhen – 1963) A pathos laden song in Ahir Bhairav picturised on the late Ashok Kumar is one of the most memorable of all Manna Dey songs.
2 Ek Chatur Naar Karke Singar (Podosan – 1968) – This mancap jugalbandi song was partly improvised on the spot by music director R D Burman and singers Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar. The story goes that Manna Dey felt it was a slight to be seen to have lost to an untrained singer such as Kishore – the song remains one of the funniest songs ever to be made for a Hindi movie.
3 Ae Mere Pyare Watan (Kabuliwalah – 1961) – This song has caused more eyes to tear up than most other patriotic songs. Picturised on Balraj Sahani as the Afghani yearning for his homeland, the melody of the song and the feeling with which it is sung, are both matchless.
4 Laga Chunari Mein Daag (Dil Hi To Hai – 1963) – No one except Manna Dey could have done justice to this fast, complex song set in Raag Bhairvi – particularly the last tarana bit sung with tabla bols
5 Ae Meri Zohra Jjabeen (Waqt – 1965) –One of Hindi cinema’s most endearing songs featuring mature love. A timeless classic.
6 Tum Bin Jeevan Kaisa Jeevan (Bawarchi – 1972) – A somnolent melody of yearning rendered perfectly by Manna Dey in his heartrendingly lovely voice
7 Hanse Ki Chahne Itna Mujhe Rulaya Hai (Avishkaar – 1974) – Starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore, this was an avant garde film for its time – the movie had only three songs, each one a gem.
8 Yari Hai Imaan Mera Yaar Meri Zindagi (Zanjeer – 1973) – One of the most famous and liveliest of Qawalis ever made in Hindi films – as memorable for Manna Dey’s highly versatile singing as Pran’s maroon coloured hair
9 Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Chhodenge (Sholay – 1975) – Male duets have been few and far between in Hindi films. This song from Sholay was sung by Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar and featured Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra in a memorable motorcycle song from one of Bollywood’s greatest ever hits.
10 Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi (Chori Chori – 1956) – Manna Dey sang many unforgettable duets in the course of his career and this one featuring Raj Kapoor and Nargis was arguably one of the best – such an exquisite melody and so beautifully rendered.
Today it isn’t just the Hindi film industry that mourns the passing of a legend – any music lover will be saddened today because one of most talented, versatile and able of singers from the film firmament has passed away.