A tribute to Manna Dey
To Manna Dey goes the credit of showing the Hindi film industry that songs sung in a classical bent of music, such as the two mentioned above, could be huge hits too.
A recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke award, he mesmerised music lovers across the country – he sang in several languages – for several decades with the richness of his powerful voice which had no parallel in Hindi cinema, where I have followed his journey and totally surrendered to the magic of his rich voice.
While "Laaga chunri" and "Puchho na kaise" were arguably his biggest hits and unmatched numbers in the classic music mould, over the years what has tugged at my heartstrings the most has been his mesmerising number "Ae mere pyare watan, ae mere bichhdey chaman, Tujhpe dil qurban". Filmed on Balraj Sahni, even though he doesn’t sing the song, this soulful melody from the Hindi classic 'Kabuliwala' (1961), written by Rabindranath Tagore, conveys most adequately the longing a group of Afghan pathans working in Calcutta have for their motherland Afghanistan.
While his colleague is singing this song on the screen, the immensely talented Balraj Sahni, seated in the corner of a small room, conveys with just the expressions in his eyes and on his face the dard and kasak (pain and intense longing) he feels about the country he has left behind. As Dey’s powerful voice croons: “Tere daaman se jo aaye un hawaon ko salaam; Choom lu mein us zuba ko jis pey aaye tera naam (I salute the wind that blows from your interior; I’d kiss the tongue that voices your name…) But trust me, the English translation cannot do justice to the Urdu poetry of Prem Dhawan. When you hear it in Urdu, and you’re away from India for a while… it tugs at your heart strings and brings tears to your eyes.
And then, displaying the sheer breadth of his versatility Manna Dey also gave us, again filmed on Balraj Sahni, the lilting melody "Ae meri Zohra Jabeen, tujhe maloom nahi', which can give a run for their money to lively numbers of the ilk of "Kajrare kajkrare tere kaaley kaaley naina".
Again filmed on Balraj Sahni in Yash Chopra’s mega hit 'Waqt' (1965), who is this time playing the role of Lala Kedarnath in North India, Sahni, Dey and Waqt’s music director Ravi make you jive and dance to the number. And then there was of course another famous dance number filmed on Pran in Zanjeer – "Yaar hi hei iman mera, yaar meri zindagi".
Against songs sung in true classical style such as "Laaga chunri" and "Puchho na kaise", Dey also sang fast moving evergreen melodies such as "Yeh raat bheegi bheegi", "Aaja sanam madhur chaandni mei hum", and "Pyar hua iqraar hua".
A recognition too late
For this one-man institution, the Dada Saheb Phalke award in 2007 came too late, considering that Dey had held his own against greats like Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar and Talat Mohamood from the 1950s to the ‘70s.
Bollywood gossip has it that to sing another Dey classic "Kasme wade pyar wafa sab baatei hei baton ka tyag" in the Manoj Kumar-starrer 'Upkar', when Kalyanji Anandji first approached Kishore, he backed out and suggested that only Dey could do justice to that song.
And in the much earlier classical qawwali from 'Barsaat ki Raat', "Na toh kaarvan ki talaash hei, na toh humsafar ki talaash hei", Dey not only held his own against Rafi, but I feel, outclassed that great singer.
The best tribute one can pay this legend is from the lines he had so beautifully sung in Ae meri Zohra Jabeen:Yeh shokhiya heh baankpan jo tujh mei hei kahi nahi; Dilo ko jeetney ka phan so thujh mei hei kahi nahin…again translation will fail here. So this simple paraphrasing has to suffice. Your voice… your music… were indeed unique and nobody can win our hearts the way you did…
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