This was a challenging task. I thought it would be easy to select 10 favourite Manna Dey songs to observe his fifth death anniversary on October 24. Suddenly 50 songs came to mind. May be more.
Though many associate Dey with classical-based songs, the fact was that he was so versatile he could sing comic fun numbers and romantic or sad tunes with equal ease. Plus one couldn’t avoid his Bengali and Malayalam tunes.
So here’s a quick 10. Apologise if I missed out your (and my) favourites.
1 Aye Meri Zohra Jabeen (Waqt, 1965)
Let’s start with a song that would make us dance in nostalgia. While most songs in the film were composed by Ravi, this one was actually created by Afghan musician Abdul Ghafoor Breshna. Dey does justice to the semi-Sufi feel.
2 Kasme Vaade Pyaar Wafa (Upkar, 1967)
To get a bit serious. Music by Kalyanji-Anandji with some piercing lyrics by Indeevar. “Koi kisika nahin hai jhoothe, naatey hain naaton ka kya”. Dey’s emotional style is evident here.
3 Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo (Mera Naam Joker, 1970)
Let’s get acrobatic. With the possible exception of Kishore Kumar, one doubts if any other male playback singer could have sung this. Shankar-Jaikishen’s music and Neeraj’s lyrics swing between tempos, moods and orchestral twists.
4 Aye Mere Pyaare Watan (Kabuliwala, 1961)
Just to change the mood. This immortal patriotic song was used in the Balraj Sahni film based on a Rabindranath Tagore story. Music by the great Salil Choudhury and lyrics by the somewhat underrated genius Prem Dhawan.
5 Aaja Sanam (Chori Chori, 1956)
Time for romance. We all know Raj Kapoor preferred to give a huge number of songs to Mukesh. But he suggested great and challenging duets with Lata Mangeshkar to Dey. Shankar-Jaikishen’s music is based on the Italian tune Tarantella Napoletana, and Hasrat Jaipuri’s lyrics just shine.
6 Tu Pyaar Ka Saagar Hai (Seema, 1955)
My most common Manna Dey earworm. Shankar-Jaikishen again. Written by Shailendra and picturised on Balraj Sahni and Nutan. An elaborate chorus. And as deep, meditative and spiritual as one could wish.
7 Ek Chatur Naar (Padosan, 1968)
Well, I have decided on my songs No 8 to 10. Number 7 is giving me a tough time as there are some 30 in the list, including ‘Sur Na Saje’ and ‘Bhay Bhajana’ (Basant Bahar, 1956), ‘Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli’ (Anand, 1971), ‘Yari Hai Imaan Mera’ (Zanjeer, 1973) and ‘Yeh Dosti’ (With Kishore, Sholay, 1975). I chose ‘Ek Chatur Naar’ because it’s like a boxing or cricket match between Dey and Kishore where nobody wins, nobody loses.
8 Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (Dil Hi To Hai, 1963)
Oops, everyone associates Dey with only classical-based songs, so I had to put one here. The truth is that his command over ragas was amazing. This one, based on raga Bhairavi and composed by Roshan, has been a favourite at television talent shows.
9 O Keno Eto Sundari Holo (Bengali song, date unknown)
Now, how can I miss his roots? Growing up in Kolkata and inspired and trained by his uncle K C Dey, Manna-Da was inspired by various Bengali styles like Rabindra Sangeet, Bhatiyali and Baul. This song is an epitome of melodic rendition with trademark flute, sitar and percussion from the region.
10 Maanasa Maine Varu (Chemeen, Malayalam, 1965)
This had to complete the list. Two maestros from West Bengal, composer Salil Choudhury and Manna Dey, collaborate on a Malayalam song written by Vayalar Ramavarma. Dey has sung in various languages but this is considered an anthem in God’s Own Country. Talk of reach and versatility.
Narendra Kusnur is one of India’s best known music journalists. Born with a musical spoon (okay, doesn’t fit, but you get the drift), Naren, NK, Kusnur, Narender, Kaansen, Jahanpanna… however else many call him, is a late bloomer in music criticism. He was (is!) an aficionado first, and then strayed into writing on music. But in the last two decades, he has made up for most of what he didn’t do earlier. If ever there is an Ustad given for music writing, NK, would be among the first to receive one. Narendra Kusnur writes weekly on Xyngr. Don’t ask us when.