Manna Dey: Bombay playback singer acclaimed for his versatility

 

Alongside Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and Mohammad Rafi, Manna Dey, was part of the Bombay-based film industry's pantheon of male playback singers to emerge in the 1950s. Over the course of the next two decades they and female counterparts like Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar helped create a popular-culture phenomenon. A film industry with greater cultural penetration even than Hollywood, Bollywood crossed the globe with the Indian diaspora. A major factor in its international popularity was its songs.

Born to Mahamaya and her husband Purna Chandra Dey, Prabodh Chandra Dey was Bengali, like a disproportionate number of the Bombay industry's senior music-makers. He began working in the early 1940s, having accompanied his "kaka", or paternal uncle, the composer KC Dey, when he visited Bombay. Initially working as second assistant to his uncle, he furthered his apprenticeship in film by moving on to work with the Bengali music director Sachin Dev Burman, one of the greatest talents in town.

He gained experience with other music directors and learned his way around a studio session, a grounding from the bottom up that stood him in good stead. He continued to study Hindustani vocal music with Ustad ["master", the Muslim equivalent of the Hindu term "pandit"] Aman Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan. This classical training underpinned and informed his singing.

He was launched as a playback singer in 1942 and built a reputation as a consummate vocalist. Much in demand, he chose to stay in Bombay after Partition, his vocal versatility, especially when classically based material was called for, singling him out as a special talent. He also began composing, a logical progression, though not one that every major playback singer took.

Schooled in Hindustani and Bengali art music forms – in the latter case the songs of, for example, Rabindranath Tagore – Dey had an innate and instinctive facility for raag-based popular song. Unlike most classical vocalists his professionalism meant he could be trusted to distil and deliver the essence of a classically based composition without any prima donna antics while the studio session clock was ticking.

His combination of stylistic versatility and wobble-free vocal steadiness made him a prized asset. When the Shankar-Jaikishan writing team wanted two singers to duet on the classically inflected "Ketaki Gulab Juhi" for Basant Bahar (1956), a film given a raag's name, Dey was the logical and probably only choice to sing with the great classicist, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

His hallmark was that sheer versatility. While there is an understandable tendency to highlight his classical vocal artistry, he was the great all-rounder of the Golden Age of Bombay cinema and had a greater longevity and diversity than his male compeers. His gift for light-hearted and romantic song was extraordinary, yet as his duet with Kishore Kumar on the Hindi-language "Babu Samjho Ishare", an SD Burman composition from Chalti Ka Nam Gaadi (1958), showed, he and Kumar revealed a mastery of comedic timing, western or westernised elements and meshing voices together for maximum effect.

The competition was cut-throat. In the notes to the 87-track, five-CD Legends – Manna Dey – The Maestro (2000) boxed set, he observed that "There were only a limited number of songs to render. So if a hero wanted Rafi Sahab [Mohammad Rafi], naturally it had to be Rafi. Then if it was [actor] Dilip Kumar who was a soft-spoken man, he would prefer [playback singer] Talat Mahmood. [Actor] Raj Kumar always wanted Mukesh."

Nevertheless the much-fêted Dey recorded over 3,000 songs in a variety of styles and languages. As well as Hindi and or Bengali popular song, he worked in Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and an assortment of other tongues, and in devotional and light classical poetic song forms. For the last decade of his career, between 1992 and 2012, he focussed on concert performance, his last major appearance being in Mumbai in 2012.

Prabodh Chandra "Manna" Dey, singer and composer: born Calcutta, Bengal, British India 1 May 1919; married 1953 Sulochana Kumaran (died 2012; two daughters); died Bangalore 24 October 2013.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most