Multiple National Award winner, Padma Bhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke awardee Manna Dey died on Thursday morning in Bengaluru, following a renal failure and respiratory illness. In what could be one of his last interviews, the legendary singer, who sang over 4000 songs including Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua Hai (Shree 420, 1955), Aye Mere Pyare Watan (Kabuliwala, 1961), Aye Meri Zohra Jabeen (Waqt, 1965) and Yari Hai Imaan Mera (Zanjeer, 1973), spoke to journalist Ranjan Dasgupta on his last birthday in May, this year.
You call me a singer? What am I compared to Mohd Rafi or Hemant Kumar? Rafi was undoubtedly the greatest singer India ever had and if there was one golden voice, it was of Hemanta Mukherjee. Kishore Kumar was a born genius but with limitations as a singer, Mukhesh’s nasal tone was unforgettable and Talat Mahmood’s silken voice remains untouched.
My mind takes me to five decades ago when I was recording, Hoke Majboor Mujhe... at Famous Studio, Tardeo in 1963 with Mohd Rafi, Talat Maehmood and debutant singer Bhupinder Singh. The lyrics were penned by Kaifi azmi and music was by Madan Mohan. As I was rendering my lines, Zulfey girke..., Rafi looked into my eyes and I saw tears in them. There was an instant inspiration in me to give an additional melancholic touch to my lines. When the recoding was over, there was pin drop silence in the studio. It was broken with thunderous applause and clapping by Talat Mahmood, Bhupinder Singh and Madan Mohan as Mohd Rafi came and hugged me, saying, “Manna da, lajawab!” I also hugged him back, emotionally charged. Madan Mohan confessed that we all delivered better than his expectations and I personally congratulated Bhupinder Singh, who was a brilliant singer and I foresaw a bright future for him.
Shankar Jaikishan asked me to render, Ketki Gulab Juhi in pure classical form along with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi for the film Basant Bahar in 1956. I was nervous and just could not believe that in this singing competition, the grand maestro of Indian classical music was to be defeated by me. I asked Jaikishan, “How can this be possible?” Shankar, Jaikishen and Bhimsen Joshi explained to me that it was exactly the way the sequence was in the film. We recorded the song in just two takes and after the recording, I touched Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s feet in appreciation. Only a versatile genius like Shankar Jaikishen could have experimented in such a novel way for a film song.
I was once rendering the Western Oriented number, Jodi Humari Jumega Kaise Jani... with Asaha Bhonsle. Here was a new set of music directors, Laxmi Kant-Pyarelal, who was composing the numbers. I insisted that they opt for Mohd Rafi as he was the best choice for such a song. To my pleasant surprise, Laxmikant told me that he did approach Rafi earlier, and Rafi had only recommended me saying that only Manna Da can do justice to this number. While recording this song, Asha Bhonsle was amazed to see that I was rendering actual rock-n-roll. The only other song for which I did a similar act was for Gori tore banke... tuned by Chitragupta for Adhe din Adhe raat.
SD Burman, RD Burman, Kalyanji-Anandji and Naushad, I have sung for all these stalwarts. But I strongly protest AR Rahman’s rendering of Bande Mataram. Why sing ‘Bandeee’ in such a peculiar style? No doubt he is a brilliant composer but I simply cannot go by the way he sang this song. In today’s generation I consider Kavita Krishnamurthy and Shreya Ghosal very talented singers. They can surely take up where Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle and Geeta Dutt left. I have turned 94, my health is deteriorating badlybut I will always have fond memories of my singing career as that was the golden era of Indian music.