Manna Dey was the singer whose songs have been heard and liked by generations after generations. The “Ye Dosti” song in the all-time blockbuster movie Sholay was sung by him. So was the song “Yaari Hai Imaan Mera” from Zanjeer, the movie that launched Amitabh Bachchan to superstardom. His song, “Ek Chatur Naar” from the movie Padosan, is still featured in almost all Reality shows on TV that are based on singing.
Manna Dey, whose real name was Prabodh Chandra Dey, debuted in the year 1942 that was before India gained Independence. He continued singing till 2012, that is till he was 93 year old. For his contributions, he was honored by the Government of India with the Padma Shri in 1971, and Padma Bhushan award in 2005; as well as the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2007.
Childhood and Early Life
Manna Dey was named Prabodh Chandra Dey at birth. He was born on May 1st, 1919 in Kolkata to Mahamaya and Purna Chandra Dey. He studied at Indu Babur Pathshala, and later at Scottish Church Collegiate School and Scottish Church College. He did his Graduation from Vidyasagar College.
His uncle Sangeetacharya Krishna Chandra Dey was a music composer and inspired him to learn music. He took music lessons from him and Ustad Dabir Khan. Dey started performing at stage shows in school when he was just 10 years old.
During his college days he came first for three consecutive years in different categories of singing in Inter-College Competition. During his college days he also trained in wrestling from a teacher Gobar Guha and reached the finals of the All Bengal Inter-College Wrestling Competition.
His Musical Journey from 1942 to 2012
Manna Dey’s career spanned more than 70 years. During such a marathon career, he was witness to the development and growth of Indian cinema. He has worked with almost all the singers and music directors of Indian film industry.
The Beginning of his Career (1942−1953)
In 1942, Dey went to Bombay and started his career in playback singing with the movie Tamanna whose music was scored by his uncle Krishna Chandra Dey.
His uncle gave him the name of Manna Dey and launched his singing career with a duet with Suraiya; Jago Aayee Usha, Panchhi Boley Jago; which became quite popular.
In 1943, he got his first solo song; Gayi Tu Gayi Seeta Sati; in the film Ram Rajya, courtesy his uncle.
1944 saw the beginning of his prolific music career where every year, he sang several songs for several films. During 1945-47 his duets with Rajkumari became very popular.
After 1947, Manna Dey became a regular singer for music directors S.D. Burman, Anil Biswas, Shankar Rao Vyas and many more.
In 1949, he sang his first duet with Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Lapat Ke Pot Pahaney Bikral’, composed by Vasant Desai for Narsingh Avtar. That year he also sang his first duet with Geeta Roy Dutt, ‘Dhonyo Dhonyo Hai Ayodhya Puri’, in the film Ram Vivah.
The 1950 movie Mashal, which was a big hit, he sang for the first time for the great music composer Sachin Dev Burman.
In 1951 film Anadolan composed by Pannalal Ghosh, he sang for the first time with Kishore Kumar in the song, Subah Ki Pehli Kiran. Same year he also sang a duet for the first time with Uma Devi, aka Tun Tun.
In 1953, his first duet with Asha Bhosle was, Wo Raat Gayi Phir Din Aya, in the Raj Kapoor movie Bootpolish.
During the period 1948-53, Manna Dey sang classical music based songs as well as fusion of Indian classical music and pop music. He performed in classical music concerts. He also delved into western music as well as in Ghazals. He also became a music composer for Hindi films.
Peak of his Career (1953−1967)
By 1951, Manna Dey became a household name when he sang for Raj Kapoor starrer Awara, the music of which was composed by Shankar Jaikishan. This combination continued over the decades in several films like Bootpolish, Shree 420, Mera Naam Joker etc. Manna Dey not only sang for Raj Kapoor but also for his sons Randhir Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor.
In 1953, Manna Dey achieved national fame with his songs composed by Salil Choudhury in ‘Do Bigha Zamin’.
In 1957, when Manna Dey was at his peak; he recorded 95 Hindi songs and 64 in 1958. Dey sang for almost all the music directors and also with a crop of new singers. Several of his chartbuster songs have become classics, like Aye Mere Pyare Watan, from ‘Kabuliwala’ in 1961; Laga Chunari Mein Daag from Raj Kapoor’s ‘Dil Hi Toh Hai’ in 1963; Aye Meri Zohra Jabeen from ‘Waqt’ in 1965; Chalat Musafir Moh Liya Re from ‘Teesri Kasam’ in 1967 and many more.
From 1957 onwards, he made a very popular duet team with singer Suman Kalyanpur and sang 45 duets. He also sang about 100 songs with Mohammed Rafi. With Asha Bhosle he sang 169 songs, while he recorded 103 song with Lata Mangeshkar.
Some of the most memorable song he sang with Kishore Kumar were Ek Chatur Naar from the 1965 film ‘Padosan’ composed by RD Burman.
His 1967 song Kasme Vaade Pyar Wafa, from ‘Upkar’ is considered a landmark and benefitted immensely the producer Manoj Kumar and actor Pran as it changed his screen image of a villain.
Maturity and Later Phase of Career (1968− 2012)
From 1970-1983, Manna Dey sang about 503 songs in Hindi films. His Ye Dosti song from ‘Sholay’ is still hummed by every Indian.
The male singer trio of Rafi-Kishore-Manna Dey sang Tujhme Ishwar, Allah Tujhme in the film ‘Nanha Farishta’ in 1969 and Band Mutthee from ‘Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi’ in 1981.
In 2006, he recorded his last song in Hindi film, for Umar and sang with Kavita Krishnamoorthy and Sonu Nigam.
Later, Dey restricted himself to singing only in different languages, Bhajans, Ghazals and appeared in live performances, and his last performance was held in Mumbai in 2012.
Manna Dey also sang Rabindra Sangeet and by 2012, recorded more than 4000 songs. Dey sang in more than 11 Indian languages including Bengali, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Malayalam; and Nepali.
In 1953, Manna Dey married Sulochana Kumaran; and the couple had two daughters, Shuroma and Sumita. In 2012, after her death in Bengaluru, manna Dey left Mumbai to and stayed in Bengaluru.
Manna Dey’s autobiography, ‘Jiboner Jalsaghorey’, originally written in Bengali was published in 2005, has since been translated in English, Hindi and Marathi. A documentary on his life, Jibaner Jalsaghore, was made in 2008.
His Last Days and Death
In June 2013, Dey was admitted to a Bengaluru hospital following a chest infection. In October, he was hospitalized again and died of a cardiac arrest on 24 October, aged 94. He is survived by his two daughters, son in law and grandchildren.
Celebrities and common man alike were shocked and grief-stricken at his death. Manna Dey was cremated at Bengaluru.
Awards and Honors
Manna Dey has been honored by the Government of India with top civilian awards. He received the Padma Shri in 1971 and Padma Bhushan in 2005. Besides these, he has received several awards from various organizations.
A few of these are:
- 1968 – National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer
- 1971 – National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer
- 1972 – Filmfare Award for Best Male Playback Singer for ‘Mera Naam Joker’
- 2004 – Hony D. Lit Award by the Rabindra Bharati University
- 2007 – Dada Saheb Phalke Award by the Government of India
- 2008 – Hony D. Lit Award by Jadavpur University
- 2011 – Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award
A music academy named after him, ‘Manna Dey Sangeet Academy’, has been established in association with Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. Manna Dey had also lent his voice for Madhushala, an anthology of poems written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan. Manna Dey left a huge legacy that shall be cherished by several generations.