Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rafi’s Contribution to Indian Film Music

Forgetting the phenomenal talent of Rafi?


A voice that was superb when musical scope was minimal

It is highly gratifying news that singing maestro Manna Dey has been awarded the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award for 2007. He richly deserves the honour.
The award has come his way rather a bit too late. But it is most welcome.

My greatest regret is that this Central government has ignored Mohammed Rafi, arguably India's best and most versatile, gifted male playback singer, who
rode unchallenged like a colossus on the musical firmament of Bollywood for four decades. Though fate snatched him away from us at the early age of 55,
his discography exceeds 20, 000 songs in 20 languages. Besides, he had a large volume of non-filmi renderings. Imagine and choose any occasion, and you
have Rafi's number absolutely suiting it. Be it bhangra, ghazal, qawwali, romantic songs, lullaby, classical, folk song, patriotic song, playful number,
bhajan and even the rare 'rukhsati'song, the magic of Rafi's voice holds the listener in ethereal thrall. The legendary K.L. Sehgal blessed him and prophesied
that he would one day outshine him. Kishore Kumar used to sing his own songs in his films. But even he, used playback by Rafi in three or four songs.

Rafi's phenomenal talent transcended eras, ages and styles. He had the ability to become the voice of every generation. His magical, velvety and manly voice
suited every actor. If any, his match can be found only in the inimitable Lata Mangeshkar. If she is the queen of melody, Rafi is undoubtedly the king.
Individually, they are masters but together in their duets, they are magical and divine.

Singing package

He was Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Mahendra Kapoor, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, all rolled into one. He was the most complete singing package. What these worthy
contemporaries of Rafi could sing individually as their forte, he could acquit himself single-handedly with greater honour, perfection and felicity. He
sang any composition flawlessly, effortlessly and elegantly. He was one stop and single window shop for all music composers, film directors, producers,
lyricists and actors. Once Laxmikant Pyarelal remarked on his death that before Rafi, when we invented a tune, we used to search for singers, as who could
sing it, but when he came on the scene, he put a challenge before us that you dare compose such a tune which he could not sing. He was a perfectionist
to the core and lent his immortal voice to songs in every possible genre of music. His usual was so much better than the best around him.

We are indeed spoilt for choice when we look at his awe-inspiring repertoire. His voice lifted the ordinaries into memorable and divine and was superb when
the musical scope was minimal. His voice mirrored the whole gamut of human emotions, viz., sorrow, romance, love, its pain, separation, union, hatred,
revenge, elation, patriotism, chutzpah, etc. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called Rafi to be the magician of voice. Naushad, the doyen of Hindi classical music,
who had the knack of drawing the purity of a raga with an aesthete's Midas' touch, used only Rafi's voice for his composition throughout his distinguished
career. He combined classical and popular music and produced a new genre for which Rafi gave the soul through his mellifluous voice.

His silken voice made Rajendra Kumar a jubilee star and imparted to Shammi Kapoor, his sui generis style. He sang for Johnny Walker in his unique thin voice.
He crooned for thespian Dilip Kumar. He sang for Raj Kumar and mesmerised the nation by his golden voice in the song, Duniya KeRakhwaale(Baiju Bawra) for
Bharat Bhushan. The list is daunting and endless. He sang for Rishi Kapoor and hypnotised the youngistan of his times.

Whatever song his golden voice touched made it classic. He had rigorous training in classical music at the hands of very able gurus. He sang every raga
with consummate skill. He died in harness. He received his last Filmfare award for best playback singing only a year before his sudden demise.

The Central government ignored the prodigious contributions of Rafi to the world of music. The least it could do to redeem its laxity and mistake is to
confer both the Bharat Ratna and Dada Saheb Phalke awards on him posthumously. The nation owes him a stupendous debt of gratitude. If Lata Mangeshkar can
be a Bharat Ratna, why not Rafi? Even a belated gesture on the part of the government will warm the cockles of the hearts of millions and millions of Rafi's
fans and aficionados all over the world.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Confusing signals


In the light of the fact that a deal has been struck between the Maoists and the West Bengal Administration, I cannot stop myself from expressing my anguish and frustration.

On one hand, the Union government presents a view that it will initiate no dialogue with the Maoists unless they desist from the violence and on the other hand, the State Government of West Bengal not only open a channel of communication with the same violent Maoists, (through a nongovernmental arbitrator) but it also strikes a deal with them, of course to ensure the safe release of one of the policemen who was just abducted.

My question is from the West Bengal government, "Was the first policeman, who has been cruelly killed a few days back by the same Maoists, not worthy of a deal like this? If then such deal could not take place, (and an impression was made that we are tough on terror and can sacrifice the personal interests for a greater cause), why the so-called toughness on terror evaporated this time?"

From the Union Government I would like to ask, "Who is the supreme authority? If the Home Minister is talking tough on terror, and local leadership is giving the opposite impression, what is the meaning of the statements of P. Chidambaram?"

Let us have a proper policy on the blackmailing tactics of the terrorists. It is our soft stand on terror which sends the wrong signals to the terrorists not only locally but internationally. Why cannot we withstand the pressures of blackmailing? If we would not learn to combat terror in a befitting manner, there will be a day when some terrorists will kidnap some VIP's and ask for a piece of land in Kashmir or elsewhere in return.

Whenever we try to wage a war on terror, the human right groups begin to shed tears for nothing. A terrorist is a terrorist and should be treated like a prisoner of war and all his cases should be decided suitably. There is no need to make a mockery of our justice system as we did in the case of Ajmal Kasab.

If we keep on releasing the "soft" or "hard" terrorists for one or the other excuse, what is the need to fighting against them and arrest them? Why the security forces should waste their precious lives and resources to nab them if they are to be released in due course of time?

Most of the terrorists use the loop holes in our legal system and get released untouched. Later, the same scoundrels try (and sometimes succeed too), to enter the politics. This is ridiculous and needs serious consideration.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Manna De receives Phalke Award

It's manna from God: Manna Dey

BANGALORE: For legendary singer Manna Dey, who has mesmerised audiences the world over with his lilting voice, his being chosen for the coveted Dada Saheb Phalke Award came as God's gift.
President Pratibha Patil will confer the country's highest honour in Indian cinema on him in New Delhi on October 21.
"It's very flattering, the government thinking it is right to confer the award on me. It came as a pleasant surprise. It's God's gift, I accept it with all humility," he told PTI. - PTI
Manna Dey, the 2007 Dada Saheb Phalke Award winner, has enthralled discerning listeners since the 1950s.


Manna Dey performing in Bangalore on May 10.

THE Dada Saheb Phalke Award for 2007 has gone to Manna Dey, one of the finest singers to have sung for Hindi and Bengali and other regional language films.The honour, in the opinion of many, has come to him rather late in the day. It cannot be truly exhilarating to be recognised for one’s contribution tothe art of playback singing at the age of 90, especially if the last memorable song one sung was well over 30 years ago.

Manna Dey shot into fame in the early 1950s with his rendering of “Chaley Radhey Rani”, a kirtan-based song for Bimal Roy’s moving cinematic rendering ofSarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Bengali novel Parinita. His sound training in Hindustani music was amply evident here as was his feeling for an emotive formlike the kirtan, which he inherited from his uncle, the legendary Krishna Chandra Dey.

After this song, Manna Dey was recognised as a singer with immense potential. Doors opened for him in the Hindi film industry of Bombay, as Mumbai was knownin those days. The legendary actor-director Raj Kapoor invited him to sing for Shree 420, the former’s take on socialism; and sing he did. Manna Dey, alongwith Lata Mangeshkar, sang “Pyaar hua iqrar hua”, written by the poet of the people, Shailendra, and tuned by the music composer duo Shankar-Jaikishan.Recorded 55 years ago, this romantic duet continues to be aired on the radio to this day. It is amongst the finest in the annals of Hindi film songs.

In his autobiography Memories Come Alive, Manna Dey remembers the composer duo thus: “The most interesting feature of Shankar and Jaikishan’s melodies wastheir sheer novelty and, in that respect, they remain unrivalled.” He felt particularly indebted to Shankar, who, he felt, brought out the best in him.He does not feel the same way though about another stalwart, Sachin Dev Burman, who, when he engaged Manna Dey to render “Upar gagan vishal” for NitinBose’s Mashaal, actually wanted him to resurrect K.C. Dey’s style. Of course, it is one of Manna Babu’s finest songs and is terribly difficult to sing.But S.D. Burman never asked him to sing regularly for him even after the singer proved his mettle a hundred times over with other noteworthy composers.

The Hindi film industry has always lacked imagination and has therefore toed the line of least resistance and closed the possibility for innovation. Justbecause Manna Babu was classically trained and could sing raga-based compositions really well, he was considered “unsuitable” for singing playback on aregular basis for the leading actors of his time, such as Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. This problem, however, did not affect Mohammed Rafi, alsoclassically trained, who was asked to sing very often for Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Guru Dutt, Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor, not to forgetDharmendra and Jeetendra. Why Manna Babu was not given similar opportunities remains inexplicable.

It is not that he did not sing for major composers. He did, but they thought he was at his mellifluous best only when he sang raga-based melodies or folkmelodies. Given half a chance, he always excelled. There are not many romantic duets to equal the four he sang with Lata Mangeshkar for Chori Chori, the1956 romantic comedy based on the 1934 Hollywood blockbuster It Happened One Night. “Panchi banu udti phiru”, “Ye raat bheegi bheegi”, “Jahan meye jateehoon”, and “Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum” are among Shankar-Jaikishan’s loveliest and deceptively intricate melodies. These songs certainly neededthe technical expertise, or taiyyari, that Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar could offer. The plaintive quality of Manna Dey’s voice perfectly complementsthe sheer sweetness in Lata’s.

It was said of Manna Dey’s voice that it acquired a silvery sheen as it went higher. An apt example is “Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum”. This skill washard won. After training under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala gharana, Manna Dey turned to Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. Manna Babu told him thathe was more comfortable in the lower register than in the upper. Khan Saheb asked him to take a more flexible approach. “Normally, I preferred singingin D sharp. Ustadji asked me to change from the fifth key to the sixth before practising my notes. I did so for a couple of days and was delighted withthe results. I had actually done it! Travelling down the notes had become child’s play for me,” Manna Dey said.

Mohammad Rafi too had noticed this positive change in his colleague’s voice. Manna Babu believes that his ustad’s training extended the range of his voice,and for that alone he feels eternally grateful.

Madan Mohan, another great composer from Hindi cinema’s Golden Age, while still finding his feet in the film industry, did the music for the film Dekh KabiraRoya. It did only average business, but the songs are still remembered especially “Kaun aya mere man ke dwarey” sung by Manna Dey. Despite having composedexquisite melody after exquisite melody, Madan Mohan never quite had a hit film to his credit. In his pursuit of success, he opted for well-known playbacksingers with box-office hits in their kitty, such as Talat Mahmood and later, more consistently, Mohammad Rafi, both artists of exceptional calibre. MannaDey was every bit their equal and to boot as versatile as Mohammad Rafi, but he was sidelined.

His destiny, it would seem, was to sing haunting melodies either for character actors or to have them used to comment on the onscreen action. His firstsong to become a nationwide hit was “Chaley Radhey Rani”, picturised on a wandering mendicant in Parinita. In retrospect, that one example decided thefate of Manna Dey’s career as a playback singer in Hindi films. Take for instance the powerfully emotive qawwali “Na toh karva ke talash heye” from theGolden Jubilee hit Barsaat Ki Raat. Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics and Roshan’s music are brought vividly to life by the singing of Manna Dey in particular.

His heart-rending solo “Aye mere pyare watan”, from Hemen Gupta’s Kabuliwalla, is picturised on an acquaintance of the protagonist. Salil Chaudhury’s compositionset to Prem Dhawan’s lyrics continues to work its magic on music lovers, especially on account of Manna Babu’s singing.

In mid-career he sang “Kasme vadey pyar wafa sab” for Pran, the riveting character actor, in Manoj Kumar’s Upkar. It was a difficult song, but Manna Deyrendered it effortlessly. Predictably, the Kalyanji-Anandji composition became a huge hit. Everybody praised the singing. Excellence had, after all, becomesecond nature to the singer.

Manna Babu’s career in Bengali films was a different story. The veteran Anil Bagchi, composing the music for the Uttam Kumar-Tanuja starrer Anthony Firangi,which was based on the life of an excellent Bengali poet of Portuguese origin, called for Manna Dey to do the playback for the most enduring hero of Bengalicinema. Manna Babu’s rendering of “Ami jey jalsha ghaurey” and “Ami jamini tumi shashi hey” sat perfectly on Uttam Kumar’s lips. Manna Dey’s position inBengal as a playback singer and as a singer of adhunik or non-film songs remains unchallenged. He did some of his most interesting work in the second phaseof his career in Calcutta, now Kolkata.

In the early 1960s, S.D. Burman summoned him to render “Poocho na kaise mainey raen bitaee” in the raga Ahir Bhairav for Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen, producedby actor Pradip Kumar. It was picturised on Ashok Kumar in “blackface”. The primitive, not to say distorted, conception of the scene notwithstanding –the protagonist was supposed to be ugly and therefore black-complexioned – the song sung by Manna Dey is haunting. The poignancy inherent in Shailendra’slyrics is brought out effortlessly. There is a story about the composing of the song. S.D. Burman had only given a cryptic brief that the song was to bein Ahir Bhairav and had asked his singer to do what he could with it. Manna Babu actually chiselled out the form given to the melody, and so he deservescredit as its composer.


Composing was a part of his training under K.C. Dey. When Manna Babu accompanied him to Bombay in 1942, he did not expect to be anything other than hisuncle’s assistant and an occasional singer in the films carrying his music. It was quite by chance that he sang for composer Shankar Rao Vyas for the filmRam Rajya directed by Vijay Bhatt. The film, made in Hindi and Marathi, had the famous actor Badri Prasad playing the role of the sage Valmiki.

The director was keen that K.C. Dey sing the songs for Valmiki. To Vijay Bhatt’s utter consternation, he refused, saying that he [K.C. Dey] sang only forhimself in the films he acted in. He suggested that they try his nephew, young Manna. The producers, at first doubtful, decided to give the greenhorn achance. Manna Dey came good as a singer and also assisted Shankar Rao Vyas with the composing. The year was 1943.

Manna Babu went on to assist Hariprasanna Das, who did the music for Kadambari, a film starring Shanta Apte and Pahari Sanyal. Ironically, his career asa music director did not take off despite his obvious talent. Singing, his “subsidiary” talent, suddenly became primary. He made steady progress as a singerand, within a short time, carved a niche for himself in the competitive world of playback singing in Bombay. His yen for composing did not go away. Overthe years, he composed songs in Hindi and Bengali, and many of them became popular.

He has boundless admiration for Anil Biswas, who composed for him a melody of surpassing beauty, “Ritu aye sakhi ree, man ke” in four ragas – Sarang, Malhar,Jogiya and Basant Bahar – to depict the change of seasons, in the film Hamdard. He also has great respect for Salil Choudhury, who made him sing immortalduets such as “Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aya” and “Dharti kahey pukar ke” with Lata Mangeshkar for Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen, and then 18 years later,in 1970, “Zindagi kaisey ye paheli haye”, picturised on the ebullient romantic hero Rajesh Khanna in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand.

Hot favourites for his fans include his songs from the film Basant Bahar under Shankar-Jaikishan’s music direction. Think of “Sur na saje”, “Bhay bhanjanavandana”, “Nain miley chaen kahan” (a delectable duet with Lata), and “Ketaki gulab” (a genuinely fine duet with the Hindustani classical vocalist BhimsenJoshi, who was then at the peak of his career). The two songs from Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish composed by Shankar-Jaikishan – “O raat gayee phir din aya”and “Lapak jhapak tu aa re badariya” – are also very popular. There are many more songs that touch the heart.

Manna Dey’s career has been rich and varied, despite the ups and downs. Indeed very few singers in popular genres like film music and light vocal musichave had such a long and distinguished career. He has given continuous pleasure to discerning listeners since the early 1950s. His contribution to filmmusic in its most fecund period is as great as that of any of his gifted male contemporaries.

His wife, Sulochana, who is a Keralite, sums up his art simply and accurately: “He sings from the heart.” That indeed is the secret of his enduring popularity.



‘I want to carry on singing’


Interview with Manna Dey.


An 80-year-old Manna Dey singing. At 90, he still loves to accept challenges and to experiment.

MOHAMMED RAFI, Manna Dey, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar formed a quintet of male playback singers who dominated Hindi film music of an era. Amongthem Manna Dey is the only one to receive the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award, the highest national award for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.

Prabodh Chandra Dey, or Manna Dey, began playback singing way back in 1943, in a duet with Suraiya for Tamanna. “Upar gagan vishal” in Mashaal gave hima solid footing as a playback singer and “Dharti kahe pukar ke” made him an icon in the true sense of the term.

Nephew of the legendary singer-composer K.C. Dey, Manna Dey is the only singer to have rendered a duet with the maestro Bhimsen Joshi and earned his appreciation.He has rendered hundreds of songs in Hindi, his mother tongue Bengali and also other regional languages. Excerpts from an exclusive interview the legendarysinger gave after his return from a tour of the United States:

Do you like being branded a classical singer?

I don’t. I am not a full-fledged classical singer like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bhimsen Joshi or Amir Khan. I did have my training in classical musicand still practise my riwaz daily for three hours. My uncle [K.C. Dey] wanted me to be involved fully in classical music. I was really not interested.Classical music appeals to only a class of audience and it is very difficult to reach out to the masses. Music based on pure ragas and bandishes has limitations.

The Dada Saheb Phalke Award must mean a lot to you.

Not exactly. I feel honoured but am in no mood to go overboard as I passed that period of my life long ago. Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh or Kishore Kumar neverreceived the Phalke Award. It does not lower their status as singers in any way. My real award is when I hear a man on the streets of Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbaior Bangalore humming “Laga chunri mein daag” or “Aye meri zohra zabin”. Nothing can beat that recognition. A singer should be identified on the basis ofhis songs, and a listener should be able to figure out the name of the crooner of a number even with his eyes closed.

You have rendered a wide variety of songs in your illustrious career spanning seven decades.


The music director duo Shanker (left) and Jaikishan. The team understood Manna Dey’s full depths as a singer.

If I was monochromatic as a singer, I would have been nowhere. Just as I was at ease with raga-oriented songs, I could equally sing pop, sentimental songsand numbers with rhythm. Right from the beginning, it was my nature to experiment with different melodies.

Take the number “Gori tore banke” from Adhe Din Adhe Raat. I rendered it in pure Bhairavi but composer Chitragupta conducted a pure Western musical backgroundto the song with the Spanish guitar, the bongo and snare drums. It was a unique experiment. He requested me to render the lines “Gore gore mukhde pe” witha rock-and-roll punch. The song was a super hit.

Who is the best music director you have worked with?

Shanker-Jaikishan, obviously. The duo, the most versatile in the nation, composed the maximum number of hits in the maximum number of films possible. Shanker-Jaikishanunderstood my full depth as a singer and used me brilliantly to sing for Raj Kapoor, Raaj Kumar and Shammi Kapoor. I rendered the majority of my memorablesongs for Raj Kapoor, whom I consider a genius. The other music directors I have worked very well with include S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan,Roshan, Ravi [Ravi Shankar Sharma alias Bombay Ravi] and R.D. Burman.

You forgot to mention C. Ramchandra.

Thank you for reminding me. In his days, Annasaab was the greatest music director and I owe a lot of my success to him. A uncompromising music director,he had a perfect sense of melody. I still fondly remember the number “Dil ka gulzar jhuta” in Amardeep, which he tuned and which I sang jointly with Rafi,Lata [Mangeshkar] and Asha [Bhonsle]. It was a marvellous tune based on the beats of the dholak – something which only C. Ramchandra could compose. Hecould not adjust with the Hindi film world later.

What sort of rapport did you share with your colleagues?

We were healthy competitors and never rivals. Rafi was undoubtedly the greatest playback singer, Mukesh was nonpareil in his nasal tone, Hemant Kumar hada golden voice, and Kishore was a self-trained genius. I sang the maximum of my duet numbers with Rafi and we shared a deep silent regard for each other.The competition I had with Kishore whilst singing “Ek chatur naar” is something unknown to today’s singers. Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle are versatileand powerful. Sandhya Mukherjee has a tremendous range in classical music, and Geeta Dutt’s voice seeped with emotion.

What was the difference in singing for Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee in Bengali films?

Uttam was a trained musician and his sense of music was more than that of Soumitra. Though Uttam’s voice suited Hemanta Mukherjee the best, he adapted verywell to my singing and never had any problems. Uttam Kumar and Raj Kapoor were two actors who were lip masters. Soumitra Chatterjee is a method actor whoaccommodated himself well to each song situation and delivered what was required of him well.

Which are your most favourite Bengali numbers?

“Raat jaga duti chokh”, “Tumi aar deko na” and “Aami tar thikana rakhini”. I tuned a number of Bengali songs and sang them too. Music directors who workedvery successfully with me include Nachiketa Ghosh and Sudhin Das Gupta. Bengali lyrics in those days were at their peak by virtue of their words, feelingsand depth. Even a popular number like “Aami shri shri” had some lyrical essence.

How did you adjust to South Indian songs?

I did sing a number of them confidently. My wife [a Malayalee] and daughter helped me with the right pronunciation and I rehearsed thoroughly before therecording of each number. South Indian pronunciation requires a special sort of accent without stylisation, and needs to appeal at once.

What are your immediate plans?

Currently, I am recording [Rabindranath] Tagore songs, a non-filmy Hindi album and a Bengali album in the blues style. At 90, I still love to accept challenges,experiment and want to carry on singing as long as I am alive. •