Live after Death

Rajat Suvra Banerjee,who has one of the largest collections of Manna Dey’s live recordings,remembers the fondest moments with his lifelong obsession.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: October 25, 2013 4:23 am

In the early ’70s,while immersed in his morning riyaaz,Manna Dey would often notice a man taking a morning walk,slowing down whenever he neared Dey’s house in Mumbai’s Bandra. Curious about this daily phenomenon,Dey decided to invite him for tea. The man turned out to be poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan,father of Amitabh Bachchan. Dey went on to sing for Bachchan’s Madhushala (1973) which was set to tunes by Jaidev. This little-known anecdote,and many others — like a kite flying session with Mohammad Rafi,or the private Rabindrasangeet duets Dey had with his wife — have been captured in private video recordings that he gave to Rajat Suvra Banerjee,his trusted fan and a collector of the over 100 hours of footage of the singer’s concerts.

A tabla player by hobby,and a doctor by profession,Banerjee forged a long-standing relationship with the legendary singer ever since he attended his first concert in 1975 in Kolkata. “Our relationship was purely based on music. My guruji,Radha Kanta Nandi,introduced me to him. I was in awe of him,and started recording all his concerts in Kolkata,” says Banerjee. From concerts in the late ’70s to a show he did in Liverpool in 2008,on Nandy’s request,Banerjee has perhaps the largest bank of live footage of Dey. Banerjee has also received a written permission from Dey,giving him the rights to these footage. “I want to convert the music into a six CD album,” he says.

What made him make those recordings? “His live concerts were unlike any other singers. Even the best would go off tune on stage but not him. There was a subtle artistry that he would bring in,adding something new every time he would perform,” he says.

His fondest memories are of the impromptu jamming sessions he would have with Dey accompanying him on the tabla. “Dey would sleep by 11 pm and wake up early in the morning,do his riyaaz,exercise and then proceed for the day,” says the 47-year-old.

Later,as he came to know him better,Banerjee had Dey’s permission to shoot his shows. “Once he didn’t allow the then CPI(M) minister Subhas Chakraborty to record one of his shows at Netaji Indoor Stadium. When Chakraborty pointed at me,asking how was I allowed,he said,he is doing it for me,” he says. Banerjee last met Dey in April 2012 in Bangalore. “Even though he was not keeping well,he still wanted his maachher jhol (fish curry). I got him his favourite Banchharam rosogolla,” says Banerjee.

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