Manna Dey started playback singing in 1958. But I knew him much before that. We worked together since 1954. We used to travel together for charity shows. Soon after he started singing for films,most of his songs almost instantly became super hits. Some of his most famous songs were Yeh raat bheegi bheegi from Chori Chori (1956),Poocho na kaise maine from Meri Surat Teri Ankhen (1963),Aye meri zohra jabeen from Waqt (1965),Kasme waade pyar wafa from Upkar (1967),Yaari hai imaan mera from Zanjeer (1973) and Nadiya chale from Safar (1970). We worked together for a number of films. This meant,we spent a lot of time together,making music and travelling. Though he was older to me,he never give us that impression.
He was extremely humble and friendly. We would talk about music and his philosophies of life. Apart from being a remarkable singer,he was a great admirer of a wide variety of music. His knowledge spanned across genres. This allowed him to attain perfection in so many styles. He could render a classical song with the same ease with which he would deliver a light folk song. This mouldability in his voice was one of his greatest strengths. For instance,Ek chatur naar of Padosan was a complex piece to sing and to synchronise. Then again to sing something like Aye mere pyare watan in Kabuliwala required a voice that had a character and maturity of its own.
During recordings,he was devoted to perfecting his craft. I remember our rehearsals and recording sessions,and his professionalism was really inspiring. If something wasnt working out the way hed like,he would be glad to do it all over again. In terms of popularity,the 60s and 70s were his best years. Unfortunately,the style and format of film music started changing. There were new composers,voices and lesser songs in movies. So after the 70s,we did not hear him too often.
Even though he is considered to be one the greatest stalwarts of the time,he wasnt given the recognition he deserved. His legacy and his contribution to Indian cinema,should be honoured,if not celebrated. It saddens me to say that they are forgotten by the present generation.
As told to Amruta Lakhe