Manna Dey is now 93. I wish he lives for many more years. And while he’s still with us, we must savour every moment of his presence.

Back in 2005, perhaps on the occasion of his birthday (May 1), Manna was interviewed on Bangalore’s Radio City FM channel. It was a lovely interview in which Manna recounted many stories and anecdotes. Sadly I can’t recall the name of the MJ or the RJ (or whatever they call themselves these days). But that young interviewer did a fine job.

Ek chatura naar

The recording started at 9 am one morning and went on till 9 pm. With R D Burman being the composer, and Kishore Kumar and Manna being the singers, the conversation in the studio was predominantly in Bengali. Kishore Kumar’s mother fried luchis for lunch for the entire recording crew. There was much improvisation and banter during the recording which was a lot of fun. Apparently Kishore’s line towards the end: o tede, seedhe ho ja re (see 4:28) was completely impromptu and unexpected. Manna was taken aback, but RD signalled that the recording should continue.

How did Manna rate Kishore’s classical singing? “Kishore … he had no classical training at all! But he was so enormously gifted, he could pull off anything!”.

Manna on Rafi and Lata

Manna believes that Rafi and Lata had the best voices ever. “Rafi’s classical training was insufficient … while singing classical duets with him I could easily spot his weaknesses … but he made up with amazing versatility. There was something so pleasing about Rafi’s voice. No one … no one else had that appeal!”. Manna said that Lata in her prime “was the ultimate nightingale”. She was also full of surprises: “Remember that oi oi oii (see 2:30) sound that she makes in Madhumati’s bicchua song. She completely surprised me! What can I say about Lata? She’s something else!”.

Kasme vaade pyar wafa

Manna apparently refused to sing this song initially. “I didn’t want to sing for Pran in Upkar. I said I won’t sing for a villain. But Kalyanji told me that this was a Pran with a sympathetic role, so I eventually agreed. Later I also sang yaari hai immaan, but the first song was much better”.

Ae meri zohra jabeen

This song request surprised Manna. “When Ravi called me to sing ae meri zohra jabeen for Waqt, I asked him: why me? You use only Rafi or Mahendra Kapoor. Ravi said it was Balraj Sahni’s personal request that I sing”. Manna Dey later sang another good song for Balraj Sahni in Ek Phool Do Mali: tujhe suraj kahoon ya chanda.

Ae mere pyaare watan

While we all remember Lata Mangeshkar for ae mere watan ke logon, some of us forget that Manna sang an equally soulful watan song in a truly magical voice.”When I started singing ae mere pyaare watan for Kabuliwala, the sound recordist told me ‘aaj voice jam nahin raha hain’, but Bimal-da rushed in to say this is exactly what I want! This was one of my best songs. Even Pandit Nehru cried after he heard it!”.

Singing laga chunari mein daag and other songs for Raj Kapoor

It is extremely unfortunate that Manna Dey never became the voice of a film hero. He was always picked for the classical songs and the occasional comic song for the hero (and more often for Mehmood). In the mid-1950s Manna had an opportunity to pair with Raj Kapoor that never came off. Manna probably regrets this to this day He recalled: “I loved laga chunari mein daag because I sang it for Raj Kapoor. What a handsome man he was, what a personality he had! After I saw Raj Kapoor’s lip movement for that song in Dil Hi To Hai, I called him and congratulated him: Raj-bhai, you have sung a beautiful song!”.

Tere naina talaash kare

One has heard stories that both mere sapnon ki rani and roop tera mastana from Aradhana were actually composed by R D Burman. But this Manna revelation about his Talash song is still a surprise: “Do you know who really composed my Talash song: tere naina talaash karen jise? It was Pancham, R D Burman! He used to assist S D Burman those days with Basu and Manohari. What a talented boy he was!”.


I remember Manna ended off that interview by humming sur na saje, kya gaoon main from Basant Bahar. And this is what the classically most perfect singer of his time had to say about his singing: “In this life, I could not achieve perfection. I’m waiting to be reborn again!”.

— I’m grateful to Chandrashekhar Shevde and Lata Karandikar for pointing out an error in the song lyrics.

13 thoughts on “Manna muses

  1. I actually remember this interview! Was it by Sheetal Iyer or had she moved on? But it was a good one. Have always been a fan of Manna Dey. I keep flitting in and out Kishore and Rafi. But Manna-da songs remain in my playlists all the time. My favourite Manna song is still “Poocho na kaise”.

      • It was Vasanthi Hariprakash, Sheetal Iyer had moved by then. Had the good fortune of listening to it and relived those days when my dad used to hum Manna Dey’s songs.

      • Yes you are right. She had moved on by then. (lots of people willing to swear by Vasanthi Hariprakash too 🙂 ). Sheetal Iyer was more turn-of-the century in Radio City when it was getting established. The one I remember from her was a special on Rajesh Khanna’s birthday on the weekend of 29th-30th Dec 2001. Another classic radio show.

  2. Regarding impromptu additions by Kishore, there is a line about 50,000 (pachas hazar) at the very end of Jai Jai Shiv Shankar song when all characters gather in a melee. I have heard that it was a dig at the producer who kept repeating that certain amount of money was spent during the production of the film with no visible results.

  3. I do not believe the veracity of Manna Dey’s statement that ‘Tere naina’ from ‘Talash’ is composed by RD Burman. All SD Burman’s songs have been composed by SD Burman himself. I have voice recorded and signed statement by late Manohari Singh who worked with SDB from 1958 to 1970, and worked with RDB from 1st movie in 1962 till his last movie ‘1942 Love Story’ in 1994.

      • There is a big difference between composing a tune, which SD Burman did for all his songs, assisted by a tabla player. This was followed by lyric writer sitting with SDB to ensure that what he has written, the meter is correct as per the tune and to make changes suggested by SDB where necessary. This was followed by Maruti Rao for rhythm arrangement, and then music by Manohari Singh and Basu Chakravarty, along with RDB under SDB’s supervision and approval, till last song of Tere Mere Sapne, when he separated out.

        There are so many instances, when SDB guided / corrected / pulled up his team members including RDB,

        All these canards have spread out after SDB’s death. In case of Manna Dey, he had a grouse that SDB, who was his mentor, did not give him many songs. He had said so in his interviews. Besides, when Manna was assistant to SDB, SDB would ask Manna to train a singer properly, but not give that song to him. As per SDB, Manna’s voice was not suited for film music, unless a situation demanded. SDB also believed that film music is not a forum, to show ones expertise in classical music. It was more suitable for light music.

        I have conducted some 46 interviews, half of them with those who worked with or knew SDB first hand. The rest of my interviews are with music directors and others who who knew SDB, and have given an inside input into the genius.

        Any questions, you may contact me at amkon1@yahoo.co.in

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