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When Rafi sang for Hanuman, Manna for Ravan...

By SUBHASH K JHA
May 06, 2021 16:49 IST
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'Rafi was singing for Hanuman and I was singing for Ravan.'
'C Ramachandra corrected Rafisaab and he became red in the face.'
'I asked Anna (Ramachandra), "How could you do this?"'
'He replied, "How could I not do this? My song was being spoilt".'

IMAGE: Manna Dey.

On the legendary Manna Dey's 102nd birth anniversary, Subhash K Jha traced an interview he had done with Mannada way back in 1997.

Though he was then on the wrong side of 70, Subhash remembers Mannada was as alert and outspoken as he used to be in his heyday.

Often during the conversation, he would break into snatches of his memorable melodies to make a point on his musical literariness that always stood in the way of his achieving success in Hindi films.

The concluding segment of a two-part interview:

IMAGE: Manna Dey sang the songs for Mehmood in the classic comedy Padosan.

Did you turn to singing comedy songs for Mehmood for want of better opportunities?

Yes, that aspect of my singing was due mainly to Padosan.

Earlier, S D Burman had made me sing for Mehmood in Ziddi (Pyar Ki Aag Mein Tan Badan Jal Gaya).

He trusted me with his songs.

I believe, to be genuinely humorous, one has to be a little educated.

Without education, you end up with the sense of humour of a rickshaw-wallah.

I won't take names, but there were those singers who indulged in such things, and the crowds would rave over them.

But when I introduced some polished humour into our songs, I was criticised for it.

IMAGE: With Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi. Photograph: Kind courtesy mannadey.in

Your jodi with Composer Chitragupta was quite successful.

(Mohammad) Rafi and I sang many songs for Chitragupta.

Once we were recording a song together, and I was practising my own style of humour.

When Rafi stepped in with his lines, Chitragupta said to me, 'Mannada aap bade mazey mein gaa rahe the. Jab Rafi saab ne entry li, toh woh sab aapka bilkul pheeka pad gaya.'

I was shocked.

Chitragupta was an educated man and I used to like him.

I told him, 'Your brand of comedy doesn't suit me. Next time you have a duet with Rafi, you sing it yourself.'

I think he was just trying to please the more popular singer.

Absolutely. All the music directors were like that.

The one who was really outspoken was C Ramachandra.

He could never stand the most popular male voice, you know who I mean.

Tell me more about your experiences while singing with Rafi.

Once we went down to Madras to record a duet.

The song situations in their films were so bizarre, Rafi was singing for Hanuman and I was singing for Ravan.

C Ramachandra corrected Rafisaab and he became red in the face.

I asked Anna (Ramachandra), 'How could you do this?'

He replied, 'How could I not do this? My song was being spoilt.' (Laughs)

C Ramachandra always knew what he wanted.

Mannada, somewhere you were once quoted as saying that Madan Mohan was too taken up with Lata Mangeshkar to pay attention to other singers. Did you really say that?

(Laughs) I think Madan Mohan made some immortal songs for Lata.

If he didn't make those ghazals for her, would Lata be known as a ghazal singer?

If Lata wasn't there, would Madan Mohan have been inspired to compose those ghazals?

I might as well tell you that ghazal singing is not Lata's forte.

I'd prefer any other singer to sing ghazals.

Lata's ghazals were known because of Madan Mohan.

She later recorded ghazals with other composers, but they did not make the same impact.

Lata could sing bhajans and geets, but not ghazals.

IMAGE: With Hemant Kumar and Pulak. Photograph: Kind courtesy mannadey.in

Do you listen to other singers, besides yourself?

Being a student of music, I listen to everybody.

Kavita Krishnamurthy is like my daughter. Her father was posted in Geneva.

Once when he was visiting India, he brought Kavita to me.

Hemant Kumar had recommended her to me.

Kavita sang at my concerts in all corners of the world.

I used to choose her songs for her.

I'd say she has been a very good student of music.

Which other singers of the post-Mangeshkar generation had potential?

Anuradha Paudwal had a lot of potential.

If whatever happened in her life didn't happen, she would have taken Lata's place 10 years ago.

She could surpass herself in certain songs.

Her voice quality is terrific.

Don't you think Lata's influence on her voice is really heavy?

Why not? Lata's influence had to be there. Someone has to serve as an inspiration for all singers.

And whom did you copy?

I used to copy my uncle K C Dey when I was young.

When I'd sing his bhajans in college, my friends would scold me for singing old men's songs.

Among male singers whom do you admire?

I'm a great fan of Mohammed Rafi.

Suresh Wadkar's pronunciation is faulty. I think now they are making too much of him. It does a lot of harm to the singer.

The composers we grew up with, Burmansaab, Shankar-Jaikishan, Roshan and Madan Mohan used to compose songs according to the characters on screen.

IMAGE: With Asha Bhosle. Photograph: Kind courtesy mannadey.in

Most of Madan Mohan's songs were sung by Lata.

Who else would have sung those songs?

Asha is a great singer.

Lata's and Asha's repertoire are two different things.

When Asha was in her element, my God! She could sweep you off your feet.

So many times when we sang together, I used to marvel at her singing.

If I'd put some ornamentation in my singing, she'd request me to put one in for her.

I've heard that music directors those days weren't open to suggestions. Is this true?

Oh no! Any song that I sang, I'd offer my suggestions.

There came a time when even Laxmikant-Pyarelal used to take my suggestions.

Invariably, I'd be at the recording studio by 10 am before everyone else.

I'd say it was very nice of the composers to place their faith in me.

Except Naushadsaab. He was too much of a perfectionist to take anyone's suggestions.

Do you know of any other singer whose suggestions were accepted by composers?

Lata. When Lata was given a free hand by certain music directors, she used to excel herself.

The nuances that she put into her songs, no one else could.

The last Hindi film song you sang was for Prahaar. Haven't you been approached for songs since?

They call me up sometimes. Jatin-Lalit called me the other day.

I told them, 'Tum ga lo na. Tumhari awaaz toh acchi aa rahee hai telephone par.' (Laughs).

You've always been ruining your own career.

Look, unless I'm absolutely at home with a composition, I can't sing it.

I know what they'll compose for me.

Even for the song in Prahaar, Nana Patekar came personally to request me.

I refused.

But he refused to budge unless I agreed.

Laxmikant-Pyarelal also called. When I rehearsed the song, I found it was almost made for me.

But they had their own way of thinking. I didn't subscribe to their theory of romantic composition.

S D Burman, Shankar-Jaikishen and Roshan knew the art of romantic compositions. But Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmi-Pyarelal wouldn't think the same way.

Don't you wish you had more hits in Hindi films?

You should listen to my Bengali songs.

My entry into Bangla films was very late.

Calcutta was full of Hemant Kumar. They wouldn't let me enter there.

A producer, Saroj Kumar De, promised that he'd let me sing when he made a film.

He made me sing for Uttam Kumar. That really helped my career.

After that, each and every song of Uttam Kumar was sung by me.

Hindi composers want to know how I infused so much of romanticism into my Bangla songs.

But where are such songs in Hindi?

Did you record private songs in Hindi because of lack of opportunities in films?

Again, those are my tunes.

The music directors in India never tried to find out my worth.

The poet Madhukar Rajasthani once came to me with the lyrics Yeh Sunsan Ganga Ka Kinara, Pyar Ka Antim Sahara So Raha Koi Kismat Ka Mara... I tuned it there and then.

Rajasthani said, 'Mannada when you tune songs so easily, I feel like calling producers to hear the end results.'

Then I sang Nathni Se Toota Moti Re.

I got a letter from Mehdi Hassansaab. He wanted to know how a film singer could sing a non-film song so well.

What do you think of today's composers?

I don't like them. My wife and I think we're going back to the jungles (laughs).

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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