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Manna Dey's 10 most memorable Bengali film songs – Death anniversary special

One of the finest singers in Indian cinema, Manna Dey was trusted by music directors to breathe life into compositions in all kinds of genres.

Roushni Sarkar

Manna Dey (1919-2013) was easily among the finest singers in Indian cinema, trusted by music directors to breathe life into compositions in all kinds of genres.

Born Prabodh Chandra Dey, the artiste was primarily inspired by his paternal uncle, the blind singer Krishna Chandra aka KC Dey, a revered artiste in his time.

Manna Dey later received formal training in Hindustani classical music from Dabir Khan and continued to enrich his knowledge and hone his technique while working as an assistant to legendary music director Sachin Dev Burman.

In his illustrious career spanning six decades, Manna Dey performed in all major Indian languages, but he sang predominantly in Bengali and Hindi. On his seventh death anniversary, Cinestaan looks back at 10 of his most memorable Bengali film songs.

'Ami Je Jalsaghare' — Antony Firingee (1967)

The song, loosely based on the raga Khamaj, describes the plight of the artiste whose value often lies in the entertainment he or she provides. Composed by Anil Bagchi and written by Gauri Prasanna Mazumder, a lyrical metaphor of a chandelier and an ornate description of its brilliance lend the song a sophistication that is taken to another level by Dey’s mellifluous styling. Dey infuses romance and melancholia into the song, which is centred on a dashing Uttam Kumar. The cinematic composition, Uttam Kumar’s acting chops and Manna Dey’s delivery make listening to this number a rich experience.

'Ami Jamini Tumi Shashi Hey' — Antony Firingee

One of Manna Dey's most soulful renditions, the romantic 'Ami Jamini Tumi Shashi Hey' is another rich composition by Bagchi from the same film. The complex yet soothing tune, loosely based on the raga Hemant, goes well with Mazumder’s classic description of a lover’s passion for his beloved. Dey’s delicate phrasing and nuanced intonation make the song.

In the song, Uttam Kumar as Anthony Firingee describes himself as the night and his beloved as the moon. As he looks at his dear one, the latter blushes; he waits, dreaming of her and preparing for a dalliance. His beloved appears to him as the month of spring and her absence drowns him in an ocean of darkness.

'Boro Eka Lage' — Chowringhee (1968)

Though a mellow song, 'Boro Eka Lage' creates a certain ambience in the mind of the listener. Composed by Asima Bhattacharya and written by Miltoo Ghosh, 'Boro Eka Lage' has brief interludes so as to prevent the song's inherent vibe of despair from having a lingering effect. Manna Dey’s melodious rendition turns the song into a point of escape from the mundane lifestyle that Uttam Kumar's character leads in the film.

'Jibone Ki Pabona' — Teen Bhuboner Porey (1969)

One of the few and foremost retro compositions of Bengali cinema, 'Jibone Ki Pabona' was the Westernized Bengali theme song for collegians of the era. Composed and written by Sudhin Dasgupta, the song featured Soumitra Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh nailing the twist. Dey proved his versatility by staying true to the light mood of the upbeat and infectious song.

'Hoyto Tomari Jonno' — Teen Bhuboner Porey

It says something for the flexibility of a singer when a music director assigns him songs belonging to completely different genres in the same film. Though a relatively simple composition by Sudhin Dasgupta, this song, in which Chatterjee and Tanuja feature, was beautifully rendered by Dey. Renowned for his intricate take on songs based on classical music, Dey infused romance into the melody and turned it into one of the more memorable songs of his career.

'Na Na Na Aaj Raate Aar' — Nishipadma (1970)

Composed by Nachiketa Ghosh and written by Gauri Prasanna Mazumder, this song is a dramatic composition, featuring a 'drunk' Uttam Kumar and Jahar Roy. In the satirical song, using the metaphor of Jatra, the popular folk theatre of Bengal, Uttam Kumar attempts to convey the deep philosophical thoughts on life and fate that alcohol tends to spark. Manna Dey subtly brought out the languorous mood of the character through the song even as he magnified the meaning of every word.

'Ami Kon Pathe Je Choli' — Chhadmabeshi (1971)

Sudhin Dasgupta composed this song with the simple intent of telling a story. The comical-yet-romantic tune, which is heard in a scene with Uttam Kumar and Madhabi Mukherjee, is a situational one. Manna Dey dramatically highlights the plight of Uttam Kumar's character, who is unable to meet his wife, in the most humorous manner, turning the song itself into a story.

'Baje Go Beena' — Marjina Abdallah (1972)

This complex composition by Salil Chowdhury has a romantic mood and who better to do justice to the song than Manna-da? The song, featuring Devraj Ray and Mithoo Mukherjee on screen, is a celebration of love and being together. Dey skilfully captured the currents of joy that the lovers experience at their union, lending soul to the fast-tempo number.

'Kaharba Noy Dadra Bajao' — Sanyasi Raja (1975)

Composed by Nachiketa Ghosh and written by Gauri Prasanna Mazumder, the song delves into the leisurely lifestyle of a zamindar, played by Uttam Kumar. The character breaks into song while reprimanding a tabla player at a mehfil for not playing properly. As he scolds the musician, Uttam Kumar's character starts describing his perpetually aloof state of mind. Thus, the song takes a satirical turn. The song is based on the raga Jog initially; however, Ghosh took creative liberties with the music. Manna Dey kept up effortlessly with the shifts in the piece, proving his adeptness at vocalization.

'Behag Jodi Na Hoi Raji' — Dui Purush (1978)

This song, composed by Adhir Bagchi, is based on the raga Yaman. The gorgeous lyrics by Pulak Bandyopadhyay highlight the positive aspects of life, including hope and love. Manna Dey put his heart and soul into his rendition, not only highlighting the unique qualities of the raga but also demonstrating that music is an eternal companion to humanity.