RIP Manna Dey: The Bollywood King of Melody

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Mann Dey, one of the greatest playback singers

Manna Dey, one of the greatest playback singers in Bengali and Bollywood movies, died on October 24 in Bangalore at the ripe old age of 94. Most of us in the West know about Asha Bhosle and her older sister Lata Mangeshkar, who hold Guinness Book of World Records for most-recorded vocalists. But aside from Kishore Kumar, the redoubtable Mohamed Rafi, Kumar Sanu, KJ Yesudas, Dey is only known to aficionados outside of India.

Dey was classically trained and could handle complex compositions and popular song with equal aplomb. He could also sing in several Indian languages. He is said to captivate, even mesmerize, listeners with his singing, and a was called “The King of Melody” by a prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

Manna Dey was born Prabodh Chandra Dey in Calcutta in 1919. He was inspired to start his career as a playback singer–actors in Indian movies never sing, they lip-sync while the playback singers do it behind the scenes. He cut his first song in 1943 in a Hindi film, Tamanna, for which he was paid the princely sum of $3. Often in Bollywood films certain playback singers work with specific actors and audiences are often more likely to visit the cinema if they know a certain playback singer is performing int he film.  This makes sense–a famous star shouldn’t have a bunch of different voices.  That is also why Lata and Asha have done more than 10,000 songs and got the Guiness award.

The Voice and the Actor

Here he is singing a complicated song “Zindgi Kaisi Hai Paheli” for the Bollywood star Rajesh Khanna’s 1971 film Anand.