Prabodh Chandra Dey, better known by his nickname ‘Manna’ was born on the 1st of May, 1920. He is one of the greatest playback singers of all time in Hindi films and other vernacular Indian films, especially Bengali. Manna was born to Purna Chandra (father) and Mahamaya Dey (mother). Besides his parents, his youngest paternal uncle Sangeetacharya Krichna Chandra (K C) Dey highly inspired and influenced him. Manna received his early education in a small pre-primary school named Indu Babur Pathshala. Thereafter he attended Scottish Church Collegiate School and Scottish Church College, followed by Vidyasagar College where he received his graduate education in Arts.
During Manna Dey’s years at Scottish Church College, his vocal talent became apparent when he would sing aloud to entertain his classmates. He started taking singing lessons from his uncle, K C Dey, and Ustad Dabir Khan. During this period, Manna Dey stood first for three consecutive years in three different categories of inter-collegiate singing competitions.
In 1942, Manna Dey accompanied K C Dey on a visit to Mumbai. There he started working as an assistant, first under K C Dey, and then under the legendary composer Sachin Dev Burman. Later he assisted other music composers and then started to work independently. While working independently as a music director for various Hindi movies, Manna Dey continued to take musical lessons in Hindustani classical music from Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan.
Manna Dey started his career in playback singing with the movie, ‘Tamanna’, in 1943. The musical score was set by K C Dey, and Manna sang a duet with Suraiya. The song was an instant hit. He sang a solo, ‘Upar Gagan Vishal’, in 1950 in the movie, ‘Mashal’, its melody being created by Sachin Dev Burman.
Manna's versatility extends to the more demanding genre of Rabindra Sangeet as well.His experimentation with western music has produced some unforgettable melodies. He has recorded more than 3500 songs. His deep voice many a times kept him out of the hero's playback post, but he was never overly concerned of his relatively second-fiddle status. With his semi-classical training, in some cases, he was one of the best interpreters in Hindi film music.
Manna Dey rendered numerous duets with Geeta Dutt which can be called as combination of ‘Class’ and ‘Grace’. Their collaboration dates back to 1949 when Shankarrao Vyas had them singing ‘Dhanya Dhanya He Avadhpuri’ in the film ‘Ramvivah’. These were early days for both of them and they combined for the songs on rare occasions. They sang together again in 1951 for the song ‘Bholenath re naiyya par kar’ from ‘Shri Ganesh Janam’ under Khamchadra Prakash’s baton
The first major break for the pair came in 1955 when they sang for SD Burman in ‘Devdas’. The film has the evergreen haunting duet ‘Aan milo aan milo sanj saaware’ and the classy ‘Sajan ki ho gayi gori’ which were runaway hits. After this, they paired regularly in 50s to give Hindi Film Music some of its most beautiful gems.
Though Geeta Dutt sang her most melodious songs under O P Nayyar, Geeta-Manna combine does not feature in any film because O P Nayyar used Manna Dey in seldom instances. They were used together by SN Tripathi in many films such as ‘Roopkumari’ (1956), ‘Janam Janam Ke Phere’ (1957), ‘Jagga Daku’ (1959), ‘Piya Milan Ki Aas’ (1961) which gave us great numbers like ‘Rang Birange Phoolon Ki’ and the fun filled ‘Picnik Mein Tik Tik Karti’. B N Bali paired them for three beautiful duets in ‘Sitamgar’ (1958) which became blockbuster hits. Though they worked under Chitragupta only once, they gave a great song in ‘Madam XYZ’ (1959) – ‘O Goriye, O Poriye’.
They were also combined by Roshan for ‘Agra Road’ (1957) and ‘Dooj Ka Chand’ (1964) and came out with flying numbers such as ‘O mister o mister suno ek baat’. This duo sang with Mohd Rafi twice, in ‘Aaj Aur Kal’ (1963) and in ‘Haqdaar’ (1964) with Nirmala as fourth partner in the latter. In 1961 Vasant Desai used them in ‘Pyar Ki Pyas’ for ‘Uttar Mein Khada himalay’ with Lata and Baby Renu (Ranu Mukherjee) partnering with the chorus. They sang with Lata, Mukesh and Mahendra Kapoor in the 1960 blockbuster ‘Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai’ – ‘Hai aag humare seene mein’ under Shankar-Jaikishan.
They were also combined under various music directors such as Khayyam, Kalyanji Anandji, Avinash Vyas, Bulo C Rani for some real beauties like ‘Babul bol kiska rokha’ and ‘Mathura shyaam chale’. Manna Dey and Geeta Dutt sang a Hindi song for a Bengali film “Dui Bechara”. The song goes “Karo na phere, gali ke mere, bano na bhole jee” and was composed by Bhupen Hazarika.
Manna Dey has sung in practically every language of the Indian sub-continent. It is not surprising to know that he sang a few duets with Geeta Dutt for Bhojpuri films in the early sixties. “Jaan laike hathaili pe chal be zamaane se naa darabe ram” is a rustic energetic song composed by the veteran composer S N Tripathi for the Bhojpuri film Bidesiya (1963).
With a careful look at all the songs they sang together, we can see that Geeta Dutt and Manna Dey complemented each other perfectly. The songs got their classy touch from Manna’s rich, sonorous voice and their sensuous flavour from Geeta’s honey-laced vocals.