Manna Dey’s first duet with Shamshad Begum, who was the Hindi female singer most in demand from 1940-1961, “Phoolon Ka Swapna” in the films ‘Girls School’ (1949) composed by SK Pal. His first duet with the then upcoming singer Lata Mangeshkar was “Lapat Ke Pot Pahaney Bikral” composed by Vasant Desai for the film ‘Narsingh Avtar’ (1949) and with Kishore Kumar, it was “Subho Ki Paheli Kiran” form the 1951 film ‘Anadolan’ composed by Pannalal Ghosh. His first duet with Geeta Roy was “Dhonyo Dhonyo He Ayodh Puri” from the film ‘Ram Vivah’ (1949) composed by Shankar Rao Vyas. Manna Dey’s first duet with Umma Devi (Tun Tun) was “Hay Ye Hain” from the film ‘Jangal Ka Jaanwar’ (1951) composed by Ghantshala. His first duet with the then struggling singer Asha Bhosle was “O Raat Gayee Phir Din Aya” from 1953 film ‘Bootpolish’.
Manna Dey was a versatile singer. He had established his versatility at the start of his singing career that spans from 1948 to 1954. He recorded his first duets with Sudha Malhotra like “Ghar Ghar Deep Jalao Re” from the movie ‘Ayodhyapati’ in 1956, with Binata Chatterjee the duet “Tum Mile Mil Gaye Karaar” from the movie ‘Grand Hotel’ (1956) composed by Suresh Talwar and then his first duet with Sabita Banerjee was the song “Jamine Hamari Jamana” composed by music director AR Qureshi from the movie ‘Laal-E-Yaman’ in 1956 and with singer Meena Kapoor, it was the song “Rim Jhim Jhim Rim Jhim” from the famous film ‘Pardesi’ (1957) composed by Anil Biswas.
Manna Dey’s experimentation with western music too produced many unforgettable melodies resulting in an increase in singing offers in films from 1955 onwards. He began singing ghazals in Hindi films from 1953. He became a music composer in Hindi films when he composed music along with Khemchand Prakash for both Shri Ganesh Janma and Viswamitra in 1951. Manna Dey also turned into an independent music composer in Hindi films with Maha Poojaa in 1954.
Manna Dey’s tilt towards singing semi-classical songs was found to be a very successful venture (Manna Dey’s songs in pop style are “Aao Twist Karain” and “Pyar Karta Jaa: in 1965) but he could also sing ghazals and pop numbers with equal ease. Beyond 1954 era, music composer Salil Chaudhry gave break to Manna Dey in Bangali and Malayalam languages movies. This association continued until early 1990s. As reiterated before, Raj Kapoor had made use of Manna Dey with Shankar Jaikishen in his movies ‘Boot Polish’, ‘Shree 420’, ‘Chori Chori’ and ‘Mera Naam Joker’ (“Jeena Yahan Marna Yehan/Is Kei Siwa Jaana Kahan”). Even music composer C Ramchander had used Manna Dey’s voice in the movies ‘Veer Bhimsen’ in 1959, ‘Tallaq’ in 1959, ‘Navrang’, ‘Paigham’ and ‘Stree’ in 1961. So 1950s and 1960s, which is real melodic era, was ripe for Manna Dey too. Manna Dey worked quite a lot with other music directors like Naushad, K Dutta, Vasant Pawar and Ram, Vasant Desai, Ravi, SK Pal, Avinash Vyas, SN Tripathi, Sanmukh Babu, Nisar Bazmi (who later moved to Pakistan), Husanlal Bhagatram, BN Bali, Sushanta Banerjee, OP Nayyar, G Ramanathan, TG Lingappa, Nirmal Kumar, Ghulam Muhammad, Bipin Dutta, Rabin Banerjee, Roshan and Sapan Jagmohan. This era spans from 1954 to 1968. This era was followed by Manna Dey’s working for composers Kalyan Anand, Lakshimikant Pyarelal from 1958 onwards. In essence Manna Dey was made popular by the music composers SD Burman, C Ramchander, Ravi, Anil Biswas, Salil Chaudhry, Vasant Desai and Avinash Vyas.
The solo songs sung by Manna Dey that need mention are “Yeh Kahani Hai Diye” from the film ‘Diya Aur Toofan’ (1956) composed by Vasant Desai, “Humdum Se Gaye” from the movie ‘Manzil’ (1960), “Jhanak Jhanak Tore Baje Payalia” from ‘Mere Huzoor’ (1965) beautifully picturised on Raj Kumar; folk based songs like “Kisi Chilman Se” from the film ‘Baat Ek Raat Ki’ (1962), “Chalat Musafir Moh Liya” from the film ‘Teesri Kasam’ (1967) and “Aao Aao Sawariya”. Apart from the already quoted duets, others that must be quoted are “Nain Mile Chain Kahan” (with Lata) from ‘Basant Bahar’ (1956) picturised on Nimmi and Bharat Bhushan, “Kehdoji Kehdo Chupao Na Pyar” from the film ‘Kismat Ka Khel’ (1956), “Tum Gagan Ke Chandrama” from the film ‘Sati Savitri’ (1964), “Dil Ki Girah Khol Do” (with Lata) from ‘Raat Aur Din’ (1966) picturised very well by the great actress Nargis, “Chunari Sambhal Gori” from the film ‘Baharon Ke Sapne’ in 1967. These songs were chartbusters in their respective year of release. We have repeatedly mentioned the classical base of Manna Dey. In this domain of music, he popularised the songs by presenting tracks such as “Pritam Daras Dikhao” from the film ‘Chacha Zindabad’ in 1959.