Manna Dey, Sudhin Dasgupta, and Bengali romanticism

Manna Dey, the maestro is no more. When I first heard the news around midnight, my mind wandered to all the songs that have inextricably become a part of my life. I thought about each memory associated with each of the songs I cherish so much.

Manna Dey sang primarily in Hindi and Bangla. In Hindi, he worked with many influential music directors like S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Shankar Jaikishen, Naushad, and R.D. Burman in lending his voice to songs that are loved to this day. But I remember his singing in Bangla – particularly for Nachiketa Ghosh and Sudhin Dasgupta, two music directors almost entirely unknown outside of Bengal- with even greater fondness. His long-standing association with Sudhin Dasgupta resulted in some of the best film-based Bangla songs ever created.

Sudhin Dasgupta composed the music for approximately 50 albums until his death in 1982, with an unmistakable style fusing elements of avant-garde Western jazz and lounge music with technically-demanding singing. Even in the occasional dance number, his music is seldom loud, instead melding a few musical threads seamlessly into an unobtrusive, melodious tapestry.

By my reckoning, Manna Dey sang around 50 songs in approximately two-dozen films for Sudhin Dasgupta out of his total output of over 1,000 songs rendered in Bangla. But because Manna Dey’s buttery yet technically-sound voice fit Dasgupta’s style perfectly, these are some of best. One of Manna Dey’s few duet songs with Lata Mangeshkar in Bangla was for Dasgupta (“Ke prothom kache eshechi” from Sankhabela in 1966). Two years later, Manna Dey sang a particularly memorable song “Aami taar thikana rakhini” for a non-film album composed by Sudhin Dasgupta. Manna Dey also sang a few humorous songs over the years for Dasgupta (think “Chatur naar” from Padosan standard) such as “Banchao ke ache morechi je prem kore” from Chadmabeshi (1971) and “Agun legeche legeche” from Basanta Bilap (1973).

But the pinnacle of the collaboration over the course of the Sixties and Seventies and led to a young, clean-cut Soumitra Chatterjee capturing the Bengali psyche as an urbane, romantic hero (mainly in a half-dozen films in which he was cast opposite one of two gorgeous leading ladies – Aparna Sen or Tanuja).

There is a successful pattern to how the scene would unfold in these films. An idealistic Soumitra would share an intimate moment with his beloved. They would walk by the side of a river or on a sea beach. The sequence would have Soumitra singing in Manna Dey’s voice or Aparna or Tanuja in Asha Bhosle or Arati Mukherjee’s voice (Sudhin Dasgupta’s two favorite female playback singers). Nothing would be rushed.

These are some of the most captivating moments in popular Bengali cinema –

And this…

And sigh! This…

Also, this…

And although, not a Manna Dey song, I’ll end this post with this-



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