For the nonagenarian legendary singer, who has mesmerised the audience the world over with his lilting voice, the announcement of being chosen for the coveted Dada Sahab Phalke award came as Gods gift.
It's very flattering, the government, thinking it is right to confer the award on me.It came as a pleasant surprise. It's Gods gift, I accept it with all humility,Manna Dey told PTI.
This, however, I attribute it to the great music makers of the industry, the veteran singer said.
Manna Dey, who initially trained under his illustrious uncle Krishna Chandra Dey, and then honed his singing under the tutelage of stalwarts like Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan, attributes the honour to music composers par excellence like Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan and Sachin Dev Burman "who made me sing the way I sang.
The 91-year-old singer, reliving the struggle that he went through when he came to the city of dreams, Mumbai, in 1942, said in those days,he was singing bhajans and finding it very difficult to get a break. "It was Shankar-Jaikishen who gave me a break and made me sing a whole repertoire of songs."
Recalling his experience with musical hit Sur na saje, kya gaon mein, he said there were a host of objections to me singing the song, but Shankar-Jaikishen insisted that I render the song since it was composed keeping me in mind. The song created waves,I am eternally grateful to the duo for that.
Though keen to forget the tribulations that he went through, Manna Dey opens up when prodded: As a playback singer, I was belittled by producers.
The actors in those days had a great say in the choice of singers they wanted for their films.It was humiliating and tough but then it was a passing phase.
Sharing his beautiful moments during the making of the song Ye raat bheegi bheegi from the famous film Barsaat, the doyen recounts with child-like glee Can you believe Raj saab and Nargisji enacted the whole song for me while I was rehearsing the song, to get the right feel.
The duo also enacted the "most popular romantic hit" of those times, "Pyar hua ekraar hua hai", for him while he was practising the song, he said.
Describing Raj Kapoor as an actor with a great sense of music, Manna Dey said I cannot think of anybody who was as capable of handling a song as Rajji.
Referring to the great Mohammad Rafi, his contemporary as Gods own man with no vices, he said he was very "friendly and encouraging to me.I consider him as a pioneer in playback singing, who literally lived the songs, he sang.
Kishore Kumar, though not classically trained, had a great voice, could improvise beautifully and had his own unique style."I, however, learnt a lot from Lata, Rafi and Asha both as singers and persons," he said.
On the film music of today,he said Where will you get composers like S D Burman,Shankar Jaikishen or Madan Mohan.The kind of movies being made, songs being offered to composers today, what else can they churn out.
Manna Dey, however, praised singers like Sonu Nigam, Udit Narain, Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan. Sonu, I think is very good.
On music talent shows like the Sa Re Ga Ma Challenge, Manna Dey said I do not think much of these shows. They are too young to be skyrocketed like that. I really do not think it is right for their parents to push them into it so early in life, music is a penance not a race. The veteran singer who does his riyaz (music practice) for one-and-a-half hours daily, said It is food to me. As Shakespeare rightly said if music be the food of love, play on."
Married to a Keralite, Sulochana, whose love for Rabindra Sangeet brought them together in Mumbai, he said she not only used to sing Rabindra Sangeet but also spoke and wrote Bengali much before she married him.
The music icon, who has two daughters Shuroma and Shumita, said though Shuroma sings beautifully, it is Shumita who has recorded two-three cassettes of Bengali music.
For those who want to opt for film music as a profession, Manna Dey asserts they must learnt it under the guidance of a guru or a Ustad.
"They cannot just take it up in an amateur manner.
President Pratibha Patil will confer the country's highest annual award for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema on the veteran singer at New Delhi on October 21. PTI