Saturday, June 21, 2008

Concert Review : In Pursuit of Manna Dey, Part 2

Continuing from In Pursuit of Manna Dey, Part 1 (Preparing for the concert)

The legendary Manna Dey walked onto the stage and took the microphone. "I am very happy to be performing in New Jersey. I will sing whatever you would want to hear, but first I would like to start with some songs of my own choice if you don't mind". He had come straight to the point. No frills and flourishes of showmanship for this legend. His personal style is simple, straighforward and down to earth. The audience did not mind one bit. They gave him a round of applause. [Note: If they had not agreed they were likey to have heard this ]

Mannada walked to his chair and settled in. He first turned to the musicians and pulled them up for the their volume tuning. "Your guitar was drowning her (Zafreen) out. You have to keep the volume low.", The guitarist, embarrassed at this very public rap on the knuckles nodded and smiled sportingly.

Rapping done, Mannada fiddled around with the microphone. Something was not quite right. He motioned for some-one to come up to help. As everyone waited with bated breath, no one turned up. Mannada motioned again, no response. He was getting impatient now. 'Who is in charge of the microphone? Can you please help me?', the voice was brimming with irritation. After a few more minutes of inactivity a young turk, in shimmering red pajamas , matching shirt and hair standing up straight came rushing up onto the stage. And behind him came a whole flock of organisers. Now all of them tried to fiddle around with the mike all at the same time! The old man's temper was rising. The audience was on tenterhooks. There were sure to be fire-works on the stage. (Note: This was the pre-reality show era when all such distractions were not welcomed as the smashing highlights of a program)

However, disaster was averted. Before any such happening, the mike was adjusted to his satisfaction and Dada was all set to sing. He opened his notebook and fiddled around a little more. It seemed something was wrong again. The lights this time. Too strong. Again there was scurrying around. No one quite knew what to do. "Just put the footlights off ", Mannada ordered, "I can't see the notebook and the keyboard player cannot see his keyboard. How do you expect us to perform? A totally mis-managed affair!", he muttered. The audience chuckled in agreement and gave him a short supporting clap.

With the footlights switched off the program finally started. "I will begin with a devotional song written by my good friend Shailendra, for the film Basant Bahar' . The audience gave an anticipatory clap. By now, everyone just wanted him to start. The thing that surprised me though was the normally impatient and irreverent New Jersey audience was quite tolerant of the old man's whims. (Just a couple of months back I had witnessed a performer booed off stage.)

Manna da ran his fingers over the harmonium, hummed a little and took a short alaap and then....stopped.

There was silence. My heart sank. He was completely off-key and out of form.

His off-key alaap was not a cause of my anxiety (I really hadn't expected him to be in top form at 84 years). Deep down I was still scared that the audience would boo him. For a legend of the stature of Manna Dey, I did not want to be witness to it. But Mannada stopped there and muttered "See I am so upset that I have forgotten my own scale! Give me sometime to settle in." He fiddled around with the harmonium for sometime again and then took another alaap. This time round... it was miraculously sweet!!

There was huge round of applause. Manna Dey had just managed to wrap the paisa-vasool New Jersey audience around his little finger. Dada simply raised his hand to quieten the audience and started 'Bhay Bhanjana'.

At this point, I will pause and say that my uncle-next-door impression of Manna Dey has somewhat been altered after this encounter. From amiable and insipid uncle he has morphed into the grumpy grandpa . You know the kind, who tweaks your ears three times a day, shoos you away from playing outside his window and then goes out and brings a huge box of candies for you in the evening? [see pictures below]

Back in the concert- his voice was not the same anymore but still appealing. After two-three songs he paused to say he would sing a song based on UP Folk by the great Naushad and then dived into 'Chundariya katati jaaye re' from 'Mother India'. With his voice all warmed up(and all the things that had upset him earlier, forgotten), Mannada was now in fine form. He navigated the high pitches of the song with an ease one simply would not expect of a singer his age. It was a great rendition. I have always maintained that amongst the male singers Manna Dey has done most justice to folk songs. This rare outing with Naushad definitely counts amongst his finest.

The evening continued with a host of songs which included his trademark classical songs like Phool gendwa na maro, Jhanak tori baaje payaliya all rendered with masterly ease. The audience response was spirited and encouraging. Every time he started a song, the first round of applause was just for the choice. The audience clapped and sang with Dil ka haal sune dilwala which he improvised a lot with alaaps and quick sargam pieces that were delightful. For some songs like Kaun aaya mere man ke dwaare the applause just wouldn't die down. Till Manna Da raised his hand to stop it that is.

When he started Chale jaa rahe hain from Kinare Kinare, Madhura and I were the loudest in our appreciation(and I suspect the only ones!), so much so that he even looked in our direction(atleast we fancied). This off-beat song is one of our common Manna Dey favourites. We were delighted that he made this unusual selection. Manna da did not disappoint us. After he finished Madsji looked at me with a content glow in her eyes "I am satiated. I want nothing more. Hello! I would have thought she would not want anything more after catching a glimpse of her idol in person. Yes? No? Human beings, I conclude, are greedy creatures. Madhura greedy and yours truly, the very human one immediately added.. "I'll be completely satiated if he sings Poocho na kaise maine rain bitayi." But let me admit, the job was half done by the mere selection of this song.

A few songs later, Zafreen was summoned back to sing duets. Again confusion prevailed. There was no chair for her on stage. She, on her part, seemed ready to stand and sing as long as the old man kept his cool , but Manna da's temper was rising again. This time, thankfully the chair materialised before the steam engine blew it's whistle. They proceeded to sing a couple of duets like Shaam dhale jamuna kinare , Yeh raat bheegi bheegi, Aaja sanam madhur chandani , Masti bhara hai samma. Zafreen did a good job.

Once the duets were over. Mannda slipped effortlessly back into grumpy grandpa mode.. "Aap logon ko chai-wai nahin peeni?" he asked. "Bhai itni der se yeh musicians baja rahe hain. Give them a break. We will excuse ourselves for 10 minutes. Aap bhi jaaiye aur chai pee ke aaiye"

[Don't you guys want a tea break? These musicians have been playing for so long, give them a break. We will excuse ourselves for 10 minutes. You also go and get yourself a cup of tea]

Well with marching orders like that, did we have any choice but to disperse for tea?

So tea break it is. The after break session will follow in the next and concluding part.

Read the concluding part here : - 
In Pursuit of Manna Dey (Concluding) - Part 3

Links to some songs mentioned in this piece
Bhay Bhanjana, Vandana Sun Hamari - Film: Basant Bahar, Lyrics:Shailendra, Music:Shankar-Jaikishen
Chundariya Katati Jaaye Re - Film: Mother India, Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni, Music: Naushad (song starts after 1:34 minutes)
Phoolgendwa Na Maro - Film: Dooj Ka Chand, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, Music:Roshan
Jhanak Jhanak Tori Baaje - Film : Mere Huzoor, Lyrics: Shailendra, Music; Shankar-Jaikishen
Chale Ja Rahe Hain - Film: Kinare Kinare, Lyrics: Nyaya Sharma, Music: Jaidev

Complete Article

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