It’s a well-known fact that Mukesh was the preferred voice of Raj Kapoor when it came to playback singing. Mukesh has indeed recorded some wonderful songs for Raj Kapoor and the combination of Raj Kapoor, Mukesh, Shailendra/Hasrat Jaipuri (lyricists) and Shankar-Jaikishan (music composers) have produced some immortal songs filmed on Raj Kapoor. However, Manna Dey has also sung some iconic numbers for Raj Kapoor. Here are some stories behind a few of them.
Shree 420 (“Cheat”) was released in 1955. Produced by Raj Kapoor and starring him in the lead role, it followed other memorable RK movies “Aag” (“Fire”, 1948), “Barsaat” (“Rain”, 1949), “Awaara” (“Vagrant”, 1951) and “Aah” (“Sigh”, 1953). All these movies had Mukesh providing playback for Raj Kapoor and the soundtracks of these movies went on to become hits. Given this, Raj Kapoor expected Mukesh to provide playback for him for “Shree 420” but there was a problem.
Raju Bharatan in “A Journey Down Melody Lane” writes that after Mukesh had recorded a couple of songs for “Shree 420”, Raj Kapoor was flabbergasted when Mukesh told him that he could not record any further songs for him. Mukesh had signed up to act in “Mashuqa” (“Lover”) and the contract forbade him from providing playback to any other actor until his movie was completed. And so, Manna Dey recorded “Dil Ka Haal Sune Dilwaala” and “Pyaar Hua Iqrar Hua” for Raj Kapoor, Both went on to become iconic numbers from that movie. Unfortunately for Mukesh, “Mashuqa” took a long time to complete and when it did, it ran only for a short time in Bombay and was considered a flop. Interestingly, “Mashuqa” was released in 1953, so the songs for “Shree 420” were probably recorded prior to that, even though the movie was eventually released in 1955.
Inspired by “It Happened One Night” (Clark Gable/Claudette Colbert, 1934), “Chori Chori” (“Stealthily”, 1956) starred Raj Kapoor and Nargis but was not an RK production. The movie and the soundtrack went on to become major hits and one song in particular “Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi” sung by Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar is still a popular song. In an interview, Manna Dey mentions that on the day of the recording, the producer of the movie turned up at the studio and in Manna Dey’s presence, stated that he wanted another singer to sing the song in lieu of Manna Dey. Manna Dey did not identify the singer, Wikipedia lists the producer as L.B. Lachman but an article on Rediff claims the person in question was Avichi Meiyappan founder of AVM studios and that he wanted Mukesh to record the number. Manna Dey says that Shankar stood up for him and said that he would walk out of the movie if Manna Dey was not allowed to record the song. Shankar/Jaikishan could make movies run solely on the strength of their music. The producer backed down and Manna Dey went on to record what is now a classic. “Chori Chori” incidentally did not feature even a single number by Mukesh, I wonder if these songs were also recorded prior to 1953 but given the report on Rediff that the producer wanted Mukesh to record the song, that may not be the case.
“Mera Naam Joker” (“My name is Joker”, 1970) was Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus. With a running time of almost 4 hours and a star-studded cast, the movie unfortunately flopped in India but went on to become a major success in the Soviet Union. Mukesh provided the playback music for most of Raj Kapoor’s songs in this movie but Manna Dey provided the playback for “Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo”. Manna Dey relates that Shankar chose him because he wanted a “Russian tilt” to the song by which he meant he wanted an almost martial style for the song. Raj Kapoor acted out the song for Manna Dey prior to recording and then continued to mime during the recording and Manna Dey says he sang the song trying to match Raj Kapoor. After the recording, Raj Kapoor’s son, Randhir Kapoor reportedly joked that Manna Dey was in fine form as this was an atypical Manna Dey number. The lyrics of the songs of “Mera Naam Joker” are poignant and while the movie flopped at its release, it has now attained cult status.
All wonderful songs and with the exception of the last one, we might not have heard them in Manna Dey’s voice if circumstances had allowed the preferred singers to record the songs. It’s hard to imagine a singer of Manna Dey’s caliber ever being the second choice for any song, but when it comes to these specific songs, I can’t imagine them being rendered by anyone else.