interspersed with youtube videos (courtesy me)
Manohari Singh turned any Hindi film song into a duet. Capturing the 50-year journey of the man with the golden saxophone is Sudipta ChandaUsually musicians of yesteryears fail to find space in the media ~ the reason perhaps lies in their failure to be good ‘public relation officers’ for themselves. Manohari Singh’s saxophone has never failed to pep up Hindi songs or earn the respect of music directors. The saxophonist ~ known for his work in Guide, Chalte Chalte, Veer Zaara and numerous other films ~ is celebrating 50 years of being a part of the Indian music industry. The journey from the golden age of Hindi film music to Laage Raho Munnabhai has been a pleasant one, with some milestones being more memorable than the others.
After bringing him to Bombay in 1958, Salil Chowdhury introduced him to another legendary music composer ~ SD Burman, who gave him a break in Sitaron Se Aage. Singh never had the opportunity to look back. That year his work was heard in Madhumati (Salil Chowdhury had a soft corner for the saxophone and the flute).
Music director Jatin Pandit is lavish with his praises for Singh. “He is one of the finest musicians in the world. He can read notations as if it were his native language. There was hardly a song made after the late 1950s that didn’t feature him. He is a living example what can be achieved through hard work and god’s blessing.”
A long time back, during a show in Kolkata, Singh was performing at a concert attended by Naushad, SD Burman and Salil Chowdhury. The last named couldn’t check his emotions and went on to give Singh a break in Pasher Bari. One incident led to another.
Sabita Chowdhury says, “Salil gave him shelter in Mumbai and even introduced him to Burman dada.” He later joined Pancham. She adds, “Music runs in his blood. Salil used his mastery on the English flute and the saxophone as if it were a second voice. His musical instrument changes scales like the human voice. Listen to Jare Ud Jare Paanchhi.”
Out of a bagful of memorable incidents, Chowdhury picks one, “During the recording of Haalud Gandar Phool Salil had problems with his second flute player, who was supposed to play with Aloke Nath Dey. Manohari da was present and agreed to play on my song.” Eminent musicologist Ranabir Neogi says, “I consider Jare Ure Jare Paakhi a duet between Lata Mangeshkar and Manohari Singh.”
Beside Salil Chowdhury, SD Burman too offered Singh an extravagant platform to showcase his talent in umpteen songs ~ Raat Akeli Hai (Jewel Thief), Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, Tere Mere Sapne (Guide), Roop Tera Mastana (Aradhana), etc.
“The fact that I am six or seven years elder to Pancham, helped to nurture our bonding. It was easier to make suggestions to Pancham than approaching Burmanda (senior). From watching English films to discussing music, Pancham was my partner. I joined him on the background score of Bhoot Bungla and kept working with him till his last film,” says an emotional Manohari Singh.
Besides the saxophone and flute, Pancham brought out a unique feature in Singh. Remember the beautiful whistling in the prelude of Yeh Shaam Mastani or that in Yeh Dosti Hum Nehin? Both are the efforts of Singh. Try to recollect the song Hoga Tumse Pyara Kaun in Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai. A flute was used in the interlude.
“Once Pancham bought a musical instrument made out of bamboo from a shop near Metro Cinema in Calcutta. He asked me to play the instrument. The bamboo clarinet sounded quite different.”
Singh had a good run with fellow musician Basudev Chakraborty. They had a successful innings as the music director duo Basu-Manohari, music composer in Saabse Bada Rupaiya, Yaasmeen, Chatpati, besides a number of Bangla songs.
Some of Singh’s memorable numbers are Gulabi Ankhen (The Train), O Hasina Zulphonwale (Teesri Manzil), Hai Duniya Usiki (Kashmir Ki Kaali), Dil Jo Na Kehe Saka (Bheegee Raat), Mehbooba Mehbooba (Sholay), etc. In Bengal he left his mark in Taar Aar Por Nayee, Ek Boishakhe (Bilombito Loy), Bujhbe Na Keu Bujhbena (Kobita), Phoole Gandho Nei, Moner Anka Banka and Bandho Moner Duyaar (Mohonar Dikay).
Music director Viju Shah says, “He worked often with my father and uncle (Kalyanji-Anandji) and I can’t help but recall a memorable incident that took place during a recording session involving Asha Bhonsle.
“During recording a song, papa asked Manoharida to put on the headphone and fill the gaps with his sax. Without notations he did a brilliant job. He simply changed the outcome of the song and it became known as an Asha-Manohari duet.”
The golden age of music in the Hindi film industry involves music directors like Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, OP Nayyar, Roshan, Salil Chowdhury, Laxmi-Pyare, SD Burman, RD Burman and Jatin-Lalit (the duo entered the scene much later). Singh has worked with all of them. He has even worked with one of the best musicians of our era ~ Shantanu Moitra in Pareenita and Laage Raho Munnabhai.
Since Singh was born and brought up in West Bengal ~ starting his journey here ~ he will be felicitated by the Amit Kumar Fan Club on 27 November. Fifty years have gone by and hopefully many more are to come. This is truly the man with a golden saxophone.
(To celebrate Manohari Singh’s 50th anniversary in the music industry, visit Odyssey in south Calcutta on 27 December).
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