Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Manohari Singh - The Living Legend

Hailed as a musical wizard, Manohari Singh has been enthralling music lovers for the past five decades writes Rajesh Subramanian.

He is to music what Sir Vivian Richards was to cricket - Incredibly talented and a Sheer delight. Manohari Singh or 'Manoharida' or simply 'Dada' as he is fondly addressed not only gets a standing ovation every time he performs but he captivates the listeners from the moment he picks up his favourite saxophone. In short this gifted musician, accomplished arranger and composer, who was recently conferred the Dada Phalke academy award, is undoubtedly a living legend.
Born in 1931 he is widely regarded as India's finest saxophone player and an awesome arranger. Manohari Singh who hails from a family of musicians elucidates that he use to watch his father and uncle play in music studios for films and in night-clubs and that was his training ground. After trying his hand at the English key flute, the clarinet and the mandolin he finally chose the saxophone as his forte. Starting off at a tender age at the prestigious Calcutta Symphony Orchestra he attracted a lot attention with his craft before joining the HMV (His Masters Voice) in Calcutta.
“The renowned Hungarian musician Joseph Newman who was impressed with my playing brought me to HMV. I was employed as a permanent musician from 1945 to 1952 with HMV”, divulges Manoharida. It was here that he met music director Salil Chaudhary, who gave him his first break in a Bengali song sung by Sandhya Mukherjee. “Salilda asked me to play a solo adlib on the key flute. I did as instructed and he was immensely pleased with me and instantly took a fancy for me. He became a close friend and guide”, informs dada.
Though he continued playing at the night club to supplement his income Manohari Singh secretly harboured the desire to come to Bombay, the Mecca of Hindi films, and try his luck. But since he had no contacts he curbed the feelings and remained in Calcutta. Post partition musical assignments in Calcutta dwindled while on the other hand the hindi film industry in Bombay flourished. Salil Chaudhary, who was moving to Bombay on the behest of film maker Bimal Roy, assured him that he would soon make arrangements.
In 1957 Basu Chakravarthy, Manohari Singh's friend and later musical partner, shifted to Bombay and a year later after his contract at the night club expired Manoharida too landed with dreams in his eyes. No sooner he landed in Bombay Salil Chaudhary took the initiative of introducing the young musician to the music directors who were ruling the roost.
“I am eternally grateful to Salilda. Though he didn't have much work then but he personally introduced me to composers like Anil Biswas, S D Burman, C Ramchandra, Madan Mohan, Naushadsaab, Roshan and Shankar Jaikishan and fortunately all responded positively”, says dada. His maiden break in Hindi films came under the baton of S D Burman in Sitaron Se Aage in 1958. It was here that he met Jaidev, Sumant Raj, Laxmikant of (Laxmikant Pyarelal) and a young R D Burman. However the turning point came with Salil Chaudhary's Maya in which he played the key flute and saxophone simultaneously in the Lata Mangeshkar classic 'Ja re ud ja re panchi'.
“Back then there was no punching technique and the song had to be recorded in a single take. Laxmikant was so thrilled with my playing the two instruments in one go that after the recording he gave me hundred rupees as his token of love”, beams Dada. Since then there has been no turning back for this genius who went on accomplishing one milestone to another.
In the coming years he lent his saxophone touch to innumerable compositions like Gata rahe mera dil, Aao huzoor, Tere mere sapne, Tumhe yaad hoga, Aaji rootkar tum, Dil tera diwana hai sanam, Achcha toh hum chalte hain, Janam janam ka sath hai, Raat akeli hai, Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera, Hai duniya usi ki, Roop tera mastana, Yeh jo mohabbat hai, Jaag dile diwana, O hansini, Tum aa gaye ho, Zuban pe dard, Yeh zameen ga rahi hai, Sagar Kinare among many others that feature his mellifluous saxophone piece.
However, the turning point of his career came when he started assisting music wizard R D Burman along with Basudev Chakravorthy, Right from Panchamda's first film 'Chote Nawab' till his swansong '1942 A Love Story' Manoharida has been the main music assistant and arranger. “It was the finest phase of my life. We created so many wonderful songs in films like Teesri Manzil, Aandhi, Amar Prem, Kinara, Khel Khel Mein, Sanam Teri Kasam, Rocky…”, beams Manoharida before adding, “Pancham was truly talented and working with him was a memorable experience.
He had immense faith in me and Basu and we always lived up to his expectations. I consider myself very fortunate to have been so closely associated with him. Together we created so many wonderful compositions and they are popular even today”, says the veteran with a twinkle in his eye.
Though he remained an integral part of R D Burman's musical team in the mid seventies he and late Basudev Chakravorty teamed as composers and scored music for films like Sabse Bada Rupaiya, Nargis, Chatpati. “We created some hummable songs and received modest success as composers”. He also has also to his credit an album titled 'Sax Appeal' containing saxophone renditions of various music tracks.
While others of his time have either taken a back seat or leading a sedentary life Manohari Singh is brimming with enthusiasm at the ripe age of eighty. Recently, he was bestowed the Dada Phalke Academy award for his valuable contribution to cine music. Last year he was conferred with OP Nayyar Award. “I am touched by the gesture and the love and affection showered on me by music fans”, he confides. He performs regularly on stage shows and receives a thunderous applause. “ I have a positive outlook in life and I firmly believe that one should keep doing what one does best and leave the rest to almighty ”, he quips with a smile.