Manobendra Mukherjee – the versatile legend of Bengali modern song
The 50s, 60s and 70s constitute the period of time when Bengali modern songs reached its peak of excellence and is called the Golden age of Bengali Adhunik Gaan. Bengal had a very unique collection of Basic discs which inspired composers and lyricists to create innumerable treasure of creative music during the age which were independent creations. Bengali modern songs were in fact more popular than film songs composed in the Bengali cinema which also reached it level of excellence in the 50s and 60s.
Manobendra Mukherjee, the most stylish Classical singer immerged in the golden age, when Bengali modern songs were also glorified by outstanding performance of Dhanonjoy Bhattacharya, Manna Dey, Satinath Mukherjee, Akhil Bandhu Ghosh to name a few. Being inspired by uncle Sidheshwar Mukherjee and Ratneswar Mukherjee, Manobendra shocked the listeners with his first basic disc in 1953, titled “Naichondon Lekha Sriradhar chokhe nai nai shemorai.” It was based on kirtanango andaz, and Manobendra was trained towards Kirtans, Bhajans and Bhaktigeeti from the very early childhood.
Bengali modern song was on the verge of modernisation at that age, when Manobendra came up with his romantic creation “Emni kore porbe mone baki jiban dhore.” The music was composed by Manobendra himself and the lyrics were written by Shyamal Gupta. At the same time Manobendra made a debue in the film arena being the music director for Uttamkumar’s film Chapadangar Bou, 1954, where the songs were written by Tara Shankar Banerjee. Manobendra brought in the flavour of Mahadev’s Gajon, that are sung in villages in Bengal with the song “shibo he shibo he”.
Within short period of time, Manobendra attracted the attention of the leading lyricists and music composers of Bengal , namely Salil Chowdhury, Sudhin Dasgupta, Robin Chatterji, Anol Chatterji, Nochiketa Ghosh, Probir Mojumdar, Gyan Prakash Ghosh, Abhijeet Banerjee, and others. His successful songs include “Ami Parini bijhite parini” composed by Salil Chowdhury, “Mayur Konthi Ratero nile” by Sudhin Dasgupta, “Jodi Amake Dekho Tumi Udashi,” by Abhijit Banerjee, “Ei neel neel jal sagore” by Probir Majumdar, “ birohini chirobirohini” by Himangshu Dutta, “O amar chandro mallika” by Nochiketa Ghosh, “Tomar Pother Prante Moner monideep jele rekhechi”, by Satinath Mukherjee.
In the late 50s, some of Manobendra’s own composition “ami eto je tomay bhalo besechi”, 1958, “Sei bhalo ei bosonto noy”, 1960, “Bhalo lagena tumi na ele” became everlasting hits. Even in Mohishashur Mordini, played in All India Radio, on Mohalaya, every year, Manobendra’s song “tobo achinto” created a Godly atmosphere accompanied by Birendra Bhodro’s Strotyopath.
In 1958, Robin Chatterji composed music for the film Lalu Bhulu, the story of a blind and a handicapped boy. The film stormed the Bengali silver screen, and Manobendra brought tears in the eyes of the audience with the songs “ Jar Hiya akasher nil nilimay”, “Dukho amar Shesh kore dao probhu,” “Surjo tomar Protom toron kholo”, “dukher pothe naali jodi”, “Ei pranjharona jaglo”. The immortal songs were written by Sailen Ray.
Manobendra had expertise in Toppa, thumri, Hindustani classical, bhajans, shyam sangeet, najrul geeti and other types of songs. It helped him to adorn Bengali modern songs with all these flavour. Besides the lyrics in his songs used to have a dynamic dimention, example “seto naam dhore konodin dakeni amay”, “barosha klanto o duti nayan niye”. He did sing pure classical numbers like “Kotoje soyechi betha, abhimanini”, composed by classical singer Chinmoy Lahiri, “Rimjhim baje monjiro kaar” composed by himself, “Bare Bare ke jeno dake”, composed by Sailen Mukherjee.
In the film Nilachole Mahaprobhu, 1958, composer Raichand Boral invited Manobendra to sing kirtans of Lord Chaitanya, the songs “jagannath jagat bandhu” and other songs have made the listeners spellbound. Monbendra also did sing Folk song titled Bhaitayali in Uttamkumar’s film Nabojanmo, 1958, where the noted song include “ore mon majhi”. Manobendra composed music in a number of Bengali films including Mayamrigo, 1960, Badhu, 1962, Jato Mat Tato Path, Joy Jayanti, 1970, Godhuli Belay, 1965, Sudur niharika, 1978, etc.
In the 1970s, also Manobendra had sung notable songs like “Ei Ganga ei Padda’, 1970, “Halka megher palki”, “Hajar jonom dhore”, “ei moushumi mon shudhu rong bodlai”, etc. In the 1980s Manobendra concentrated on Nazrul geeti and Bag bajarer gaan and there also he emerged as one of the greatest singer of all times. Due to Manobendra classical composers showed the courage of composing pure classical numbers in Bengali films like “Rajoni pohale sojoni kothay” by Anil Bagchi in the film Shashibabur Sangsar, 1960, “adhare” by Gyan Prokash Ghosh in the film Basant Bahar, 1958.
It is even difficult to ascertain whether Manobendra was a greater singer or greater music composer as there is hardly Bengali singer who did not sing a song composed by Manobendra, example being “mon bolche aaj sondhay” by Alpona Banerjee, “Gane gane ami je khuji tomay” by Supriti Ghosh, “sonali megher din” by Sandhya Mukherjee, “oi son son geroraj” by Hemanta Mukherjee, “Kemone janabo bolo e pranero bedona” by Shefali Chakraborty, etc.
It is a pity that Manobendra Mukherjee did not go to Bombay like many other Bengali singers and exhibited his versatile class of creativity in the All India arena where musical talents of other giants were exhibited. Manobendra’s immortal creations should be preserved in an archive for new generations to learn lessons relating to Hindustani classical music, innovations in terms of rhythm, taal, loy and grammer of kajri, tappa, nazrulgeeti, kirtans, bhajans, folk music and westernised creations.
 My father Ex chief Public Prosecutor, Bankshall Court, (Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, Kolkata) had interviewed Manobendra Mukherjee, a versatile classical singer having immortal records on bhajans, kirtans, nazrulgeeti, modern bengali songs, film songs and asked him to sing his first Bengali Modern Song “Naichondon Lekha, sriradhar chokhe, nai nai shemorai” before the crowd in a function held in Paikpara, Kolkata where Manobendra said it was his beginning of his musical journey and a song which was a blank verse without musical instruments. If that song could be heard minutely it can be realized that modern music is almost bankrupt. Aroti Mukherjee, the famous Bengali singer, also my father’s witness in a case instituted in Bankshall Court, in the anurodher asor, in all in Radio, said that her teenage was shaken up by Manobendra with the song “Naichondon Lekha” in 1953. In the same interview Manobendra Mukherjee told my father, the real starting point of compositions is classical background.
 Abhijeet Benerjee, the composer of the Manobendra’s song “Mukto jharar neiko kanya neiko motir har” was interviewed by my father Chitta Ranjan Chatterji, Ex-chief Public Prosecutor, Bankshall Court, North, where Abhijeet Banerjee said, Manobendra was probably the greatest romantic singer in Bengali modern songs that Bengal ever produced considering even Shyamal Mitra’s brilliance in folk music and Manna Dey’s classical touch. Hemanta Mukherjee was busy with film music as he was associated with Uttamkumar. Manobendra had very stylish pronunciation and his classical touch in the songs and improvisation with the tabla, tal, loy was of superlative class.
 Manobendra received Indira Gandhi award for composing best music in the film Joyjayanti, 1970, the Bengali version of Hollywood film Sound of Music.
 Manna Dey, the Musical giant of Indian music, said he found Manobendra’s composition in the film Sudur niharika, difficult to sing with its classical orientation. Manna Dey is probably one of India’s greatest classical singer who glorified Bollywood and tollywood music during the golden age.