Bengali cinema for the last 10 years, have relied on music composed by music directors of Bombay and singers of bollywood films. Mostly composers like Bappi Lahiri, Shantonu Moitra, and singers like Kumar Shanu, Babul Supriyo, Abhijeet are brought from Bombay and contribute for the Bengali cinema. There are Bengali composers like Jeet Ganguly but they also rely on the voices of Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam, Kunal Ganjaywala.
There was an age (the 50s and 60s) when Bengali film industry was self-sufficient and did not have to borrow singers from bollywood industry. Manobendra Mukherjee belonged to such an elite class who could sing any type of song ranging from pure classical numbers to folk songs, to nazrulgeeti, to westernized songs.
In 1954, Manobendra Mukherjee started his innings as music director in Bengali films with Uttam Kumar’s film Chapadangar Bou. He sang Mahadev’s gajon (a type of devotional song) titled “shibo he shibo he” which was picturised on Uttam Kumar and became very successful. Manobendra’s kirtan in Uttam Kumar’s film Shanjher Prodeep released in 1955 also became extremely popular.
Manobendra was brilliant by every musical standard in the film Nilachole Mahaprobhu which was based on the life of Lord Chaitanya. Composer Raichand Boral made Manobendra sing a number of kirtans including “jagannath jagatbacndhu” which became superhit. The film was released in 1957 and mesmerized the Bengali audience with cult songs. During that time composer Ghyan Prakash Ghosh used Manobendra Mukherjee for pure classical numbers like “andhare”. Bosonto Choudhury played the main role in the film. Noted composer Anil Bagchi experimented with classical numbers in Chabi Biswas’s epic film Shashibabur Sangsar. The song “rojoni pohale sojoni kothaye” was very successful and Bosonto Choudhury gave able lips on Manobendra’s song in the film.
In the mid-50s, composer Nochiketa Ghosh experimented with folk songs in the film Nabajanma. Uttam Kumar gave brilliant lips in Manobendra’s song titled “ore monmajhi” which was based on Bengali folk song titled bhatiayali. Manobendra was sublime in Bosonto Choudhury’s film Kostipathor. The song “kal se phakir aaj se raha” showed Manobendra’s skills in singing light songs.
In the 60s Manobendra stormed Bengali films as a versatile composer. All the songs composed in Biswajeet’s film Mayamrigo became superhit, including Manobendra’s own song “metidiamerikar kabyo”, “bidhire”, Hemanta Mukherjee’s song “ore son son geroraj”, Sandhya Mukherjee’s song “bok bok bok bokum bokum payera”.
Similarly all the songs composed by Manobendra Mukherjee in Chabi Biswas’s legendary film Badhu, were well appreciated by the learned audience including Manobendra’s own kirtan “gunimon kalorupe”, Sandhya Mukherjee’s song “sonali megher din”, etc. Manobendra’s composition in the film Godhuli Belai was equally brilliant with the title song “godhuli belai” picturised on Biswajeet.
Probably Joy Joyanti, marked the best creation of Manobendra Mukherjee which fetched him Indira Gandhi award for remarkable music composition. The film was based on Hollywood film Sound of Music. Sandhya Mukherjee’s songs in the film “amader chuti chuti”, “kiholo karo je mukhe kotha phote na”, etc., were landmarks in Bengali film music.
Besides, many composers had given their most dynamic compositions to Manobendra. The best example can be the film Lalu Bhulu. The film was released in 1958. Lyricist Sailen Roy and composer Robin Chatterji gave probably the best songs ever in the film. All the songs sung by Manobendra mukherjee like “ei pranjhorona jaglo”, “akash mor alloy decho bhore”, “jar hiya akasher neel nilimai”, “dukkho amar shesh kore dao probhu”, “dukher pothe naamli Jodi”, etc., had class, variety and depicted the helplessness of two blind and handicapped boys who sang songs to earn their livelihood. In fact Lalu Bhulu’s songs were inspiration for lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri, composer Laxmikant Pyarellal and singer Mohammad Rafi, who created songs of their lifetime in the film Dosti which was the hindi adaptation of Bengali film Lalubhulu.
Some of Manobendra’s songs like “dole dodul dole jhulona” in Uttam Kumar’s film Deya Neya are still popular even today. Manobendra’s composition in films like Joto Mot Tato Poth, Sudur Niharika, Sadhok Bamakhepa, caught both the classical base and devotional flavor of Bengali music. It is a pity that Manobendra Mukherjee, with all his classical talent and depth, did not go to bollywood like Manna Dey, otherwise Bengal could have been represented on a larger scale by the meritorious singer and composer whose style and elegance in modern songs was compared with stylish andaz of Australian batsman Neil Harvey. Bengali films these days lack the brilliance of classical singers and composers like Manobendra Mukherjee who are born once in a decade. The songs and the films should be restored for their aesthetic value. The songs should be unearthed and publicly played as well.