Many female artists of the Hindi Film Industry, after reaching the heights of popularity suddenly chose to give up flourishing careers and settle down to domesticity after marriage. One of these names is that of Manju who is probably the only singer-actress amongst us today who started her career in the 1930s. Manju who now stays with her son's family in South Bombay, started her career with the Hindi-Marathi Bilingual Aadmi (Maanus in Marathi) in 1939. Unfortunately for us, She bid farewell to the world of films merely six years later after Rattan(1944) post-marriage. In those days the voices like Noorjehan, Shamshad Begum, Zohrabai Amablewali and Amirbai Karnataki were popular. Lata Mangeshkar cemented her place in their presence with her sweet voice and changed many traditions of hindi filmdom. Manju who quit years before Lata came on the scene was also an aberration in those times. Had She chosen to continue in Cinema perhaps playback singing would have been different in later times. Manju was born in 1928 in Nagpur. Her father Gangaram Bapu was a popular Marathi Playwright-singer and an active member of Anand Vikas Sangeet Naatak Mandli. Manju ji recalls, "When my father got a job in Prabhat Films we shifted to Pune. I had a sister Vijaymala and two brothers, Traybak and Balakram. We siblings never went to a school formally and studied at home. Simultaneously, I started learning Hindustani Classical Music from Prabhat Studio's composer Keshawrao Bhole. It was during this time that I acted in the film Aadmi as a child-artist. At that time playback singing had not gained much ground and actors had to sing for themselves onscreen. I sang a song "Main Jaan Gayi Jaan Gayi Tumhare Mann Ki Baat" which was also picturised on myself. I was merely 11 years old at that time.".
Manju also sang a song in the movie's Marathi version Maanus. She only acted in Prabhat's movie Sant Jyaneshwar also. Both movies were released in 1939 and She was introduced by the name Manju instead of her real name, Manjula. Manju recalls, "During my stay at Prabhat I learnt many things from stalwarts like Shekh Fatehlal, Sitaram Kulkarni, Baburao Painter and V Shantaram. First among those was punctuality. Freelancing was rare in those days and all artists and technicians worked on monthly wages for a particular studio or film company. As I was an employee of Prabhat Films, I got the opportunity to sing songs for films like Nayi Kahani, Chaand and Ram Shastri of the same banner. Chaand(1944) also saw the debuts of not just the first composer duo Husnlal - Bhagatram but also that of actress Begum Para. By this time, playback singing was fairly widespread and this film saw me sing two songs, Do Dilon Ko Yeh Duniya Milne Hi Nahin Deti and Aayi Aayi Musibat Aayi which were picturised on my younger brother Balakram. I also sang a duet Watan Se Chala Hai Watan Ka Sipahi with G.M. Durrani for this movie." The first song Do Dilon Ko Yeh Duniya was the biggest hit of the movie but other songs were also popular. Here are the three songs for your enjoyment:-
"I sang for Baby Shakuntala in the movie Ramshastri(1944) in the song Kaise Kheloon Main Khel Nahin Bhaaye", says Manju. Manju ji recalls that the song was sung with Anant Marathe. According to Geet Kosh, this song has Anant Marathe and Baby Shakuntala (which maybe because records had names of artists) but this version below seems to be a solo. Someone can confirm whether the film or record version is a duet.
According to Geet Kosh, She sang two other songs for the movie also, Karo Humen Pranaam Karo Ji (with chorus) and a duet, Oh Mere Bhagwan Ab To Humse Raha Na Jaaye with Neenu Majumdar and chorus.
Manju says,"At that time, I was neither too small nor had I become an adult, hence acting opportunities for me then were limited. As far as singing was concerned, the rehearsals were done with me in Pune first and then the same songs would get recorded in the voices of Shamshad Begum or Rajkumari in Bombay. The only songs that were coming to me were the residual ones meant to be picturised on children. In this scenario of despair and anxiety, my anger towards Prabhat Films was building up but I was bound by the terms of my contract. Actor B Nadurekar was familiar with my dilemma since the time he came to Pune in connection with the movie Nai Kahani.One day he called me to Mumbai in connection with a screen test for a film being made by Faazli brothers and introduced me to Mazhar Khan. When Baburao came to know about this, Baburao threatening legal action, citing the terms of my contract with Prabhat, got my agreement with Faazli brothers terminated. Producer Chimanbhai Desai also wanted me for his next film. He met Baburao in his office and somehow convinced him. This movie, Gaali which released in 1944, became my first film outside the banner of Prabhat Films. It was made under the banner of N.R. Desai Productions, Mumbai and was directed by R.S. Chaudhary. The songs were composed by Pt Hanuman Prasad and Sajjad Hussain with Karan Diwan, Nirmala, Yakub, Kanhaiyalal and Jillobai as the starcast. I sang some songs for this movie along with starring in it. One of these songs, Holi Main Kheloongi Un Sang Dat Ke was picturised on me." Manju had become free from the contract of Prabhat Films by then. Producer Gemini Diwan, elder brother of Gaali's hero Karan Diwan was producing a film called Rattan. It was being directed by M Sadiq and the lead roles were to be played by Karan Diwan and Swarnlata. Manju got the role of the sister of the film's second hero Wasti. The music of the movie was composed by composer Naushad. The ten songs of the movie like "Ankhiyan Mila Ke Jiya Bharma Ke Chale Nahin Jaana", "Sawan Ke Baadalon Unse Yeh Ja Kaho", "Rumjhum Barse Badarwa Mast Ghatayen Chhayi", "Oh Jaane waale balamwa laut ke aa", "Mil Ke Bichhad Gayi Ankhiyaan", "Jab Tum Hi Chale Pardes Laga Ke Thes" which were sung by singers including Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki, Manju, Karan Diwan and Shyam Kumar became extremely popular. Their popularity in 1944 can be gauged from the fact that for this movie which was made for an investment of merely 80000 rupees, Gemini Diwan earned Rs 3,50,000 just from the royalty for songs of the movie. This movie proved to be the first hit of the career of composer Naushad. Manju sang two solos, "Angdaai Teri Hai Bahaana, Saaf Keh Do Humen" and "Jhoothe Hain Sab Sapne Suhane which were also picturised on her.
The super duper success of Rattan benefited Manju also. She got many offers to sing and act. However, It proved to be her last film. Manju tells us, "I got married immediately after the film released to Karan Diwan and I had to quit the industry since my mother-in-law did not want her daughter-in-law to act in films. It was due to this reason that I was forced to cancel all films singed by me which included the Noorjehan starrer Zeenat(1946) which was directed by her Producer-Director husband Shaukat Hussain Rizwi." The Diwan family originally belonged to Gujranwala. Karan had acted with Ragini and Manorama in the Lahore made Punjabi movie, Mera Maahi in 1941. B.R. Chopra who was working in Lahore as a film journalist at that time, sent Karan's photos to Devika Rani who called him to Mumbai. Unfortunately, Due to the tussle going on in Bombay Talkies at that time, She could not be of much help to him. He made himself busy teaching Actors-Actresses the art of Urdu Diction. The first film that he got in Mumbai was the C.M. Lohar directed movie School Master(1943) under banner of Art Pictures opposite Maya Banerjee. Of the three brothers, the eldest Bhishma Diwan had gone and settled in Kanpur while the other two, Gemini and the youngest Karan had come to Bombay. After Rattan, Gemini produced, Do Dil(1947) and Lahore(1949). He also produced the punjabi movie Chaman(1948). In future years, Karan acted in nearly three dozen movies including Duniya, Pardes, Dahej, Ek Nazar, Bahar, Teen Batti Chaar Raasta, Bahu, Musafirkhana, Chhoomantar, Chandan, Shaeed, Aamne Saamne, Jeene Ki Raah, Nadaan, Shehzada, Himalay Se Ooncha nad Kala Sona. In some of these later movies he played character roles. With the sudden death of Karan Diwan in 1979, Manju's little remaining contact with filmdom also got snapped off. Manju, the mother of three daughters and two sons is now 83 years old. She recently returned to Mumbai after a short visit to one of her daughters in Dehradun. Due to a sudden bout of ill-health, She was not able to meet her pre-schedules appointment with Anmol Fankaar. She informed us over the phone that after staying in Mumbai for a few days, She is proceeding to Pune (where her second son stays) to recuperate. She has promised to meet us once she is feeling better and interact with our readers in a video. We pray for her early restoration of health and are looking forward eagerly to meeting her.