Kanan Devi

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Kanan Devi
Kanan Devi (1930s).jpg
Kanan Devi in the 1930s
Born(1916-04-22)22 April 1916
Died17 July 1992(1992-07-17) (aged 76)

Kanan Devi (22 April 1916 – 17 July 1992) was an Indian actress and singer.[1] She was among the early singing stars of Indian cinema, and is credited popularly as the first star of Bengali cinema. Her singing style, usually in rapid tempo, was used instrumentally in some of the biggest hits of New Theatres, Kolkata.


Kanan was born on 22 April 1916 in Howrah, West Bengal. In her autobiography, entitled "Sabaray Ami Nami", Kanan has observed that those she considered as her parents were Ratan Chandra Das and Rajobala, who lived together. After the death of her adoptive father, Ratan Chandra Das, young Kanan and Rajobala were simply left to fend for themselves. Her life story is a true tale of rags to riches. Some say she did her schooling (not completed) from Howrah's St. Agnes' Convent School.

A well wisher, Tulsi Banerji, whom she called Kaka babu, introduced Kanan when she was only ten to Madan Theatres/Jyoti Studios, where she was cast in a small role in Jaidev (1926), followed by Shankaracharya in 1927. She was known as Kanan Bala.[1]

Kanan did at least five films with Madan Theatres productions, (1926–1932) Rishir Prem (1931), Jorebarat (1931), Vishnu Maya (1932) and Prahlad, playing even male leads in the last two.

She then worked with Radha Films from 1933 to 1936, then with New Theatres from 1937 to 1941, with MP Productions 1942 to 1948 and finally set up her own label Shrimati Pictures, 1949 to 1965.

From silent film roles as a child artist, Kanan made the successful transition into talkie films and was noticed with Jorebarat (1931), Manomoyee Girls School, Khooni Kaun and Maa (1934).

Her films with Jyotish Bannerjee included Joydev (1926), Rishir Prem (1931), Jorebarat (1931), Vishnumaya (1932), Kantahaar (1935) and Manomoyee Girls School (1935). Her films with Prafulla Ghosh were Sree Gouranga (1933), Char Darvesh (1933), Maa (1934) and Hari Bhakti. Others with Radha Film Company were Kanthahar (1935), Krishna Sudama (1936), Bishabriksha (1936) and Char Darvesh (1933).

New Theatres's P.C. Barua wanted her to play the lead in his Devdas (1935),[1] but, due to contractual reasons with Radha, she could not act in the film, a factor she regretted all her life.

The films of New Theatres, owned by Biren Sircar, established her as a superhit singer and her films ran to packed audiences.[2] She had to travel under constant protection, given her huge fan following. During her years with New Theatres, Calcutta from 1937, she played the lead in Barua's Mukti (1937), which was perhaps her finest performance, making her the studio's top star. Apart from Mukti, she did Vidyapati, Saathi (1938), Street Singer (1938), Sapera (1939), Jawani Ki Reet (1939), Parajay (1939), Abhinetri (1940), Lagan (1941), Parichay (1941) and Jawab (1942). She became known as Kanan Devi from this point.

She came in contact with the music maestro Rai Chand Boral, who not only coached and familiarized her in the Hindi accent, but experimented with many classical Western and Indian forms in his music. She received her initial musical training under Alla Rakha. She was employed as a singer at the Megaphone Gramaphone Company, receiving further training under Bhishmadev Chatterjee. She later learnt Rabindra Sangeet under Anadi Dastidar. Kanan remained the top star of New Theatres until she resigned her contract in 1941 and began to freelance in Bengali and Hindi films.

She worked with the biggest names in Indian cinema with K. L. Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Pramathesh Ch Barua (P.C. Barua, maker of film Devdas), Pahari Sanyal, Chabi Biswas and Ashok Kumar.

M.P. Productions's Jawaab was perhaps her biggest hit. Her song Duniya Yeh Duniya, Hai Toofan Mail was well received. She repeated the same feat in Hospital (1943), Banphool (1945) and Rajlakshmi (1946). Kanan Devi's last Hindi film was Chandrashekhar (1948), with Ashok Kumar.

Kanan turned producer with Shrimati Pictures in 1949 and later launched the Sabyasachi Collective with the film Ananya (1949). Her own productions were mainly based on the stories of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay.

Kanan married Ashok Maitra in December 1940. He was the son of the staunch Brahmo Samaj educationist Heramba Chandra Maitra. Despite their best intentions, the marriage could not withstand the severe condemnation by the then conservative society. Even the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who sent a token gift to the married couple received scathing criticism for blessing the couple. The main issue was that Kanan was not expected to be working in films after her marriage. She filed for divorce in 1945. Despite the pain of the divorce, Kanan expressed her immense gratitude towards her first husband for giving her social recognition through marriage for the first time in her life. To Kanan's credit, she maintained excellent relations with Rani Mahanalobis, sister to Ashok Maitra and her husband, the famous social scientist P.C. Mahanalobis and with Kusumkumari Devi, Ashok Maitra's mother, even after the marriage was severed.

Kanan married Haridas Bhattacharjee around 1949. Haridas Bhattacharjee was then ADC to the Governor of Bengal. He eventually left the naval service to join Kanan in her filmmaking venture and became a competent director. While raising their son Siddharth in Calcutta, she also formed and worked as the president of Mahila Shilpi Mahal, an organization to help senior female artists and other charitable and community causes, including those for the betterment of Bengali cinema.

Kanan Devi, as the first lady of the Bengali screen, received many honours for her contribution to Indian cinema. An honorary degree from Vishwabharati, the Padma Shree in 1968 and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1976.

She died on 17 July 1992 in Bellevue Clinic, Calcutta when she was around seventy-six years of age.


Devi on a 2011 stamp of India

She was awarded the Padma Shri Award in 1968. She was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1976. A postage stamp, bearing Kanan's likeness, was released to honour her by India's Ministry of State for Communication and Information Technology in February 2011.



Year Film Name Director Co-star Remarks
1926 Joydev Jyotish Bannerji Actor
1927 Shankaracharya D.G. Kali Prasad
1931 Rishir Prem Jyotish Bannerji Actor
1931 Jore Barat Jyotish Bannerji Actor Short
1932 Bishnumaya Jyotish Bandyopadhyay Actor
1932 Prahlad Priyanath Ganguly Actor
1932 Vishnu Maya Jyotish Bannerji Actor
1933 Sree Gouranga Prafulla Ghosh Actor
1933 Char Darvesh Prafulla Ghosh Actor Fantasy
1934 Maa Prafulla Ghosh Actor
1934 Hari Bhakti Prafulla Ghosh Actor
1935 Kanthahaar Jyotish Bannerji Actor
1935 Manmoyee Girls School Jyotish Bannerji Actor
1935 Basabdatta Satish Dasgupta Actor
1936 Bishabriksha Phani Burma Actor
1936 Krishna Sudama Phani Barma Actor
1936 Khooni Kaun G. R. Sethi Actor
1936 Maa Prafulla Ghosh Actor
1937 Vidyapati Debaki Bose Actor
1937 Mukti Pramathesh Chandra Barua Actor
1937 Vidyapati in Hindi Debaki Bose Actor
1937 Bidyapati (Bengali) Debaki Bose Actor
1938 Sathi Phani Majumdar Actor
1938 Street Singer Phani Majumdar Actor
1939 Sapera Debaki Bose Actor
1939 Sapurey Debaki Bose Actor
1940 Jawani-Ki-Reet Hemchandra Chunder Actor
1940 Parajay Hemchandra Chunder Actor
1940 Haar Jeet Amar Mullick Actor
1940 Abhinetri Amar Mullick Actor
1941 Parichay Nitin Bose Actor
1941 Lagan Nitin Bose Actor
1942 Shesh Uttar Pramathesh Chandra Barua Actor
1942 Jawab Pramathesh Chandra Barua Actor
1943 Jogajog Sushil Majumdar Actor
1943 Jogajog Sushil Majumdar Actor
1944 Bideshini Premendra Mitra Actor
1945 Path Bendhe Dilo Premendra Mitra Actor
1945 Banphool Niren Lahiri Actor
1945 Raj Lakshmi Premendra Mitra Actor
1946 Tumi Aar Aami Apurba Kumar Mitra Actor
1946 Krishna Leela Debaki Bose Actor
1946 Arabian Nights Niren Lahiri Actor
1947 Chandrasekhar Debaki Bose Actor
1947 Faisla Apurba Kumar Mitra Actor
1948 Bankalekha Chitta Bose Actor
1948 Anirban Soumyen Mukherjee Actor
1949 Ananya Sabyasachi Actor
1949 Anuradha Pranab Roy Actor
1950 Mej Didi Ajay Kar Actor
1952 Darpachurna Actor
1954 Nababidhan Haridas Bhattacharya Actor
1955 Debatra Haridas Bhattacharya Actor



Andhare Alo

Haridas Bhattacharya

Haridas Bhattacharya




Rajlakshmi O Srikanta

Indranath Srikanta O Annadadid

Abhay O Srikantai

Haridas Bhattacharya

Haridas Bhattacharya

Haridas Bhattacharya


Playback singer[edit]

  1. Asha (1956) (playback singer)
  2. Debatra (1955) (playback singer)
  3. Naba Bidhan (1954) (playback singer)
  4. Darpachurna (1952) (playback singer)
  5. Mejdidi (1950) (playback singer)
  6. Ananya (1949) (playback singer)
  7. Anirban (1948) (playback singer)
  8. Bankalekha (1948) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. The Crooked Writing
  9. Faisla (1947) (playback singer)
  10. Chandrashekhar (1947) (playback singer)
  11. Arabian Nights (1946) (playback singer)
  12. Krishna Leela (1946) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. Radha Krishna Prem ... a.k.a. The Story of Lord Krishna
  13. Tum Aur Main (1946) (playback singer)
  14. Tumi Aar Aami (1946) (playback singer)
  15. Ban Phool (1945) (playback singer)
  16. Path Bendhe Dilo (1945) (playback singer)
  17. Rajlaxmi (1945) (playback singer)
  18. Bideshini (1944) (playback singer)
  19. Jogajog (1943) (playback singer)
  20. Jawab (1942) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. Shesh Uttar (India: Bengali title) ... a.k.a. The Last Reply
  21. Lagan (1941) (playback singer)
  22. Parichay (1941) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. Acquaintance ... a.k.a. Marriage
  23. Abhinetri (1940) (playback singer)
  24. Haar Jeet (1940) (playback singer)
  25. Jawani Ki Reet (1939) (playback singer)
  26. Parajay (1939) (playback singer)
  27. Sapera (1939) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. The Snake-Charmer (India: English title)
  28. Sapurey (1939) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. The Snake-Charmer (India: English title)
  29. Bidyapati (1937) (playback singer)
  30. Mukti (1937/I) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. Freedom ... a.k.a. The Liberation of the Soul
  31. Mukti (1937/II) (playback singer)
  32. Vidyapati (1937) (playback singer)
  33. Bishabriksha (1936) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. The Poison Tree
  34. Krishna Sudama (1936) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. Krishna and Sudama
  35. Manmoyee Girls School (1935) (playback singer)
  36. Maa (1934) (playback singer)
  37. Char Darvesh (1933) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. Merchant of Arabia (India: English title)
  38. Vishnumaya (1932) (playback singer) ... a.k.a. Doings of Lord Vishnu
  39. Jore Barat (1931) (playback singer)
  40. Prahlad (1931/I) (playback singer)


  1. Abhaya O Srikanta (1965) (producer)
  2. Indranath Srikanta O Annadadidi (1959) (producer)
  3. Rajlakshmi O Srikanta (1958) (producer)
  4. Andhare Alo (1957) (producer)
  5. Asha (1956) (producer)
  6. Debatra (1955) (producer)
  7. Naba Bidhan (1954) (producer)
  8. Darpachurna (1952) (producer)
  9. Mejdidi (1950) (producer)
  10. Ananya (1949) (producer)
  11. Bamuner Meye (1949) (producer)


  1. ^ a b c Rajadhyaksha, Ashish; Willemen, Paul; Professor of Critical Studies Paul Willemen (10 July 2014). Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. Routledge. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-135-94318-9. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  2. ^ Ganesh Anantharaman (January 2008). Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song. Penguin Books India. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-0-14-306340-7. Retrieved 28 February 2015.

External links[edit]