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KANAN DEVI (1916–1992)

Kanan Devi was an early silent film actor, and one of the first playback singers. She was born Kamala Dasi in Howrah, apparently an illegitimate child, and very poor. She made her debut at the age of ten in Joydeb (1926) for Jyoti Studios. Her name was changed to Kanan Bala. She worked for Radha Films under Jyotish Banerjee, and had a moderate success with Khooni Kaun and Maa (1934) after which she shifted to New Theatre Studios, where she was trained in all aspects of acting by Raichand Boral and P.C. Barua. She also learned singing under Ustad Allah Rakha and Bhishmadev Chatterjee, and once again she was renamed Kanan Devi. She later studied Rabindrasangeet under Anadi Dastidar. She offered outstanding performances in films like Mukti (1937) directed by P.C. Barua and Sapurey with eminent co-stars such as Pahari Sanyal. After she withdrew from New Theatre in 1941, she formed her own production unit, specializing in the stories of Sarat Chandra and churning out one success after another, including Hospital (1943), Banphool (1945), and Rajlakshmi (1946).

She moved to Bombay in 1948 which was the year of the last film she acted in, Chandrashekhar. After this she mainly produced films. She was also the founder of an association of female stars, the Mahila Shilpa Mahal, perhaps the first of its kind in India. Along with a D.Litt. from Rabindra Bharati University, she was honoured with the Padma Shri and the Dada Saheb Phalke Award by the government of India. Her first husband was Ashok Maitra, but this ended in divorce. Her second was Haridas Bhattacharya, with whom she had her only child, a son, Siddhartha Bhattacharya. She was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1976.
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