Sunday, February 18, 2018
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Kanan Devi, the legendary singer-cum-actress of New Theatres and M.P.Productions passed away on July 17, 1992 . She was a legend , the first adorable singing star who sang beautifully and acted beautifully too. Her fans, spread all over the world, are still there in large numbers although she belonged to a generation that has been receding away gradually.

Kanan Devi belonged to a generation that was much before my time. As a toddler I had enjoyed her songs. But whenever I hear Kanan’s songs they create a strange bit of feeling inside me. They remind me of childhood nostalgia. When I listen to the song, ‘Ban mein bhi jo mehke phool, roop suhana hi ho ga’, I am reminded of my eldest sister’s friends who were then in college and who would sing this song in chorus in Karachi. When I listen to ‘Duniya toofan mail’ I recall my school days. We would make a line , holding each other’s shirt and then move forward like a train, singing loudly, ‘Duniya toofan mail…’ and then give those ‘phuk..phuk..phuk sound and also blow a loud whistle. It is that which I remember. Film ‘Jawab’ was showing in the Light House cinema hall of Karachi. I remember seeing the pictures published in the cinema columns of ‘The Sind Observer’ which we used to subscribe to. But the song that haunts me today the most is ‘Ai chand chip na jaana’.

When I listen and enjoy Kanan’s songs, their beauty is enhanced by the revival of the personal memories associated with her songs.
Kanan was born in 1916. She began her career at 10 in films by calling herself Kanan Bala. When she joined New Theatres at the age of 21, she became Kanan Devi from Kanan Bala. And her first film was Mukti opposite P.C.Barua. From this film I love her song: ‘Kaisa ujarra chaman khushi ka, kaisa naseeba phoot gaya’.I have a memory associated with it. I was studying in Cambridge School, Daryaganj Delhi and staying in their Kindergarten hostel. Once the wiring needed an electrician’s attention. So an old man with a young apprentice came to set things right. The young man’s duty was to hold the ladder, the wire and so on. This young man had a melodious voice. He kept on singing this song the whole afternoon. And he did so with such a deep feeling that I cannot forget either his face or the song. Kanan’s version I heard much later.
Considering the fact that this was her first film, her Urdu pronunciation was excellent. Mukti had another song by Kanan which keeps on ringing in my ears:‘Na jaane kya hai jee ka raaz’.After ‘Mukti’ which was quite successful, she got a chance to work in a major film, ‘Vidyapati’ regarded as a classic.. Prithviraj was one of the co-stars in this film. Two songs of this film by Kanan became big hits- ‘Doley hriday ki naiya’and ‘More angina mein aye aali, main chaal chalun maywari’.
There were some more songs by Kanan in Vidyapati, such as, ‘’Dekhat hai ab baatt tihari’, ‘Ambua ki dali’, and ‘Hamari nagaria mein…’ K.C.Dey also featured in a song or two.
Kanan’s superb film was ‘Street Singer’ in which she featured with the legendary K.L.Saigal. The film is remembered for Saigal’s ‘Babul mora’. But Kanan sings this song in the film too. However the tune was different. It is only towards the end when she stops the departing Saigal and he does not stop, she wins him over by singing ‘Babul mora’ in the tune in which he sang it
Incidentally Saigal and Kanan sang two duets in the movie, one was, ‘Sanwariya prem ki bansari bajao’.This was a treat to the ears. Unfortunately, the duets could be heard only in the film and not on discs. This was because Kanan was bound in a contract with Megaphone. She could not sing for any other gramophne company. And Saigal was pledged with Hindustan Recording company. Hence we could never hear them together on the discs. But copyright lasts for a maximum period of fifty years. There should be no obstacle now to the release of the disc by lifting the songs from the sound-track of that film. The CD of film ‘Street Singer’ I presume is available.
Kanan sang two solos on discs of ‘Street Singer’. One was ‘Lachmi soorat daras dikhao’and the other was‘preetam se preet’.Kanan acted in several other New Theatres films like ‘Sapera’, ‘Parichay’. But from the point of view of music, I am tempted to recall her film, “Jawani ki reet’ in which a few songs were hits. One was ‘Chale pawan har soo’. The other was,’Loot liyo man dheer’. But my favorite was,‘Ban mein bhi jo mehke phool roop suhana hi ho ga, Bhanwra jitni dur se bhi ho laut ke aana hi ho ga’.
Her last film with New Theatres was ‘Lagan’(1941) with K.L.Saigal. After that she parted company with New Theatres and shifted to M.P.Productions where Kamal Dasgupta became her music director. Kamal Dasgupta was a big name already , having composed a good many hits for HMV featuring Juthika Roy whose Bhajans were a rage including a few as duets with Kamal himself. The first film of M.P.Productions was ‘Jawab’ starring Kanan, Baruah and Jamuna, the Paro girl of Saigal’s Devdas. ‘Jawab’ was a super musical hit with such gems as,‘Duniya toofan mail’,‘Tu haan kar jaa ya naa kar jaa,Kuch yad rahe toi sun kar jaa’.Then there was a duet:, ‘Dur desh ka rehne wala aya,Aya des paraye’and of course,‘Ai chand chip na jana’ Kamal Das Gupta brought Kanan right on top on the music chart of the country. She was the most successful singing heroine for some years. And when M.P.Productions’ ‘Hospital’ was released, it also created a rage because of the superb songs by Kanan one of which was a romantic, breezy thriller that cannot be forgotten:‘Zara nainon se naina milaye jao re morey baanke raseele sanwariya’. And then there was that sad prayer by Kanan:‘ Prabhuji, prabhuji tum rakho laaj hamari’ as also,‘Dil mein mere aake samaja pyare ghanshyam..’Kanan sang two choruses too in this film:‘Ai rone wale Hasne ke din dur nahin hain,Jo aj hain majboor Kal majboor nahin hain.This song brought hope to the depressed. And then she heralded the joy of spring with ‘Ab ayi bahar nai,Mere dil ki kali Jo thi nazon pali,Muskai re…’
In 1949 Kanan turned producer and made about a dozen films in Bengali. Under the banner of Shrimati Films. Her last Hindi film was ‘Chandrashekhar’ in which she starred opposite Ashok Kumar. In 1976 she was decorated with the Dada Sahib Phalke Award which she very richly deserved. Kanan’s songs , whenever they are played, make you pause and stop. The mesmerizing quality continues to haunt. And ‘Ai chand chip na jaana’ continues to be my favorite.


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