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Kanan Devi: Marriage

After a long  courtship KANAN married Shri Ashok Maitra, son of the puritan Brahmo leader, Heramba Chandra Maitra., who was dead against anyone or anything associated with the entertainment industry. The marriage could take place only after Heramba Maitra’s death. The civil marriage took place on the fourth day of December,1940. Mr P. N. Roy, Mr Anil Chanda were amongst the distinguished guests cum witnesses as required in a registry marriage.

Anger, shock, disbelief, outrage, horror and all possible permutations and combinations sum up the reaction of the elite of Calcutta when KANAN married at the height of her stardom. Marriage was just not meant for actresses. A shadowy live together arrangement was accepted and spoken of and discussed with all elements of  spice and juice that could be easily attached to such topics.  The stars while being objects of entertainment were social outcasts. Film stars, specially women , were to be appreciated on the screen, their songs were to be played on the gramophone (then called Kaler Gaan by Bengalees) but the performers had to remain outside society. Normal social norms were not expected from them and this daring act of not only marrying but marrying one of the most eligible bachelors from the cream of society infuriated many. Conscience keepers of the society were in no mood to allow that. Protests were launched, posters and leaflets mocking the marriage were placed and distributed in and around the Kabir Road residence of KANAN, where her husband had moved in. Some of  KANAN’s fellow artistes and friends were jealous. Above all, GURUDEV RABINDRANATH TAGORE was criticized for blessing the newly married couple. HIS fault was to send a self photograph with his signature on it. The puritans felt that a film star’s house was not a place to keep an autographed photo of the Great poet.

All through her life starting from the early helpless days to the period of super stardom, KANAN had dreams of a home with a loving husband and children-a very common dream of any other Bengalee young girl of that period. Destiny had robbed her of a respectable home and identity and she was determined to win back what was denied to her by birth. She had achieved this through marriage. For the first time in her life, she became entitled to a place in society. However, nature had other plans and the marriage could not survive in spite of the love and admiration that each had for the other. The marriage ended in a formal divorce and it was mutually decided that KANAN and Shri Ashok Maitra were never to meet again after their separation. However, they did happen to come face to face with Ashok Maitra at a dentist clinic of all places. KANAN has expressed gratitude in her memoirs to Shri Maitra for providing a place in the society for the first time in her life. Incidentally Shri Maitra was one of the silent mourners at KANAN’s death. It appears that each had great love and affection for the other but yet decided to separate legally for natural reasons. Some sources, less reliable, insist that Ashok Maitra was rather imposing and even went to the level of asking KANAN to quit films altogether and not to have any connection with the film world. This was naturally unacceptable to her and this led to the separation.

KANAN maintained good relations not only with her ex-mother in law Smt. Kusumkumari Maitra but also with persons who were friends or relatives by marriage like Prasanta Chandra Mahalanbis, Rani Mahalanbis, Annapurna Das, Dhiren Das and many others. This apart when Shreemati Kusum Kumari Maitra was terminally ill, KANAN cancelled all her shootings and went to Giridih where Shreemati Maitra spent her last days and remained at her bedside for over a month. Kusum Kumari Maitra and KANAN shared a very close mother-daughter relationship till the death of the former.

In the post war days at the end of the forties, KANAN was invited to attend a school  function at Tollyganj area of Calcutta where she met Haridas Bhattacharjee, who was present as the A.D.C. to the West Bengal governor, Shri Kailash Nath Katju. KANAN shared the dais with the governor among others.  The fact that she shared the dais with the Governor of West Bengal demonstrated a post war sea change in society and acceptance of film stars as part of it. In 1949, KANAN married Haridas Bhattacherjee, who left his job and came to live with his wife at her palatial  Tollyganj Regent Grove residence. KANAN  wanted to be the proud wife of a worthy husband and took him abroad to qualify as a barrister. However, Haridas was not to willing to be a student at that age and finally, considering his literary inclinations, KANAN got her husband a place in her own film production unit SHREEMATI PICTURES as a screenplay writer for Mejdidi. From 1952 onwards, all films of her home production were directed by Haridas Bhattacharjee and he did make a place for himself in the film world of Bengal but was always better known as Kanan Devi’s husband, a fact that he bitterly resented, perhaps naturally-a matter of the eternal male ego.  The type of relationship that was maintained by KANAN WITH Haridas Bhattacharjee is not very clear. She was not very happy at least in the later days of this marriage but she never neglected any of her wifely duties while Haridas looked after her well in times of need, be it KANAN’s illness or any other official work. Haridas Bhattacharjee died on 7/9/2005, 13 years after KANAN’s death.

Haridas Bhattacharjee left KANAN s residence on the fourth of April, 1987. The reason or reasons for this separation is not truthfully available. Suffice to say here that Haridas was looked after by KANAN till her death and all arrangements for his eye surgery in Chandigarh were made by her family. It is a pity indeed that when KANAN died, Haridas Bhattacharjee did not feel it necessary to bid her the final good-bye.
Their only son, Rana alias Siddhartha, was born in 1949 and thereafter KANAN shifted to character roles and in 1959 she quit film acting for good. KANAN’s  son Rana was married at a very young age to Ruby (better known as Bula) on the first day of March, 1972.The couple had two sons, Sanjay and Sanjeev. Rana Bhattacharya died on 22/12/2006. KANAN remained associated with the film world in various capacities till the end of her life and gradually became a mother figure and guardian of the Bengali film world.

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