Karan Dewan starred in over a hundred movies in his film career of thirty-seven years, and most of them were silver jubilees. He was a lead actor in seventy-five movies. The actor also tried his hands as a production executive for some features released under the banners of B.R. Films and Yashraj Films. Dewan was also working as a casting agent for the film unit of ‘Maya’ (1966).
Born as Karan Chopra in Gujranwala, Punjab, Pakistan, on November 6, 1917—he was the youngest of three brothers. He started as a journalist while still in college in Lahore. He used to edit a film-based magazine ‘Jagat Lakshmi’ in Urdu, while his brother Jaimani Dewan was the film producer and director. Karan met one of the local distributors Tarachand Barjatya, who was then the Manager of Chandanmal Inder Kumar’s distribution office at Lahore. Through his connection with Barjatya, he landed in Kolkata and in 1939, he made his acting debut as Puran in the Punjabi movie ‘Puran Bhagat’ (1939). The movie was produced by Raisaheb Sukhlal Karnani and directed by Roop K. Shorey’s father, R. L. Shorey.
Karan’s second movie ‘Mera Maahi’ (1941), was also in Punjabi, directed by Shankar Mehta in Lahore—starring Ragini and Manorama. Aside from his fine acting skills, he was also a great singer. In his second film, Karan sang songs under the baton of legendary music director Shyam Sunder for the first time. His unique voice landed him more offers and in 1944 released ‘Rattan,’ he sang for Naushad. Karan married actress-singer Manju, who had worked in ‘Aadmi’ (1939) and its (original) Marathi version ‘Manoos’ (1939), in a character role. She worked for six years in movies. She is also known for her role in Motilal’s ‘Chhoti Chhoti Baatein’. After acting in Dewan’s most famous movie ‘Rattan’, the two got married. The couple has five daughters and two sons.
(Photo: Manju and Karan Dewan in a poster from the movie ‘Rattan’)
The movie was a romantic musical drama directed by M. Sadiq, which became one of the most popular movies of that year. It paired Karan Dewan with Swarnalata. The song ‘Saawan Ke Baadalon’, sung by Dewan and Zohrabai Ambalewali, is picturised on Dewan and Swarnalata. It became famous as the pair’s signature song.
(Photo: Still from the movie ‘Rattan’)
As a film journalist in Lahore, he connected with evergreen actress Devika Rani, who invited him to come to Mumbai. Karan taught Urdu pronunciation to actors and actresses. Karan Dewan went on acting in several films which garnered huge responses from the audience. ‘Gaali’ (1944) was a social movie, written and directed by Rama Chowdhary, for producer Nanubhai Desai, under his N. R. Desai Productions banner. It co-starred Dewan with Manjula and Yakub. ‘Bhai Jaan’ (1945) was a successful Muslim social family melodrama, which starred Dewan with Noor Jehan, Shah Nawaz, Meena (Shorey) and Anees Khatoon under a small production company called United Films which was praised for quality and content. The music was composed by Shyam Sunder.
(Photo: Poster from the movie ‘Bhai Jaan’)
The same year, another Muslim social melodrama was a big success, especially for its leading lady Noor Jehan, was ‘Zeenat’ (1945). Directed by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, it had music by Mir Saheb with several popular songs sung by Noor Jehan.
Nargis, Begum Para and Dewan starred in ‘Mehndi’ (1947), directed by S. Faizal. ‘Piya Ghar Aja’ (1948) with Meena Kumari was a social movie directed by Prahlad Dutt for Ranjit Movietone. It co-starred Dewan with Meena Kumari, Aga Jan and S. N. Tripathi, with music composed by Bulo C Rani. The movie was stated to be a ‘clean picture from Ranjit’—free from cheapness and vulgarity. Meena Kumari, who was then working in her second movie as a lead, was praised for her acting.
(Photo: Karan Dewan and Meena Kumari in a still from the movie ‘Piya Ghar Aja’)
‘Chaman’ (1948) was the first post-Partition Punjabi movie in India, directed by Roop Shorey, starring Karan Dewan, Meena Shorey and Kuldip Kaur, which became a major hit. The melodious music by composer Vinod became instantly popular.
(Photo: Poster from the movie ‘Chaman’)
‘Duniya’ (1949), directed by S. F. Hasnain, under the Fazli Brothers banner, had music by C. Ramchandra and starred Suraiya with Karan Dewan, Yakub and Shakila. ‘Lahore’ (1949), a movie based on partition’s effect on people, had Dewan co-star with Nargis. It was produced by his brother Jaimani Dewan. In 1950, Dewan acted in six movies, three of which were with M. Sadiq. ‘Anmol Ratan’ (1950), directed by M. Sadiq and produced by Jaimini Dewan. It co-starred Meena Shorey and Nirmala. The movie had music composed by Vinod, who used Talat Mehmood for his first Hindi film venture.
(Photo: Poster from the movie ‘Lahore’)
However, since ‘Arzoo’ (1950), which was composed by Anil Biswas, was released earlier, the first Talat song became ‘Ae Dil Mujhe Aisi’ from ‘Arzoo’. ‘Pardes’ (1950), a silver jubilee hit, directed by Sadiq, had Madhubala and Rehman in a social family drama with music by Ghulam Mohammed. ‘Sabak’ (1950), directed by Sadiq under his own productions, starred Dewan with Munawwar Sultana and Shyama; the music was by Allah Rakha Qureshi. ‘Dahej’ (1950) was a melodrama about the evils of the dowry system. V. Shantaram directed it for his Rajkamal Kalamandir. The cast included Karan Dewan, Prithviraj Kapoor and Jayshree, with music by Vasant Desai.
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