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Remembering Raj Kanwar: Filmmaker who introduced 'Deewana' Shah Rukh

Director Kanwar's Deewana gave the much-needed initial push to Khan's career.

Shah Rukh Khan in Deewana (1992)

Keyur Seta

Filmmaker Raj Kanwar had a successful run in the early 1990s and 2000s. He had the knack of coming up with purely commercial films within the parameters of family entertainment. Some of his more appreciated works were Deewana (1992), Laadla (1994), Jeet (1996), Judaai (1997), Andaaz (2003) and Humko Deewana Kar Gaye (2006).

But Kanwar is also known for launching newcomers. On his fifth death anniversary (3 February), we look at how he gave newcomers their big break, especially Shah Rukh Khan.

There is always curiosity about the first film of any star. And if the said star is as big as Khan, the interest is higher. The first film he signed was Hema Malini’s Dil Aashna Hai (1992). But his first release was Kanwar’s Deewana (1992). Before this film, Khan had made his mark in television. 

With Deewana, Shah Rukh Khan proved his worth in films too, despite the presence of the late actress Divya Bharti and veteran actor Rishi Kapoor. He was also fortunate to get a couple of songs that played a big role in making him known — ‘Aisi Deewanagi’ and ‘Koi Na Koi Chahiye.’ In short, Kanwar's film gave the initial push to Khan's career. 

But not many know that Khan wasn’t first choice for the role. Kanwar had signed Armaan Kohli, son of filmmaker Raj Kumar Kohli to play the part. He had even shot a few portions with Kohli and the actor also featured on one of the posters. However, Kohli walked out later for unknown reasons.

In a recent chat show, Yaaron Ki Baarat, Khan revealed this trivia. He sarcastically added, “Armaan Kohli is responsible for me being a star. He featured on the Deewana poster with the late Divya Bharti. I still have that poster. Thank you for making me a star.” 

Actress Lara Dutta was another discovery by Kanwar. She made her debut in his 2003 movie, Andaaz, which also starred Akshay Kumar and Priyanka Chopra. Though Dutta isn’t considered among the more successful actresses, she was certainly an A-lister for a while. Chopra too was a newcomer then. Andaaz was just her second film after The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy (2003) opposite Sunny Deol. 

A year before, Kanwar, for the first time, had launched two newcomers — Amrita Rao and Arya Babbar. Unfortunately, not many would recall this because Ab Ke Baras (2002) bombed after it was panned by audiences and critics alike. 

Rao got her next full-fledged part in Ken Ghosh’s Ishq Vishk (2003) [she had played a cameo in The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (2002)]. After the film became a hit, the actress said in an interview that she wished Ishq Vishk had been her debut film. 

Nevertheless, Raj Kanwar is remembered for encouraging newcomers and, mostly, for introducing superstar Shah Rukh Khan to audiences.