Before undertaking Devdas under his own banner, Bimal Roy treated Saratchandra themes with rare sensitivity in Parineeta and Biraj Bahu.
Now, there was this deadly debate about who should be playing Parbati and who Chandramukhi in Devdas.
Side by side raged the controversy about who should be composing Devdas against the backdrop of KL Saigal's enduring impact in that legendary role.
Salil Chowdhury had scored Biraj Bahu with distinction for Bimal, his two Hemant Kumar bhajans on one N51010 78-rpm record, Jhoom jhoom Manmohan re and Mere man bhoola bhoola, becoming a collector's item.
But Salil's wasn't a name that could sell Devdas. So, at Devdas Dilip Kumar's instance, Bimal Roy approached Naushad. Bimal was hardly enthused by Naushad's suggestion that Saigal's captive songs (from New Theatres' Devdas) should be left intact for that singing icon, now, to emerge as Dilip's playback. It was our No 1 music director's way of saying, “No” to Bimal Roy.
Naushad then charged Rs One lakh per film (plus Rs 10,000 for orchestration). This was way beyond Bimal's budget, so into the Devdas picture came SD Burman as the Rs 20,000 man.
Mind you, even Dada Burman was distinctly nervous about recreating the Saigal part of Devdas. Further unnerved felt SD when told it had to be the velvet-soft Talat Mahmood singing for Dilip playing Devdas. Somehow Dada never really tuned with the Bengali-oriented Talat.
Dada finally settled for just one Talat solo (unfolding in snatches) on Devdas. What feeling, what meaning Talat brought to this Mitwaa mitwaa soliloquising (in raag Des) on Dilip. For the rest, masterly was SD's tuning of the tellingly atmospheric Geeta Roy-Manna Dey duets – Aan milo aan milo and Saajan ki ho gayi gori.
As for Lata Mangeshkar vocalising those prized mujraas on Vyjayanthimala playing Chandramukhi, Dada teamed with Sahir Ludhianvi to magnetic effect as he brought in Ali Akbar on the sarod and Abdul Karimon the tabla.
Vyjayanthi here was viewed to be electric in her dance movements, attracting attention with her acting, too, opposite a Dilip playing Devdas with high empathy. Ab aage teree marzee, O jaane waale, Jise tuu kabool kar le — these SD-Sahir numbers were so feelingly tuned by SD as to underscore Chandramukhi's progression from a mere nautch-girl to a caring Devdas saviour.
In the end
Yet Suchitra Sen as Parbati had reserved her best for the Devdas climax. All the high histrionics inherent in the volcanic Suchitra erupted in one parting shot, the Bengal diva creating this stunning effect withoutasingle song's going directly on her. Still Devdas was but a critical success, KL Saigal had pre-written this remake's box-office fate. But Dada Burman, he teamed so surpassingly with Sahir in Devdas that you wondered why SD always rated Shailendra as the best of the poets writing for him.