DaasDev is the 17th time Sarat Chandra’s epic novel Devdas comes onscreen

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s epic novel, Devdas, is a tale of love and loss and has been a favourite of filmmakers. The latest to join the club is Sudhir Mishra, whose film Daasdev releases this week.

bollywood Updated: Apr 26, 2018 12:58 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
DaasDev,Devdas,Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
Daasdev stars Richa Chadda, Aditi Rao Hydari and Rahul Bhat in the lead roles.

Sudhir Mishra’s DaasDev, based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, is up for release this week. Starring Rahul Bhat as Dev Pratap Chauhan, Richa Chadda as Paro, Aditi Rao Hydari as Chandni, the film’s story is said to be based of the now-famous Bengali novel but in the reverse. Hence, we can expect ‘Devdas’ who is assertive and not quite the loser as he is in the book. The film plays out in the context of Indian politics.

However, it is interesting to note that, this film, when it hits the screen on April 27, will be the 17th time the doomed love story of Devdas Mukherjee, Parvati or Paro and Chadramukhi plays out on the silver screen. Yes, you read it right – there have been 16 films in the past that have told this story, including two Pakistani films and Bangladeshi versions respectively.

What then is the lure of Devdas, arguably a spineless character, loved by two powerful women?

Sarat babu’s novel, published in 1917, tells the story of the doom and despair of love, lost in the clutches of tradition, family and societal mores. It is the story of classic Indian tragedy – a story of desire gone kaput in the looming presence of tradition, a shadow so large that it consumes its players.

To the Hindi film audience, the most abiding image of Devdas is Dilip Kumar, mouthing his now famous lines: “Kaun kambakht bardaasht karne ko peeta hai? Main toh peeta hoon ke bas saans le saku.” Lines like these accentuate the tragedy and show the peculiar trajectory of Devdas’s decline into misery and ultimately death.

It helped give Dilip Kumar the cult status as the tragedy king of Hindi cinema.

Devdas is a weak-willed youth who can’t stand up to society, unable to go against the diktats of society, and will ultimately destroy himself. To a vast majority of Indian men, the enduring lure of Devdas’s predicament is all too familiar.

In this context, the two female characters, shown in the novel, shine in their resoluteness. They are clear-headed, bold and show tremendous resolve, in a society that inherently gives them less choices and freedom. Paro has always loved Devdas (it’s a case of childhood friendship blossoming into love as an adult). Intent to take it to the next level, it is she who comes over to his house (unheard of more than 80 years ago in India, and possibly still in most of India’s hinterland) believing that he will accept her hand in marriage. In Chandramukhi we see a woman unapologetic of her choices in life, expressing her love for a man who doesn’t love her. She loves him nonetheless.

The earliest film to be made on this theme was from the silent era -- Naresh Mitra-directed film made in 1928 in Kolkata and produced by Eastern Films Syndicate. The second film was a Bengali language drama (1935), directed by the legendary Pramathesh Barua. It starred Pramathesh Barua and Jamuna Barua (who would later marry him) as Devdas and Paro.

But it not until 1936’s Kundan Lal Saigal and Jamuna Barua’s Devdas that catapulted this essentially Bengali novel into the national consciousness. Sehgal’s gnawing and intense singing talent help accentuate the pain in the film. The Hindi language film, made in Kolkata, was a New Theatres production. It may well be recalled here that Kolkata was the premiere film production centre in India, not Mumbai (then Bombay) in pre-Independent India. To date, New Theatres, the Kolkata-based production house and recipient of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award, remains a pillar in the history of Indian cinema.

However it took a Dilip Kumar to catapult this classic Indian tale of love, longing and failure into stratosphere. With his brooding intensity, good looks, perfect diction and controlled performance, the actor charmed one and all. It is his version that spread Sarat babu’s tale far and wide across the Indian sub continent.

This film also gave a cult status to director Bimal Roy, a former assistant of Pramathesh Barua. Roy had made many Bengali films, prior to his Hindi career and while Do Bigha Zameen, announced his arrival to the world, it was Devdas which sealed his fortune as a master storyteller.

The millennial will know of Devdas (and that is a tragedy indeed), thanks to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s adaptation of the cult classic with Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit doing the principal honours.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas released in 2002.

So universal is the appeal of this story is that it travelled to other languages, apart from Bengali and Hindi. In 1953, before Dilip Kumar would come to epitomise the tragic hero, Telugu legend Akkineni Nageswara Rao, along with the other great of Telugu cinema, Savitri, brought Sarat babu’s tale to the mainstream Telugu audience. The film was made in two languages – Telugu (Dedadasu) and Tamil (Devadas).

So strong was the grip of the story on the collective consciousness of the Indian sub continent that even the borders couldn’t keep it apart. In 1965, the year India and Pakistan fought a war, a Pakistani film released in Urdu language called Devdas directed by Khawaja Sarfaraz and starring Habib Taalish. This would be repeated by director Iqbal Kasmiri in 2010 as well.

Devadasu (1953) starring Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Savitri.

The story’s grip over the Indian mind was so strong that it saw a re-telling in Telugu again in 1974, this time featuring Ghattamaneni Krishna (superstar Mahesh Babu’s daddy) in the lead role.

Bangladesh too celebrated Sarat Chandra when director Chashi Nazrul Islam in 1982 made his version of Devdas (incidentally also called Devdas). What’s more it would repeat it in 2013, with a new star cast.

Bengali cinema would again celebrate its master story’s epic tale in 1979 with Soumitra Chatterjee, a Satyajit Ray protégé, essaying Devdas.

There was another Bengali version of Devdas (with Prosenjit in the lead), this time directed by Shakti Samanta of the Aradhana fame.

One of the most talked-about versions of Devdas is, of course, Anurag Kashyap’s DevD. The film turned the decades-old stereotypes on its head and gave us a hard-hitting and unconventional take. Kashyap’s Devdas didn’t have Dilip Kumar’s angst and longing and he wasn’t the melodramatic lover, pining for Paro like Shah Rukh Khan was. Instead what we have here is a scumbag. The other delightful take away from this version is Paro (short for Parminder), a free-spirited woman in touch with her sexuality and with an acid tongue.

In Hindi cinema’s Urdu idiom, ‘shama aur parwana’ are not the only metaphor for doomed love. Devdas might as well have that honour.

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First Published: Apr 26, 2018 12:41 IST