The tragic triangle linking the self-destructive Devdas, his forbidden childhood love Paro [Parvati] and the reformed prostitute Chandramukhi was first told in the popular and influential 1917 Bengali novel by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay. The story has since become one of the touchstones of popular Indian cinema. This article is my attempt to compare the 3 Devdas films and the novel that inspired them and look at the elements that made this plot a popular theme in Indian Cinema – the association with Indian mythological tales; plot’s role in creating a self-destructive Indian protagonist; and the association the Indian audience places with the characters in the story. In conclusion, I have also made a small remark about the 2009 film Dev- D by Anurag Kashyap which again is based on the same novel, Devdas and is a modern adaptation of the plot. An adaptation starring Phani Burma was filmed in 1928 by Naresh Chandra Mitra, but the first widely influential version was directed simultaneously in Hindi and Bengali in 1935 for New Theatres by P.C. Barua. Barua cast himself as Devdas in the (recently rediscovered) Bengali version, and the legendary pre-playback singing star K. L. Saigal (who has a cameo role singing two songs in the Bengali film) starred in the extremely popular Hindi version; because both Barua and Saigal suffered from their character’s alcoholism, the suggestion of a pathological identification with the role of Devdas has haunted later figures attracted to the story as well. Devdas also exists in at least one Tamil (P. V. Rao, 1936), Malayalam (CrossBelt Mani, 1989), and two Telegu verions (Vedantam Raghavaiah, 1953 and Vijayanirmala, 1974), as well as a Bengali remake (Dilip Roy, 1979), though its most prominent versions following Barua’s film featuring Saigal are undoubtedly the remakes in Hindi by Bimal Roy starring Dilip Kumar in 1955, and by Sanjay Leela Bhansali starring Shah Rukh Khan in 2002. In addition to these many “official” versions of Devdas, the story and its tragic characters have also served as crucial referents for such major Hindi films as Guru Dutt’s PYAASA (1957) and especially his KAAGAZ KE PHOOL (1959), which involves a dissolute director remaking Devdas as a film within the film. Indeed, as Gayatri Chatterjee says, Devdas is the archetype of what she tentatively calls “the genre of the self-destructive urban hero” in Indian cinema.
The basic plot of Devdas has remained fairly consistent throughout its various incarnations, and in bare outline it hardly explains the story’s ongoing fascination. The rich brahmin zamindar’s devilish son Devdas and the middle-class Parvati (affectionately called Paro) are childhood playmates who declare their love just before Devdas is sent away to Calcutta (or, in the most recent version, England) for his education. After the young couple are reunited (Paro’s brother-like playmate “Dev-da,” the novel notes, becomes “Devdas-babu”), Parvati’s family attempts to arrange her marriage to Devdas, but the latter’s father rejects the union. Paro’s family are of lower status, a trading family, and unfortunately, neighbors, and the girl’s insulted family responds by quickly arranging her marriage to a wealthy widower with grown children. Though promised to another, Parvati, in one of the story’s now-famous set-pieces, risks her reputation by coming to Devdas in the night and asking him to save her from a loveless marriage; the weak-willed Devdas hesitates, and decides that he cannot challenge his family and tradition. He is, however, distraught in his decision and, back in Calcutta, seeks to lose himself in drink and the seductive urban demi-monde when his worldly college friend Chunnilal takes him to a brothel. There he meets the dancing prostitute Chandramukhi, who will fall in love with the glum young man who pays yet seeks nothing from her. Three key events carry the story to its hopeless conclusion: Devdas writes Paro an insincere...
Bibliography: Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas
1935, 1955 and 2002 film versions of DEVDAS
Asjad Nazir’s essay “The Changing Faces of Devdas,” in Eastern Eye (London) 5 July 2002
P. K. Nair, “The Devdas Syndrome in Indian Cinema,” Cinemaya56/57 (Autumn-Winter 2002
Anup Singh’s “Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas and the Intensity of the Self,”
Ravi S Vasudvan, “The Politics of Cultural Address in a `Transitional’ Cinema: A Case Study of Indian Popular Cinema,”
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