Devdas handles not just love but love platonic. It handles love sans sensuous – love that has self-effacement for its soul. A study of Bimal Roy’s Devdas by Vijay Kumar as a tribute to the master filmmaker.
Sarat Chandra finished writing Devdas in Bengali in the year 1900. He was then 24 years of age. It was, however, published much later, in the year 1917. Sarat had a reason for this hold-back. This creation was autobiographical to an extent. Devdas, the central character in the fiction, was emotional in Sarat’s own words – had to be, for he mirrored his creator Sarat. But at that point of time, Sarat felt that Devdas revealed a little too much about him and its publication could lead to an embarrassing public disapprobation. Sarat by nature was publicity-shy. Besides, his early life in penury had induced in him an inferiority complex. Devdas came into print only after Sarat was sure of his public acceptance as a littérateur.
Devdas: The Story
The story is set in the socio-cultural milieu that was obtained in Bengal of the nineteenth century.
It takes off with two of its central characters, namely Devdas and Parvati (Paro), both not yet in their teens, shown in an abiding togetherness that brews a deep bond. Devdas belongs to a wealthy zamindar family of high Brahmins. Parvati is a girl from a family in the neighbourhood – a family with moderate means and of Brahmins though lower in intra caste hierarchy.
Unable to reign in and straighten a mischievous and unruly Devdas, the family sends him away to Calcutta for some years for studies. This temporary separation deepens the bond between the two. A young Devdas returns home finally to find a beautiful Parvati waiting for him with a surging love. Parvati’s family is alive to this bond between the two and is positive about its formalization. Devdas’ father however rejects the matrimonial proposal. Thus rebuffed, Parvati’s father settles post-haste her marriage with an elderly zamindar who is rich but a widower with three children.
A desperate Parvati stealthily meets Devdas in the wee hours, confesses her love, and beseeches a lifetime companionship. Devdas is taken aback by her dare and conveys, with a little dismay, that this act, if revealed, will malign her name. Yet he comes to terms with the realities and its seriousness. However, his father angrily rejects his suggestion to marry Parvati.
An enraged Devdas leaves for Calcutta in a huff. In Calcutta, he gets time to gather his thoughts on the issue, and, as if ordained, finds his familial compulsions getting the better of his commitment for Parvati. At the spur of the moment, he pens a letter to Parvati, averring that he never loved her and that he will not be able to go against the wishes of his family. But no sooner does he send the letter that a deep sense of guilt, a remorse possesses him – that he has lied, sinned! He rushes home to intercept the letter. But it reaches Paro just a few moments ahead of him. Devdas seeks her out, tries to convince her that he loves her, that the letter is a mistake. He assures her that he will manage the matter. A deeply hurt Parvati takes none of his entreaties. Eventually their interface turns adversarial and in a fit of anger Devdas hits her on her face. With emotions running high, they part company ostensibly for good.
Devdas goes back to Calcutta, deeply aggrieved and feeling even betrayed. Much as he tries to unburden himself of the thoughts of Parvati, he fails. A carousing friend Chunni Lal nudges him to seek the company of a courtesan Chandramukhi for a release of sorts. That does not help. Instead, Devdas feels disgusted at the openness and seductive mannerism of Chandramukhi. He hits the bottle believing it will help him forget Parvati and endure the physical presence of Chandramukhi.
Devdas’ moral and physical deterioration pains Parvati. She confronts him, pleads with him to pull out of the mess and the alcohol. The emotionally surcharged meeting concludes with Devdas committing that he will visit Parvati at least once before he breathes his last.
Over time, Devdas’ aversion for Chandramukhi mutates into a quiet love. She also undergoes a transformation, leaves her profession of entertaining men, settles in a village leading a simple religious life. However, her urge to see Devdas takes her back to Calcutta. She eventually retrieves a terribly ill Devdas, his liver seriously impaired. The doctor advises him to seek a change of his environment and to stop drinking completely.
Devdas thus embarks upon a journey with no specific destination. The train becomes his virtual home. However, as if by a quirk of fate, Devdas briefly finds himself in the company of Chunni Lal. While disembarking, Chunni Lal leaves behind an unfinished bottle of alcohol. Devdas succumbs to the temptation that causes a relapse of his ailment.
Devdas realizes that his end is in sight, and he remembers his promise to Parvati that he will visit her once at least. Deboarding the train, he braves his failing strength, keeps himself conscious but just to take a bullock cart for Manikpur, and lapses into a reverie as the cart moves on. Finally, the gaadivan leaves an unconscious Devdas under a tree opposite the house of zamindar Bhuwan Chaudhuri. Devdas though unconscious is still some exhalations away from his deliverance, still has an urge to see Parvati.
Parvati gets an intuitive connect, is told that one unfortunate Devdas Mukherjee is breathing his last just at the gate. The news hits her like a bolt, rushes out to meet him, completely oblivious to her maryada, but the huge gates close on her. At that point, Devdas is through with his life and breathes his last.
Devdas: Sarat’s Alter Ego!
The fiction of Devdas draws on the realities of Sarat Chandra. The biography of Sarat, authored by the eminent Hindi writer Vishnu Prabhakar (it took him fifteen years of research work), tells us that Sarat as a child was deeply bonded to a girl with the nickname Dhiru. His circumstances separated them. Parvati of Devdas is Dhiru reincarnate. While in his teens, Sarat often visited a courtesan Kalidasi. He was inclined towards her though it is not clear if their relationship consummated. It was at about that time (1896) that Sarat initiated the writing of Devdas. Kalidasi appears as Chandramukhi in Devdas.
Sarat was an alcoholic. Devdas was no different. Sarat was additionally addicted to opium and died of a progressive liver ailment in the year 1937, at the age of about 61. But when he was writing the fiction Devdas, he was free of any liver disease. It is therefore amazing that Sarat gave Devdas a terminal disease which was to kill him too eventually. Was it a coincidence or a well considered anticipation of his own life as it was to unfold? Or was it the fiction of Devdas that dictated the realities of Sarat?
Once, while speaking about Devdas and Srikant relatively, Sarat said that Devdas was a matter of his heart, and Srikant of head. His heart ruled when he wrote Devdas. But later in life, Sarat deviated, allowed his head to temper his heart. This evolution becomes apparent if one contrasts Devdas’ treatment to Chandramukhi, and Sarat’s to Mokshda. Devdas could not accept Chandramukhi even as he loved her finally, even as she self-effaced to bring Devdas from the brink of death, for such an acceptance would have offended his assiduously preserved feelings for Parvati. Sarat, in the year 1908, took Mokshda – a woman with a hazy background – as his wife for her selfless service when he was taken seriously ill. This, despite the fact that Mokshda hardly had any physical charm about her, and that Sarat was still not out of the grief that the death of his first wife Shanti, whom he loved deeply, had caused.
Devdas, the novel, mirrors Sarat no doubt but not exhaustively. It does not concern itself with Sarat’s literary precociousness that enabled him to give words to his emotions, his experiences, his connects. Devdas is a glimpse of an aspect of Sarat, but one will have to read his other works especially Srikant to understand the phenomenon that Sarat was.
Devdas On Celluloid
The appeal of Devdas, the novel, for cinematic adaptation is trans-generational, perennial. As of date, it has been made into films twenty times including three Hindi versions.
The first adaptation was made by PC Barua in Bengali in the year 1935. The first Hindi adaptation came in the same year. KL Saigal was in the role of Devdas, Jamuna Barua of Parvati and Rajkumari of Chandramukhi. I have not seen this movie.
The second edition was produced and directed by Bimal Roy. The year was 1955.
Another Hindi version appeared in 2002, made by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The film was star studded – Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit were in lead roles. This adaptation unacceptably distorted and abused the story as written by Sarat Chandra.
Devdas of Bimal Roy
I have read Devdas twice but seen the Bimal Roy version of the film umpteen times. Roy remains faithful to the story, takes no liberty with it except two deviations.
The novel says that Devdas was nineteen when he returned from Calcutta after his studies. In the film, Paro tells her friend Manorama that Devdas is 23-24 years of age. I am sure this must have been a well considered and conscious decision. In the cinematic adaptation, Devdas of 19 and Parvati of 13 would have appeared much younger for the maturity expected of them.
The other deviation strategically relocates a situation. In the film, the viraha geet, Aan milo, aan milo shyam saanvare that the street singers recite on young Paro’s promise of a monetary compensation in lieu, appears after Devdas leaves for Calcutta. The novel makes a reference to this, almost in passing, but is in no way linked to Devdas’ Calcutta send off. Roy however leveraged this inconsequential event of the novel to create a scene of extraordinary import and impact. Young Paro is distraught, experiencing a separation for the first time. The seed of love that lay in the subconscious throws up a sprout. Paro is alive to this love-sprout. And Sahir supplies words of viraha, alluding to Radha and Krishna. But why Radha-Krishna? Was he told that the Devdas-Parvati love was not fated for a consummation?
Sarat, if alive, would have whole-heartedly endorsed the deviation.
Aan milo aan milo shyam saanware (Devdas, 1955) SD Burman / Sahir Ludhianvi / Geeta Dutt and Manna Dey
Bimal Roy’s Actors/Creative Team
Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen and Vyjayanthimala in lead roles, playing Devdas, Parvati and Chandramukhi respectively. Moti Lal was in a short yet critical role. Nazir Hussain, Iftekhar, Murad too were assigned significant roles.
The music was composed by Sachin Dev Burman and Sahir Ludhiyanvi was the lyricist. The playback singers were Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta Dutt, Mubaraq Begum, Mohd Rafi, Talat Mehmood and Manna Dey.
Sahir was a surprise pick, given the fact that he was more of a shaayar than kavi. But Sahir, the genius that he was, delivered.
A Directorial Masterpiece
The film was critically acclaimed and won awards. Vyjayanthimala won the Filmfare award for the best supporting actress. She however did not accept it, maintaining that the role of Chandramukhi was not supporting but at par with that of Parvati. This can be a matter of an endless debate. If one has to go by the footage that each of them received while interfacing with Devdas, Chandramukhi is way ahead with about 45 minutes to just 16 minutes of Parvati. However, these 16 minutes, spread over five scenes, are the defining moments of the film/story.
Please recall Parvati’s meeting Devdas on his return from Calcutta. A scene of just one minute. A sublime yin and yang moment! And then that two-minute scene, when Parvati turns recklessly bold and fearless to barge into the room of Devdas in the wee hours to seek Devdas’ commitment to her, to the formalization of their relationship.
The four minute tryst-with-destiny scene that has a repentant Devdas submitting to a badly hurt Parvati to win her back only to get barbs in return is a classic – a classic the way it ascends to an overpowering adversariality before the melting of egos and the resurfacing of the essence – their love! To my mind, this is one of the best love scenes ever picturized in Hindi cinema, only to be equaled by a subsequent eight minute scene that has Parvati accosting Devdas, urging him to reform. Her intransigence provokes Devdas to say something unsayable: तो क्या आज मेरे साथ रात को भाग कर जा सकती हो? And suddenly the maryada of a married woman collapses. She cries reiteration of her love. No, it is a catharsis, unburdening her of her subconscious guilt that she once rebuffed her love Devdas. This one scene, especially the way she melts should have been enough to win her the Filmfare Award for best actress. But she was up against another woman of substance, Nutan, coming up with an exceptional performance in the woman-centric film, Seema.
I rate Vyjyanthimala’s performance in this film as one of her best. She portrayed a character who was in the throes of an unmitigated existential predicament – to be or not to be – to tell Devdas of her emotions or remain bottled up. Her role had a compounding dimension too as she also had to handle and heal, in the midst of her sufferance, an escapist Devdas. She handled all that with sensitivity, poise and consummate skill. The Midas touch of Bimal Roy turned her into gold. She richly deserved the award of best supporting actress conferred on her by Filmfare.
Bimal Roy brought a paradigm shift in film making. His effort was refreshingly free from the mire of melodrama that had hitherto characterized Indian films. His films were never prosaic. Roy seemed to be directing his characters from within them and not from without. He appeared subsumed in each character, giving him/her no choice but to express as required. Dilip Kumar became a synonym for Devdas because the Master took charge of him to take him forward. Before Devdas, Dilip would pass only as a good actor, not necessarily a great one.
Devdas The Escapist
Devdas alongwith Bandini are the two apexes in Roy’s illustrious innings as director, spanning over two decades. His handling of the character Devdas and his behavioural conundrum is flawless, masterly.
The story of Devdas could even be viewed as building itself on this behavioural conundrum, wherein Devdas the lover and Devdas the escapist array themselves in a face-off at crunch moments. It is a crunch moment, when the predicament to-be-or-not-to-be could no longer linger, that Devdas the lover is supplanted by Devdas the escapist. But as soon as he sends the missive to Paro disclaiming any love for her – a blatant falsehood bordering on a sin – a consuming remorse possesses him. He loses his existential tether and momentum. Cometh another tryst, this time Chandramukhi is his love. But yet again the escapist in him gets the better of the lover. And thereafter, the long drift and ebb, before Devdas delivers himself dead at the doorstep of his first love Parvati with no means to escape, finally!
The Music of Devdas
Roy’s realism did not shun music. In fact, Roy brought to bear on his films the natural music proclivity of an easterner – almost as an existential aspect.
His films have an exceptional balance of literature and music. But what distinguished him from the others is the fact that his musical scores never appeared interpolated or grafted in the general run of the story. In fact, each score furthered the story or heightened the impact of an episode, or alluded to the circumstances of the character, his/her angst, existential predicament or elation. Devdas is an outstanding example of that.
Devdas has nine songs. Barring perhaps the first one O albele panchhi….all others articulate precipitate points of the story. Two of them, Aan milo, aan milo shyam saanvare and Saajan ki ho gayi gori allude to the then mental status of Parvati though not sung by her. Wo na aayenge palat kar similarly concerns Chandramukhi.
Saajan ki ho gayi gori, ab ghar ka aangan bides laage re: This celebratory song must be singeing the raw wounds of Parvati. She cannot bear it, the song heightening the irony of her existence. It reflexively takes me to that immortal poem of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, given voice by the peerless KL Saigal in Street Singer, 1938:
Babul mora naihar chhuto hi jaaye,
Mora apna-begaana chhuto jaaye….
Anganaa to parbat bhayaa, aur dehri bhai bides,
Le babul ghar aapano, main chali piya ke des…
The angst, the pain of the Nawab connected to a world much larger but Parvati’s pain was no less, her soul incarcerated in perpetuity.
Chandramukhi’s two mujras, Ab aage teri marzi and O Aanewale ruk jo koi dam, exacerbate Devdas’ agitation. A seductive Chandramukhi holding out an invitation, Ab aage teri marzi, disgusts Devdas whose break off with Parvati is yet to sink in fully.
O aanewale ruk ja koi dam (Devdas, 1955) SD Burman / Sahir Ludhianvi / Lata Mangeshkar
A beautiful, curvaceous Chandramukhi, smitten as she is, giving the best in her to engage Devdas. Sahir’s words are meaningful:
Paayal ki jhankaar mein kho jaa, sapno ke sansaar mein kho jaa
Reh jaa yaheen pe, mehmaan, kahaa man
O tarsaanewale, tarsaanewale ruk ja koi dam
Rastaa ghere hain baahar lakhon gham…
Come, be poised in my fold, away from the trials and tribulations of the world!
The recital towards the end builds up in intensity as if to overpower Devdas. But suddenly he chances upon a marriage being solemnized and something in him snaps. An important strand in the film as he hits the bottle!
Manzil ki chaah mein (Devdas, 1955) SD Burman / Sahir Ludhianvi / Mohd Rafi
The scene is one of the apex points of the film. The song in the background takes off almost as a simmer, builds up gradually and overflows with emotions as the two otherwise unlikely-to-meet ladies – Parvati and Chandramukhi – pass by with an exchange of curious looks. The song falls the way it ascends, with the fading figures of the ladies in two opposite horizons.
Sahir’s philosophical muse is contextual, as also transcendental. But the words soar and emote on SD Burman’s masterly lilt and Rafi’s pristine singing.
The scene has the deep imprint of Master Bimal Roy – no word spoken between the two ladies – yet the silence is so eloquent. And yet an inexplicable hazy but shared feeling, that they are connected!
Mitwaa, laagi re ye kaisi unbujh aag…mitwaa nahi aaye,
Vyaakul jiyara, vyaakul naina…….
It is pain, despair, yearn escaping the being of Devdas. Mitwa in elongation – just one word internalizes that the word is no longer in dichotomy with the sentiments it conveys. This low key audible cry of the being …. only Talat could have done that. Sahir is aphoristic in his expression: Laagi re ye kaisi unbujh aag….., mitwa…..what consuming ember this is, my soul-mate!
No one except Dilip could have lived this song – he looks lost, with strangely lifeless eyes as if tears had dried up, oblivious to the world around!
Just out of curiosity, I watched the video of the song: Dukh ke ab din beetat nahi, dukh ke…(Devdas, 1936). Saigal singing for self. Brilliant. But Roy’s Dilip is in unattainable orbit at least in this scene/song.
Kisko khabar thee, kisko yakeen tha, aise bhi din aayenge…… aaj teri mehfil se uthe, kal duniya se uth jayenge…. Haay……
From mitwa to a little further down the drain, or near the drain literally, in an audible muse! Sahir has surmised Devdas, as to his station at that moment, as also the one beyond it:
Aaj teri mehfil se uthhe, kal duniya se utth jayenge: prophetic! Devdas seems to have travelled some distance since his mitwa days as the ember no longer seems to be burning him despite the lament haay! He is past care almost, his life ebbing out. But his savior Chandramukhi is just around the corner to intercept him, to virtually force him to the coziness of her quarters and of her love, to lull his hurtle towards the inevitable.
Jise tu qubool kar le (Devdas, 1955) SD Burman / Sahir Ludhianvi / Lata Mangeshkar
A last ditch effort on the part of Chandramukhi to retrieve a sinking Devdas. And she succeeds as she wins his heart. She yet loses the man!
This scene – the final meeting, or parting, of Chandramukhi and Devdas – could well be taken as the penultimate climax of the film. Chandramukhi, overwhelmed by the occasion, touches the feet of Devdas, announcing, without speaking a word, that you are my man. Devdas, on a point of no return, says, almost with a sigh of sadness, that the two will not remain separated in the next birth if there would be one.
Woh na aayenge palat kar, unhein laakh hum bulaayein
Meri hasraton se keh do ke ye khwaab bhool jaayein …
This number in the background says what a reticent, self-repressed Chandramukhi is going through in her surcharged though rather frugal exchange with Devdas – the imploding cry of “why this to me?” on her intuitive realization that the man she is besotted with will never ever return.
Agar is jahaan ka maalik kahin mil sake to poochhein
Milee kaun si khataa par humein is kadar sazaayein
Woh na aayenge palat kar, unhein laakh hum bulaayein (Devdas, 1955) SD Burman / Sahir Ludhianvi / Mubaraq Begum
Paro, I have reached!
The last twenty minutes of Devdas is the pinnacle of synergic creativity of Bimal Roy and Dilip Kumar.
A terminally ill Devdas trying to run away from himself, ironically. But his past, its trysts and trails, chasing him relentlessly, symbolically in pace with the commoting movement of the carriage without. Chunni Babu’s brief incursion and Devdas’ return to bottle fuelling the last smouldering ember within to create a proverbial last flicker! It all happens, as if fated, to hasten the end of his ebb and drift.
But the moment Devdas realises that death will be fast upon him – symbolized by his vomiting blood and a moan escaping his being – he for once becomes resolute that his last destination is Manikpur encapsulated by his enquiry: Bhai gaadiwale, Manikpur chaloge? For once he is not in a drift but in a hurry to reach Parvati. Yet he has some miles to go before he sleeps. That traversing of some miles in a bullock cart which is dotted with reveries and occasional interjections…Aur kitni door hai bhai... builds a climax. The man is struggling yet mustering his will power to keep death at bay till he reaches the threshold of Parvati’s home, to whisper, “Paro”, a whisper that intuitively connects to the lady, his childhood love. The scene has an added dimension of tragedy as Devdas is unable to see Parvati even as he is breathing his last. Recall Devdas’ expectant facial expression when he had only a few exhalations to live. For once, Devdas is not an escapist!
Perhaps a majority of the present generation will take me for one frozen in the past but I still find the spiritual intent of the shloka attending on the final moments of Devdas so sublime, so profoundly conveying the notion of deliverance in death.
The final two minutes of the film belongs to Parvati. The news that Devdas is no more renders her oblivious to her own station, her own maryada as she rushes, with her body cover – the saree – trailing her, to meet her Devdas – but the huge gate shuts on her for a final estoppel! And with the death of Devdas, something in Parvati dies too, symbolized by her being carried as if a body dead, concurrent with Devdas’ journey to the funeral pyre!
Bimal Roy’s Devdas – As it impacted me
Devdas was my first exposure to Bimal Roy. I first saw this film at the age of 17. Its impact was deep, left me sad and self-engrossed for a few days. My uncle, who had taken me to this film, could see my aloofness and quipped to the effect that the film’s morbidity was not good for young impressionable minds. I have since seen this film umpteen number of times and each time it gripped me, changed my mood to sombre bordering on a likable melancholy, invariably eased me into an autonomous aloneness even if for some hours.
I have often wondered why this film still impacts me the same way almost – I am 70 now – as it impacted me at the age of 17. My understanding of my own affectation is thus. This film handles not just love but love platonic. It handles love sans sensuous – love that has self-effacement for its soul. At the age of 17, my fancies as they were hazily warming up to the beautiful world of women were yet innocent, yet looked to connects transcendental and platonic. This film gave substance and concrete contours to that innocent, idealistic haziness. I thought that I would have been no different from Devdas in the situation, his outrageous escapism notwithstanding. He no doubt scored self goals but life is often failures achieved in inadvertence.
But I empathised with Devdas’ authenticity. I loved the female characters too in the film, though Paro a tad more. I loved her dignity and self respect that were as palpable as her selflessness. Each character in the triangle looked fired by love sublime, and that connected to the innocence and idealism that were becoming of a young man of 17. But I guess, I still retain, even if in small measure, that innocence, that idealism even as that remains buried underneath the craft and skill necessary to handle the world at large. Every time I see this film, that hibernating platonic ember gets its fire for a few moments.
I am very sure that I love this film more than any other.
Awara Masiha – Biography of Sarat Chandra by Vishnu Prabhakar
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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