A few love stories have made a real impact on Indian consciousness; Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Anarkali-Salim, and Devdas. Whereas the former three are legendary and have been passed on for years, Devdas stemmed from the creative and mature mind of a young and prolific writer in 1901 (though the book was published in 1917).
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the Bengali writer who became one of the most revered intellectuals of his time, might never have dreamed that Indian cinema would be fascinated by one particular story he wrote about doomed love. However, Devdas has been made and remade several times in many Indian languages including Hindi, Telugu and Bengali. In 2010, a Pakistani film was made on the same story.
Devdas is the story of two childhood friends – Devdas, the son of a rich landowner, and Paro (Parvati), his poorer neighbour. Devdas is sent away to boarding school in Calcutta when he grows troublesome. He returns as a man. The latent love that existed in the childhood friends awakens, and Paro’s family approaches Devdas’s family with an offer of marriage. However, they are shunned because of their low social standing and Devdas is unable to fight for his love. Disillusioned, he flees to Calcutta, leaving Paro alone to her fate.
In Calcutta, Devdas meets Chandramukhi, the courtesan with a heart of gold. He despises her for her profession, but Chandramukhi is drawn to him. Devdas wastes away his life drinking alcohol, with his childhood love forever in his mind.
The fate of these characters is very well known to Indians, but The Movie Matriarch will not reveal the rest of the plot in consideration of other non-Indian moviegoers.
The 1955 version of Devdas, directed by the renowned filmmaker Bimal Roy, is considered to be a classic in Indian (Hindi) cinema. It stays true to the spirit of the book, and features some of the best actors of their time; Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen and Vyajanthimala.
The authenticity of the film is one of its greatest strengths. Shot very much on location in a village area, the film completely captures the feel of rural Bengal in the early 20th Century. Whereas some later versions of Devdas resorted to using opulence and glamour as a selling point, Roy’s Devdas gains its reputation from its realistic portrayal of settings, emotions, and societal attitudes of its time.
The story of Devdas is essentially a psychological study into the mind of a character who is too weak to take any action. What makes this story different is that the female protagonists are much stronger than he is, but their strength is tested as a result of their weakness for him.
Roy perfectly captures the psychological aspects of the story and gives Dilip Kumar a chance to immortalise the character of Devdas on celluloid.
The music in the film is one of its highlights. The songs and background music were composed by S.D. Burman, who provided the film with an iconic soundtrack. Songs such as ‘Jise tu kabool karle’, ‘Mitwa laagi re ye kaisi’, ‘Ab aage teri marzi’, ‘Woh na aayenge palat kar’, are appropriately placed in the film, without being saccharine or wearisome.
The film is in black and white and that does not necessarily take anything away from its brilliance.
FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you are interested in a film based on a love story that India loves. Also watch it for the well fleshed out characters, realism, and emotional depth.
Avoid it if black and white movies are not your cup of tea. Also skip it if doomed love is not your kind of genre.