The Three Versions Of ‘Devdas’
The film Devdas released in the year 1935 is a milestone in the history of Indian cinema; primarily because K.L.Saigal acted and sang his all time favorites: ‘Baalam aye baso merey man mein’, ‘Dukh ke ab din beetat naahin’ and just two lines of a classic thumri: ‘Piya bin naahin aawat chein’ (earlier sung by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan).
The music of the film was composed by Timir Baran. He played sarod, a music instrument for the first time in the history of cine-music. The song— ‘Baalam aye baso merey man mein’ till date is rated as one of the finest melodies not only of Saigal, but of Hindi cinema. When Khan Saheb came to know about such singing, he called on at Saigal’s residence and asked him to sing once again in his presence
After listening to Saigal, he was spellbound over his mastery of expression and enquired as to who was his ‘ustad’ (teacher), from whom he had learnt such singing. To this, Saigal replied that he had not learnt from any ustad and it was only ‘Ooperwala’ (Almighty), who had taught him singing. At this, he blessed the maestro and gave him a hundred-rupee note, which Saigal kept with him till his death, as a token of his respect to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.
During the course of shooting of the film, Sarat Chander Chatterjee, the author of his classic ‘Devdas’ visited the sets. He was deeply impressed with the acting of Saigal and was surprised as to how a ‘Punjabi’ could understand so intelligently the character he had depicted in his novel in Bangla.
The memorable features of the film ‘Devdas’ were that it was produced and directed by P.C. Barua (who himself acted earlier in its ‘Bangla’ version) and its photographer was Bimal Roy, who later on himself produced and directed another version of ‘Devdas’ starring Dilip Kumar. As a mark of respect, Bimal Roy dedicated his film ‘Devdas’ to the memory of Saigal and Barua.
Saigal’s songs and acting were another notable characteristic of the film. Besides, there were three captivating melodies of Pahari Sanyal viz ‘Roshan hei terey dum se’, ‘Ujhardh chukka hei jo chhota sa aashiana’ & ‘Pee ki nazaria aye hein;’ and three enduring songs of K.C. Dey viz ‘Mat bhool musafir’, ‘Umariya beet gayee saari’ & ‘Teri maut kharhee hei’. Additionally, there was an immortal thumri in raag Piloo of Rajkumari (of Calcutta)—‘Nahin aye ghanshyam’. In this rendering she (Rajkumari) was definitely not trying to entertain anyone, but to share her own intoxication with music, as an act of her love!
Though these priceless melodies have been forgotten with the passage of time and non-availability of these recordings to the music-lovers, the fact remains that Barua’s ‘Devdas’ even today is one of the greatest musical hitfilms of the previous century.
What’s more, two genius of Hindi cinema got their first big break in this film—Bimal Roy as photographer and Kidar Sharma as lyricist and dialogue writer.
Bimal Roy’s film ‘Devdas’ (1955) is yet another milestone in the history of Indian cinema. The deep understanding of the story-line and portrayal of its characters is beyond description. And then presenting them on the silver- screen with a superb photographic effects with enchanting background music by the earthly S.D. Burman, the excellent delivery of dialogues and above all the sets and the locations shot for the film are some of the factors that can only be categorised as ‘par-excellence’. Amazingly, the renowned Urdu writer Rajinder Singh Bedi wrote its dialogues. He was certainly at his best. His insight of Bangla literature and deep understanding of characters is a matter of vital research.
The role of Devdas played with utter ease by the genius Dilip Kumar, depicting various aspects—mental conflict, dejection and love at heart— just cannot be expressed in words. It can only be felt and experienced. But the fact remains that he was certainly at his career best in this film.
Above all, I would like to draw the attention of my readers to the portrayal of the last ten minutes of the film. Such depiction is rarest of the rare in the ambit of Hindi cinema.
Devdas alights from the train at Pandua station, leaving behind his trusted servant—Dharam Das (role played by Nazir Hussain). He takes a bullock-cart for his last journey to Manikpur (Paro’s village). The depiction through flashback of the significant events of his early life during the bullock-cart journey and his eventual collapse at Paro’s doorsteps and her agony on hearing from her step-son the contents of letters found from the pocket of the unknown body which reveals to her the identity of the deceased as Devdas, simply stuns the mind of the viewer watching the film. What better direction in the domain of cinema can one expect! And then, the classic depiction of two birds flying before the film comes to ‘The End’.
Such marvelous portrayal was certainly possible in view of vigorous experience of Bimal Roy initially as a photographer and an editor, which made him a great director. The dull lights used in the referred portrayal again
is a lesson for makers and critics of serious cinema.
Inspired by the grand success of these two versions of ‘Devdas’, Sanjay Leela Bhansali made a third attempt whose unabashed opulence was in stark contrast to the austere ambience of its predecessors. A large number of viewers went to cinema halls to see as to how he had portrayed the legendary ‘Devdas’.
Hyperbole in the name of dialogue, lot of sound and fury signifying nothing only jarred the sensibilities of the audience. The spirit of love and its tragic culmination were smashed to smithereens by the artificial sets and high decibel dialogues, which hurt our sentiments and sensibilities alike. While the story of Devdas represented the unbridgeable chasm between affluence and affection, Bhansali’s film presented before us a deep gulf between India that was and India that now threatens to become—a surrealistic juxtaposition of the deprived and depravity. May God save us from such recreations of past classics in the garb of modernity!
By Satish Chopra