You need not rub your eyes; this post is indeed about KC Dey’s songs in Devdas (1935). I know that this movie is synonymous with KL Saigal and his eternal songs – Balam aye baso more man mein, Dukh ke ab din beetat naahi and his rendering of Abdul Karim Khan’s thumri, Piya bin nahi aawat chain. Even though Saratchandra’s novel came about two decades earlier, it was Saigal who made the eponymous character a metaphor for a doomed lover who could not stand up to his parents’ notion of loss of honour in marrying into a family of lower status. Paro gets into a loveless marriage with a much older widower, who has children her age from his previous marriage, and Devdas hurtles on the path of self-destruction – even the selfless love of the dancing girl, Chandramukhi, not being able to rescue him.
This simple tale has held enduring attraction to film makers of different languages and different eras. Of all the versions, Bimal Roy’s in 1955 (Dilip Kumar-Vyjayanthimala-Motilal) is supposedly the definitive work. But Saigal’s Devdas (directed by PC Barua, who also played the lead role in the Bengali version) is a landmark in Indian cinema as the first major shift from mythological/historical stories to a social theme, based on a literary work. Saigal’s natural acting and his songs remain at a different pedestal. The film made Saigal a nationwide sensation, and the first and the greatest actor-singer ever. Incidentally, Bimal Roy was cinematographer of the New Theatres’ Devdas.
With all the folklore associated with Saigal and Devdas, the reason why I am writing on KC Dey’s songs in the film is because I got to notice his songs in a different light, when my dream of over 35 years to watch this film was fulfilled sometime back. The film had all the Saigal magic I had gone for. KC Dey appears just thrice as a passer-by for a total duration of less than 8 minutes. He is going his own way singing a song, escorted by a small girl holding his fingers. He does not interfere with the story, but his three songs happen at critical stages in the film, enhancing its underlying pathos.
I find that various sources crudely describe KC Dey as a blind singer, a reference to the fact that he lost his eyesight in his childhood due to some illness. Today we use a euphemism for persons with disability – ‘specially abled’. In his case it is literally true – it seems that somehow his visual impairment endowed him with a voice which was deeply moving. A blind man, singing in a high-pitched heavy voice – songs of pain, separation, of deeper meaning of life – escorted by a small child holding his finger, is an indelible image. We see this image of KC Dey in some other movies also.
Kedar Sharma, who wrote its lyrics, would later earn fame as a producer-director of several classics in Bombay. The music director, Timir Baran was another New Theatres stalwart. He was a renowned sarod player, who is credited to have first used the sarod in film music in Balam aye baso more man mein.
Before I come to the songs, let me make some general observations about the film, not intending it to be a review. In our early films we are aware that characters, especially the female characters, had a very theatrical and artificial style of dialogue delivery. What has intrigued me was that while the male characters in Devdas, and not only Saigal, had almost natural way of speaking, the female characters’ delivery was decidedly odd, as it appears today. If we survey the films of 1930s and 40s, my observation is that there is a gap of about ten years from men before the women also started speaking in a natural way. I do not think there was any such difference in the society. Then why this ‘gender divide in the dialogue delivery in our early films’? I would be interested if someone could guide me if any scholar has written on this topic.
The second oddity which was even more striking in this film was the preponderance of heavy Urdu words for even common Hindi words. Saratchandra’s Paro, in rural Bengal, talking of her waldain’s farmabardari (obedience to parents) is something I could have never expected. In the same vein, the letter Paro receives from Saigal, stating that he did not have the courage to defy his parents, and therefore, she should forget him as he had done, is in Urdu! The only reason I could think is that in his desire to target the film for a wider audience, PC Barua was not correctly advised what kind of language was spoken in India at large. One word which particularly struck me was Saigal’s use of udool-hukmi. I thought the word for defiance of authority was hukm-udooli. In any case, a simple Hindi equivalent would have sounded more natural. Use of Urdu language in PC Barua’s Devdas appears to be another fit subject for serious analysis by experts.
Another thing I found curious was that Chunni Babu, who is so well-etched in our memory because of Motilal in the Bimal Roy’s version, is a very insignificant presence in the film. I had presumed that Pahadi Sanyal, the other New Theatres’ stalwart, would be Chunni Babu. Pahadi Sanyal is there, but just a hanger on around the kotha, who appears off and on to sing a couple of songs, sitting at the harmonium. The songs are, nevertheless, outstanding. (Chuuni Babu is played by someone called Asghar Hussain Shore).
I could not help the above digression. Now the three songs of KC Dey. It is an unplanned coincidence that this post is following the series on SD Burman and my earlier post on Manna Dey’s songs composed by him. Readers are, of course, aware how the three are closely connected – KC Dey was the mentor of both his nephew Manna Dey and SD Burman.
1. Mat bhool musafir tujhe jana hi padegaa
As Devdas’s stern father had enough of his loafing around, he is to be packed off to Calcutta for higher studies, which was the norm for upper class Bengali society. This also means separation from his childhood love, Paro. It is at this point that KC Dey happens to be passing, singing this song. In his deep voice, ‘Tujhe jana hi padegaa’ assumes meaning at different layers, suggesting a fundamental truth that one day everyone, who has come, has to go.
मत भूल मुसाफिर तुझे जाना ही पड़ेगा
फुलवारी जब फूल खिले तो फूली नहीं समाती है
अपनी अपनी सुंदरता पर कली कली इतराती है
शबनम है जो रो रो कर हर फूल को ये समझाती है
मत भूल मुसाफिर….
एक मुसाफिर आना है दुनिया एक मुसाफिर जाना है
मोहजाल में फंसकर मूरख फिर पाछे पछ्ताना है
गाफिल एक दिन सब को यहां से इतना कह कर जाना है
अफसोस ना जाना था जाना ही पड़ेगा
मत भूल मुसाफिर…
Don’t forget O traveller! you have to leave one day
When the flowers bloom, the garden is beside itself with joy
Every flower bud gloats at its beauty
But it is the morning dew which with its tears tells every flower
Don’t forget O traveller….
Someone comes and someone leaves, that is the law of this world
But the unwise person gets ensnared in temptations and repents
Unaware of the Truth, we all have to leave one day regretting
Alas, why didn’t I realise that it was inevitable I had to go
Don’t forget O traveller…
Na aya man ka meet umariya beet gayi sari
Paro has received the heart-breaking letter from Saigal I have mentioned earlier (you can see the letter in Urdu!) – मैं अपने खानदानी रस्म-ओ-रिवाज़ को तुम्हारी मोहब्बत के लिये क़ुरबान नहीं कर सकता. मजबूर हूं. इसलिये तुम मुझे भूल जाने की कोशिश करो जैसे कि मैंने की. She assimilates her pain deep inside without resorting to any melodrama. She tears the letter with a silent determination – even her waldain (why not Mata Pita?) have their izzat. At this point KC Dey is singing this song under a tree, as if to himself, when Paro comes by listening to the song silently. In a moving gesture, when she gives something in his hand, he asks her name. She replies, “Parvati”. He blesses her, “Khush raho”. What else could he say? But his voice seems to reflect all the pain inside her, and portent of things to come.
Teri maut khadi ho sirhane idhar
Now the defining scene of Devdas, which can be described as the mother of all climaxes. Devdas has his wish fulfilled when with his last breath he is just able to make it to Paro’s doorstep. In the morning, the dead body of this unknown person is found. Paro immediately knows who he is from the letters found in his belongings. As she tries to rush out of the haveli screaming ‘Deva, Deva’, its huge doors are shut on her by her ‘sons’. As Devdas’s unclaimed body burns on the pyre, KC Dey’s final song brings the curtain down on the movie.