KC Dey’s songs in ‘Devdas’ (1935)

November 20, 2013

KC Dey in DevdasYou 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…

KC Dey sings as KL Saigal reluctantly departs for Calcutta

 

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.

KC Dey sings when Paro has got Saigal’s letter asking her to forget him

 

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.

KC Dey sings as the body of Devdas burns on the funeral pyre

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jignesh Kotadia November 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm

A real post came out from heart spontaneously….wonderful theme… Justifying this blog’s name and motive…
I saw this post and immediately downloaded all three Kc dey songs which were still unheard for me. Kc dey was like a previous edition of mannada. I have heard his few songs like ‘man ki aankhen khol’. His devdas songs r too good to listen. Thanx Akji…this post is a ‘Sixer’.

2 Jignesh Kotadia November 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm

the beauty of such posts are in their spontaneity. U dont need to strain urself to make it, it flows out naturally with emotions like tears from eyes,,

3 AK November 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Jignesh,
Thanks a lot for your compliments. KC Dey is divine. I am so happy that there are others whom he has moved so deeply.

4 n.venkataraman November 21, 2013 at 7:43 pm

AKji,
Thank you for this tribute to the legendary singer of the Vintage era on the eve of his death anniversary. Krishna Chandra Dey passed away on 28th November 1962.

It is always a great pleasure to listen to the singers and songs of vintage era. They hold a special charm. In fact they are on a different plane. All the three songs of K C Dey from Devdas (1935) that you have presented in this post are listener’s delight. I have always enjoyed K C Dey’s rendering of any songs, whether they be philosophical, Bhajans, Ghazals, Naats, Kirtans etc. He was a perfectionist to the core. In fact he had a full time Urdu teacher, Syed Saheb, who became a part of his family.

I have watched the Hindi version of this movie some time back. In fact I was eager to watch the Bengali version of Devdas (Pramatesh Baruah). But I understand that the only copy of this film is in Bangladesh and 60% of this copy is in damaged state. I believe in the Bengali version too K C Dey had donned the same role of a travelling minstrel. The song Jete hobe jete hobe re is the Bengali version of the song Tujhe jana hi padegaa’. Unfortunately till now I have not been able to find this song in YT.

I would like to post a ‘Naat’ beautifully rendered by Krishna Chandra Dey

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me4HhmsrML8

Everybody knows New Theatres produced Devdas in double version, in Bengali and Hindi. If I am not mistaken, in 1936 Devdas was remade in Tamil as Devadaas and in Assamese in 1937.

Thank you once again.

5 AK November 21, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Venkataramanji,
I rate KC Dey as one of the great trinity of the New Theatres, along with KL Saigal and Pankaj Mullick. The best of each are in a class by themselves. Thanks for adding KC Dey’s naat. It is beautiful.

It is sad that so much of our heritage is lost. I do not know what the present management of New Theatres are doing to preserve and bring out in public domain whatever is left.

YT has songs of Tamil Devdas. I am very fond of this song, though I guess a Tamil may find Saigal’s pronunciation awkward, his style is so much of a Hindustani classical singer. I find shades of Durga for which I have great fascination.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVU0pbXBNj4

6 mumbaikar8 November 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm

AK,
K C dey of Devdas, its different, what a suprise!
His 3 songs stand like pillars in K L Saigal’s Devdas.
As they say, every thing happens for a reason, K C Dey’s life stamps that.
His singing is indeed divine, as explained by Venkataramanji, his pronounciations are perfect too, that was rare in vintage singing.
I truly belive that, the challenge he was facing physically, has added dimensions to his “Man ki aankhen khol”.

7 Ashok Vaishnav November 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm

To stand out so emphatically in what can be called as a classic case of playing second fiddle speaks volumes for K C Dey’s vocal prowess.
It seems ironic that his career has an unfortunate parallel with his worthy pupil – Manna Dey- by the way of having to play second fiddle, stand out, being greatly appreciated by class and mass, yet never get the commercial due.
Great of SoY to place such an outstanding work on its deserving pedestal.

8 AK November 23, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Mumbaikar8, Ashok M Vaishnav
KC Dey’s songs in Devdas are indeed a surprise, because in any discussion on this film I have not seen his songs being mentioned. Yet when you see the film he leaves an impact as I have mentioned and all the readers agree. Since these songs are not among his best known we can just imagine his impact when we consider his career best songs. To me, he was up there with Pankaj Mullick and Saigal as a singer and I never considered him second fiddle.

9 Canasya November 24, 2013 at 12:04 am

AKji, after a series of posts on SDB you have now produced a touching one on his mentor! Both KC Dey and SDB left for heavenly abode at the age of 69. The better halves of both had musical credentials (KC Dey’s wife, Roma Dey — born Tarakbala — also had several recordings to her name). And both had only one son who died young (KC Dey’s son died at 14). (Source: http://www.krishnachandradey.com/)

Hindi Film industry conspired to (nearly) type KC Dey into a singer of bhajans (and their variations) for his strong, sonorous voice and clear enunciation, just as it later did Manna Dey. And just as to fully appreciate Manna Dey’s singing you must listen to his Bengali songs, KC Dey comes into his own in his mother tongue and in his classical pieces where he had full freedom to choose what he wanted to sing.

I am providing couple of links below. The first one, ‘Chhuyon na chhuyon na bondhu’ has KC Dey singing in somewhat higher octave and modulating his voice well across words – something that he is rarely heard doing in his Hindi film songs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOY4zXQvHAo

The next three — Chamak bijuri (Mia Malhar), Mari saiyan pichkari (Hori), and Megh heri neel gogoney (Nat Malhar) — are his classical renditions. Close your eyes and you can almost hear SDB or Manna Dey, leaving little doubt as to where they got their musical moorings.

http://kundanlalsaigal.com/krishnachandradey/Audio-Bengali-KCDey/Non-Film(Bengali)_1940-KCDey-ChamakeBijuri(MiaMalhar)-_KCDey.mp3

http://kundanlalsaigal.com/krishnachandradey/Audio-KCDey/Non-Film_KCDey-MariSaiyanPichkari(PrivateHoriSong)-KCDey_KCDey.mp3

http://kundanlalsaigal.com/krishnachandradey/Audio-Bengali-KCDey/Non-Film(Bengali)_1936-KCDey-MeghHeriNeelGogoney(NatMalhar)-_KCDey.mp3

10 AK November 24, 2013 at 11:05 am

Canasya,
I sense you regard his Bengali songs as the ultimate KC Dey. This gives a new line of exploration. I am not very familiar with his Bengali songs. His naats, qawwalis and ghazals have been a revelation.

Thanks for adding the songs which are all absolutely melodious.

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