One hundred years of Sarat Chandra’s ‘Devdas’

June 30, 2017

Devdas_Sarat ChandraSome time back,  there was an interesting discussion between Ashok Kumar Tyagi and Hans about the story of Devdas and as to why Sanjay Leela Bhansali took so much liberties with it. I doubt if they realised that it was the centenary year of the publication of Sarat Chandra’s eponymous novel. Such coincidences have often happened on SoY. When I was planning to celebrate 2014 as the centenary year of Anil Biswas, his daughter Shikha Biswas Vohra happened to visit SoY, and on my request, she wrote the inaugural article of the series on him. Last year, a new visitor RS Ramaswamy visited some old posts and commented about MS Subbulakshmi. It happened to be her centenary year, and N Venkataraman wrote an excellent tribute to her.

It is believed that Sarat Chandra wrote Devdas in 1901 when he was just 25. He was against its publication as he thought his writing was immature and the character was over-sentimental. But on the persuasion of his friend Pramathnath Bhatt, he allowed its publication in his journal ‘Bharatvarsh’ (March 1916 – April 2017), and later as a book on 30 June 1917. Its first film adaptation was in the silent era, in 1928, directed by Naresh Mitra, and starring Phani Sarma, Tarakbala and Niharbala. Its next adaptation was in the early years of the talkies – the bilingual (Bengali and Hindi) versions in 1935 by the New Theatres, both directed by PC Barua, he also playing the lead role of Devdas in the Bengali version, which was played by KL Saigal in the Hindi version. This became a landmark in the history of films, making the New Theatres the Gold Standard of film making, and KL Saigal a national sensation as a singing star. Its cinematographer, Bimal Roy, remade the film in 1955 as a tribute to PC Barua and KL Saigal. This, too, earned a wide acclaim as the most authentic film adaptation of the novel, and a great classic. The third Hindi version, in 2002, by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, which triggered the discussion between Tyagiji and Hans, has evoked mixed responses. People have been awed by its opulence; it has also won several awards, but serious lovers of cinema have been critical of the ‘liberties’ Bhansali has taken with the book.

There has been a highly stylised inspiration Dev. D (2009), directed by Anurag Kashyap. This, obviously, can’t be called an adaptation. Along the way, there have been numerous film adaptations in other languages.

Whenever a classic is adapted into a film, the two most common questions asked are: How far is the film faithful to the source? And whether the book or the film is superior. But another, and more important question in the context of Devdas is: This is the story of a weak-willed character who, unable to defy parental objection to his marriage to his childhood sweetheart, dissipates himself and self-destructs in alcohol. What is there in it that has charmed millions of readers transcending barriers of language and culture for a hundred years, and has inspired generations of filmmakers? Let us take a look at the book, the author, and the three Hindi film versions to seek answer to these questions. That would also be a fitting tribute to the classic novel Devdas on the centenary of its publication, and to Sarat Chandra.

Devdas: The Novel (published on 30 June 1917)
Author: Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

Devdas_Sarat Chandra 2The novel opens with the village pathshala scene where the monitor, at the behest of the guruji, is minding the class. The children, Devdas and Paro, are inseparable friends – he, troublesome and arrogant, causing so much exasperation to the teacher that he is not allowed to go out during recess; she, proud, sensitive and sympathetic. She stays behind to give him company in his punishment. Devdas, out of mischief and anger, pushes the monitor off the stool on a heap of dirt and grime. Paro is beside herself with laughter. The guruji is furious, Devdas runs away, the class is sent after him to catch him; Devdas causes further mischief, pelting stones on the pursuing crowd and injuring several of them. Guruji leads a delegation of angry and hurt students to Devdas’s father, the zamindar Narayan Mukherjee, who is furious at his son’s wayward behaviour. The novel has some more scenes of Devdas’s wild pranks, his hiding in the expansive orchard out of fear of his father, and Paro stealthily bringing him food. Finally, Devdas’s father decides enough is enough and packs him off to Calcutta for studies under the guardianship of his Mamaji. I should add here that among the three Hindi film versions, only Bimal Roy’s adapts this faithfully. PC Barua’s Devdas (1935) opens with the adult Paro (Jamuna) being drawn towards Devdas (KL Saigal) singing Baalam aye baso more man mein under a tree. Bhansali’s opens with scenes of excitement at Mukherjees’ haveli at the news of the return of Devdas (Shahrukh Khan) from ‘London’ after completion of his studies.

A fairly substantial part of the slim novel is devoted to the childhood of the principal characters. This helps delineate their characters and their relationship. Devdas takes Paro for granted, and considers it his right to boss over her and also hit her if he thinks she deserves punishment. But Paro is no doormat either. While deeply in love with him, she is full of pride and self-respect. When they grow into adult lovers, it is an extension of their childhood relationships, and this helps in understanding many critical scenes between them which lead to irretrievable disaster later in their lives.

Many years pass by. Devdas comes to his village Tal Sonapur off and on during vacations from Calcutta and meets with Paro and Chhoti Chachi (i.e. Paro’s mother). The lovers have free access to each other’s houses and are treated with great affection by each other’s families. In this scenario, it was natural for Paro’s mother and grandmother to think of her marriage with Devdas as the most natural thing. But they did not anticipate that their lower social status compared to Mukherjees and their old tradition of accepting money in daughter’s marriage would be an insurmountable obstacle. Neelkanth Chakravarty (Paro’s father) himself detested this practice, and was confident that his daughter would be married on her own merits. But when Paro’s grandmother broaches this with Devdas’s mother, she does not get instant endorsement. Devdas’s mother gives a wry smile which conceals several emotions. For the moment, she disposes the proposal by saying that ‘’He” (Devdas’s father) would not agree. However, she gingerly mentions this to her husband at dinner time, hoping against hope that he would agree. But seeing his gross contempt for Paro’s family, she does not press further, rather owns up herself that she had rejected the offer.

The news of rejection makes Paro’s father furious. He is angry at his mother for inviting this humiliation to his family by her ill-thought approach. He would avenge it by arranging Paro’s marriage in even a richer family than the Mukherjees. He is true to his word, Bhuvan Chaudhary of Hathipota village was a bigger zamindar. The fact that he was 40 years old and a widower with grown up children was trivial compared to the pressing need of ticking off the Mukherjees.

Paro is unconcerned at this news, because her ‘swami’ was Devdas. She was confident that whenever Devdas was married, it would be to her. Therefore, she is not afraid of stigma, or people recognising her when at the dead of the night she walks across to Devdas’s house, and going past the darwan, confidently goes up to his bedroom. In the first turning point in the story, Devdas falters. Unprepared for such an eventuality, he asks in shock: So late in the night? Have you come alone? Were you not frightened? How did you enter the house, didn’t anyone see you? Did anyone recognise you? How would you face slander and shame? Paro is cool, no I am not scared of ghosts and spirits; yes, darwan might have seen me; people know me here, some of them might have recognised me; and where is shame in coming to you? You are my swami, I know you would cover my shame and protect my dignity. I have come to surrender myself at your feet. Devdas cannot get himself to commit in the face of parental objection, and quietly escorts her back to her house. In the morning, he does tentatively mention marriage with Paro to this father, but he is unmoved. Back he goes to Calcutta in a thoroughly lost and disoriented state.

Paro is still hopeful, but in the second turning point in the story which becomes irreversible, she gets a letter from Devdas that he can’t marry her by making his parents unhappy. He compounds it further by stating that he never thought of his relationship with her as love. His only pain was that she was suffering so much on his account. ‘Please try to forget me, you have my blessings from the core of my heart that you be happy.’

After dropping the letter(-bomb) in the letter-box, Devdas is immediately filled with remorse. He has shifted in the meanwhile from his Mama’s place to a mess. As he is tossing and turning in his bed restlessly, a co-boarder Chunnilal, who has been trying to complete his BA for nine years, returns that night unusually early for him at 1AM, and finding Devdas in great torment, offers to take him to a place of pleasure where such pains vanish. However, the next day, Chunni Babu finds a determined Devdas, all packed up, and ready to leave Calcutta for good and go back to his village.

In the next turning point, Devdas is fishing at the village pond where Paro usually comes to fill her water pitcher. She tries to go her way after doing her chores, but Devdas calls her, I have come back. “So?”, she snaps. Devdas tells her he would persuade his parents for the marriage. “And what about my parents, their honour and wish do not matter?” An apologetic Devdas asks her, have you forgotten me? Parvati is unsparing and turns the screw some more, “How can I forget you? From childhood, I have known you and I have feared you. You want to frighten me again? Leave my way; if you are big people, my father is not a beggar either. Go ahead, if you want to malign my character.” And, in what is by now a familiar iconic scene, Devdas exclaims, Oh such pride! It is not good to be so beautiful, it makes one arrogant, even moon has a black spot. He hits her hard on the forehead with the butt of the fishing rod.

As Devdas tears his shirt and tends to her wound, this becomes one of the most moving scenes in the story. No two persons loved each other more intensely, yet they are destined not to unite. For Sarat Chandra, unrequited love is the highest form of love. Paro gets married to Bhuvan Babu, becoming the mistress of a big household and mother of two grown-up sons and a married daughter. A defeated, helpless and forlorn Devdas goes back to Calcutta with nothing on him. He spends the entire night wandering around in the city aimlessly. Finally,  he staggers towards the mess where Chunni Babu takes care of him. Devdas is not in a mood to resume his studies or sit for examination. He asks Chunni Babu to take him where the latter goes. He also needs some relief from his miseries. In this state of mind, even his family retainer Dharma Das’s entreaties to come back for the sake of his inconsolable mother has no effect on him. Chunni Babu takes Devdas to the kotha of Chandramukhi. But Devdas is bitter with life, with women, with love, and does not conceal his contempt for her. She had never seen a customer like him. She instantly develops a deep empathy for him, but he is too far gone down the cliff for even her most sincere affection and care to be able to retrieve him. As he leaves, throwing money at her contemptuously, Chandramukhi returns the money to Chunni Babu, and pleads with him to bring Devdas once more after he recovers.

It is downhill all the way for Devdas. Chandramukhi’s entreaties to give up alcohol is of no avail, because now it is not an addiction, it has become his life. At the funeral of his father, Paro also comes for giving him comfort. She has by now come to know that alcohol has taken over Devdas. Her entreaties, too, to give up alcohol are met with a painful reply: Is everyone capable of doing everything? Can you promise not to remember me ever? Can you run away with me? Finally, on her earnest pleadings to let her take care of him, Devdas replies in a heart-rending voice: OK, if this gives you any satisfaction, I shall remember it, I promise I would come to you before I die.

Now we know the inevitable. The widowed mother goes off to Kashi for six months. In Calcutta, Chandramukhi has renounced everything and has wound up her Calcutta establishment to shift to a small village, only waiting to meet Devdas once before leaving. Both Paro and Chandramukhi separately go to Tal Sonapur looking for Devdas as they have heard of his pathetic condition. They miss him, but knowing that he might be somewhere in Calcutta, Chandramukhi goes back there looking for him. She finds him finally, and her care improves his health to some extent. But his drinking continues unabated, which has eroded his body to a point of no return. On Dharma Das’s insistence, Devdas goes to Allahabad, Lahore, Bombay etc. for recuperating. But his body has been ravaged, afflicted with serious illnesses. It is frightening to look at him. Finally, he takes a seemingly endless train journey. As the train stops at Pandua, he remembers that this is the place where one has to get down for going to Hathipota, Paro’s sasural. As his life is ebbing away, he desperately asks the coachman to go faster. The coach is indeed able to reach him there in the midnight when he is still not quite dead. By the dawn, a crowd starts collecting around his dying body. When he is finally gone, no one is willing to touch his body; it is given over to chandals who consign it to vultures and animals. From the letters, tattoo etc. found on his body, it is clear he is Paro’s Devdas from Tal Sonapur. She runs to meet him, but this would be scandalous, therefore, her family and servants run after her to stop her. The huge gates of the haveli are banged shut on her. Her limp body is brought inside.

Sarat Chandra’s description of Devdas’s death may appear more graphic and macabre than we are familiar with in the film adaptations, but his deep sympathy for the character is quite obvious, as he (the author) says in the end:

Now at this distance in time, we don’t know what happened to Parvati or how she is, nor am I interested in knowing about it. But for Devdas, my heart cries out, and anyone who reads this story would probably be as pained as I am. If you happen to know anyone as unfortunate, reckless, wayward and sinful as Devdas, please pray to God for him, that whatever may happen, he should not have this kind of death. Death is inevitable, but there must be a touch of a loving hand on his head, so that he dies in peace looking at a compassionate face and tears in the eyes of someone.

The author: ‘आवारा मसीहा’ Sarat Chandra Chatterjee
(b. 15 September 1876; d. 16 January 1938)

Sarat_Awara MaseehaSarat Chandra was the third pillar of the great trinity of Bengali literature after Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore. But no writer faced as much slander and controversies about his personal life as him. Bankim Chandra was revered as the father figure of Bengali literature and a leading light of Bengal’s renaissance. He was the inspiration for Indian nationalism based on our great cultural traditions. Rabindranath Tagore, born in an aristocratic family, was a man of multi-faceted talents: writing, painting, music. Widely regarded for his internationalism and humanism, he won the Nobel Prize for literature – the first Asian to be given this honour – for his transcendental poetry. He became an icon of Bengali pride.

Sarat Chandra, on the other hand, had no such pedigree. Born in village Devanandpur in Hooghly district (Bengal) to Motilal Chatterjee and Bhuvanmohini, Sarat Chandra was second among five siblings: an older sister Anila, two younger brothers Prabhas and Prakash, and the youngest sister Susheela. He had an impoverished childhood, as Motilal was more of a dreamer having interest in arts and literature, and incapable of holding a regular job and providing for the family. But, lineage mattered more in marriage and, thus, he was married into a well-known aristocratic Ganguly family of Bhagalpur.

When Bhuvanmohini found it impossible to manage the household even after selling off her jewellery, she had no option but to seek shelter with her father Kedarnath Ganguly, and her uncle Aghornath Ganguly when Kedarnath was no more. Sarat, thus, spent a large part of his childhood and adolescence at Bhagalpur in different spells. The Gangulys welcomed them with great affection, even when their own financial condition deteriorated. But, living as gharjmai was never an honourable option for Motilal. As for Sarat, in spite of all the affection showered on him, and in spite of being more a friend with several Mamas who were his age in the large joint family, he had a sense of discomfort, which is reflected in Devdas leaving his Mama’s house for a boarding house in Calcutta.

Sarat Chandra was a mischievous child; he had a constant companion Dhiru in his pranks. Sarat and Dhiru of Devanandpur became the children Devdas and Paro of Tal Sonapur. Sarat was a reckless and wayward adolescent during his Bhagalpur days, but he was extremely popular among his ‘gang’ for his story-telling abilities and his melodious voice. One of the more notorious members of the group was one Raju, who fascinated him, because Raju was not afraid of any danger when it came to helping outcasts of the society. This Raju became Indranath of ‘Srikant’, Srikant himself being quite a good deal the restless wanderer Sarat. With Raju, he often visited a tawaif Kalidasi. The main attraction for Sarat was his interest in music and melody. He did take liquor, possibly to the point of being addicted. Whether he savoured more than music at the kotha is irrelevant. What impressed him most was her large-heartedness. She was a pious lady and one day renounced everything. There is no doubt that Chandramukhi was based on her character.

Sarat Chandra also became very friendly with one Vibhutibhushan Bhatt whose elder sister Nirupama was widowed at a very young age. She was extremely talented; Sarat became her mentor and inspired her to write, but was saddened that because of the shackles of widowhood, she could not realise her full potential.

While Sarat’s studies were in shambles, Bhaglapur became the cradle for his creative urges. He was a voracious reader of classics from all over the world. He wrote many of his later well-known works here, known only to his friends, who formed a literary club to discuss their writings. It was during this period that he wrote ‘Devdas’. ‘Shubhada’ (c.1898), depicting extreme penury and a sacrificing mother with infinite patience, looking after her family in the face of a no-good husband, is a slice from his own life. ‘Kashinath’ was born here.  During this period, Sarat submitted his story ‘Mandir‘ for a prize competition, but in the name of his Mama and friend Surendranath Ganguly. This story won the first prize among 150 entries.

From Bhagalpur he wandered off to different places for varying periods of time. His wanderings took him to Muzaffarpur where he set himself up in a dharmshala as a saffron-clad sanyasi, as this would help him in seeking alms. But because of his melodious voice and story-telling abilities, he was noticed and hosted by the prominent Bengali family of Nishanath and Shikharnath Bandopadhyay who had already heard of him from Nirupama (of Bhagalpur) who was their bhabhi. Another young Bengali, Pramathnath Bhatt, who was greatly impressed by him, would play an important role later in bringing out Sarat the great writer before the world. A young scion of a Bihari aristocratic family, Mahadev Sahu, who was fond of Bengali, became fascinated with Sarat. They were companions for kothas and drinks. The Sahu family blamed ‘the young Bengali who had come from Bhagalpur’ as a bad influence on Mahadev.

Sarat lived a completely bohemian life in Muzaffarpur. The news of the death of his father jolted him to the realities of life. His mother had passed away a few years ago during the birth of his youngest sister. The elder sister was married in Govindpur, but he had three younger siblings to take care of. After setting them up with different relatives and benefactors, Sarat himself headed towards Calcutta in search of a regular job. While he was staying with one of his Mamas, Lalmohan, his Rangoon-based advocate Mausa, Aghornath Chattopadhyay, happened to come to Calcutta and stayed with Lalmohan. Sarat was fascinated by the romanticised stories of Rangoon: How the sahibs lap up Bengalis landing from ships and offer them lucrative jobs, how its streets are strewn with wealth, and how a pauper reaching there becomes wealthy in a short time. When Aghornath invited him to Rangoon to assist him, Sarat was already determined his destiny lay there. Apprehensive that his Mamas and friends would discourage him from leaving, he somehow arranged for fare, and one early morning at 4AM took a steamer for Rangoon. The bohemian, wayward youth who had so far lived a life of dependence on others, embarked on another uncertain journey into future a la Srikant. He had started writing ‘Charitraheen’ by then.

He spent about 13 years in Burma from 1903 to 1916, but it was far from a land of dreams. Sarat was his father’s son, not cut out for leading a regular life and holding a steady job. He could not pass exams in Burmese language or accounting. He did odd temporary jobs at different places. When his Mausa passed away, he lived with friends, in lower class worker’s colonies. Women always felt attracted towards him. A beautiful young woman Shanti took shelter with him, as her father was trying to marry her off to an old man. Sarat lived with her as a couple, they aso had a child, but her and their child’s death in plague shattered him.  One gentleman from Bengal, Krishnadeo Adhikari left his daughter Mokshada under Sarat’s care as he could not get her married properly, and one day disappeared. When malaria and plague broke out, Mokshada looked after Sarat with great devotion. Sarat renamed her Hiranmayee. She lived with him till his end as his wife, though the orthodox Bengali society questioned whether the marriage was sanctified by rituals.  A few days before his death Sarat had made out his will in favour of Hiranmayee.

During this period, one of his stories, ‘Bordidi’ (The Elder Sister) which he had left behind with his friends was published in the monthly journal Bharati (April-May 1907). It instantly heralded the arrival of a great writer, but he was an unknown name, living far away in anonymity in Rangoon. Many people speculated that only someone of the calibre of Gurudev could write such a powerful story, and he might have decided to write it anonymously. Gurudev himself was impressed and clarified that he was not the author. The third and the final instalment disclosed his name.

Thereafter, there was an unfortunate incident of fire in his home in Rangoon, which destroyed his completed manuscript of ‘Charitraheen‘ of 500 pages and his other writings. This was his effort of almost fifteen years. A dejected Sarat Chandra was not in a mood to write again. But on the persuation of his friends and admirers who were aware of his talent, he started writing after a gap of about six years. The publication of his three stories, Ramer Sumati, Path  Nirdesh and Bindur Chhele in quick successiones in Yamuna magazine (1913) created a sensation and refreshed the memory of the readears of Sarat who had made a great impact six years earlier with Bordidi. He had also started rewriting Charitraheen from memory. The publication of its first instalment in October 1913 created a sensation, and alarm for its theme.  Sarat’s stories and novels got published regularly in magazines, including some of his very young days, left behind with his friends.

Sarat had left Calcutta as an aimless and restless youth. He returned in 1916 as an eminent writer. He was soon translated widely into various languages. He became the most widely read fiction writer of Bengali, but the Bengali society had conflicted views about him. He was seen as a charitraheen, who lived in seedy places, visited places of ill repute, who glorified prostitutes, and eulogised widows falling in love and married women from decent families eloping with young men. None of such relationships led to union – perhaps this was Sarat’s concession to the tradition-bound society, but what he wrote was enough to jolt and shock. He was ostracised by his relatives from ceremonial occasions. Sarat himself never bothered for acceptance, nor did he ever care about the unflattering stories, often exaggerated, circulating about him.

When Tagore once asked him why he didn’t write his autobiography, Sarat replied, “Had I known I would become such a famous person, I would have lived my life very differently.” But in that case, he wouldn’t have been the Sarat who created fascinating female characters like Paro, Chandramukhi, Rajlaxmi, Kiranmayi, Hemangini, Bindubasini, Narayani and Sabitri. The writer who had no intellectual pretensions, who wrote stories in simple language, tales of relationships, oppression of young widows, their ‘forbidden’ desires and the hypocrisies of the society in dealing with them, of noble and compassionate tawaifs and sex workers. These characters were not fiction, these were real people he met and lived with in his life. The man for whom नारीत्व was superior to सतीत्व. Who valued character more than chastity.

He wanted to spend the rest of his life in the peace of a village. He constructed a house in Samtabed near Roopnarayanpur river, but he had to often come to Calcutta for medical treatment. Considering his frail health, on Hiranmayee’s persuation he built a house in Calcutta. He spent his last three years flitting between the city and the village. His body too, like Devdas’s, had suffered excesses. During his last years, he was suffering from many serious ailments like dyspepsia and liver cancer. He finally passed away at a relatively young age of 61 years in 1938.

The film Devdas (Hindi, 1935): Making of a metaphor and birth of a legend
Director: PC Barua
Cast: KL Saigal, Jamuna, Rajkumari, Pahadi Sanyal, KC Dey
Music: Timir Baran

Devdas_SaigalWhen a drunken KL Saigal, lying on the pavements in Calcutta, appeared on the screen, singing Abdul Karim Khan’s iconic thumri Pya bin naahi aavat chain, or another time when he sang in his pathos-filled voice, Dukh ke ab din beetat naahi, I guess that was the time when ‘Devdas’ became a metaphor for a dejected lover drowning himself in alcohol and finally destroying himself – ‘Kyon Devdas bane phirte ho?’ At the same time, KL Saigal became a legend as the greatest actor-singer and a beacon for future generation of singers.

Saigal’s first three films with the New Theatres, Mohabbat Ke Aansoo, Zinda Laash and Subah Ka Sitara, all in 1932, sank without trace. Nothing is known about these films, nor even whether he had any songs in these films. He came into prominence with Yahudi Ki Ladki (1933) and Chandidas (1934), but Devdas made him a national sensation. His non-film song, Jhulna jhulao ri, said to be his first recorded song, had been released in the meantime to stupendous reception. Even though he was not formally trained in classical music, he was respected by the likes of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan and Pandit Omkarnath Thakur. On hearing his Piya bin naahi aawat chain, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was so impressed that he gifted his harmonium to him with his blessings. When Saigal once approached Ustad Faiyyaz Khan to take him as his disciple, the Aftaab-e-Mausiqui placed his pearl necklace around Saigal and told him: There is nothing that I can teach you. You have gifted a voice blessed by God.

The film also put the New Theatres in a class by itself. The main sources of our early films were mythology, or fantasy costume drama taken from Parsi theatre. The studio’s first sound film Dena Paona (1931, Bengali) was also based on Sarat Chandra’s novel. They kept their tradition of sourcing material from high literature. With RC Boral, Pankaj Mullick, Timir Baran, KL Saigal, KC Dey and Kanan Devi in their stable, they were the Gold Standard of film making in the studio era.

The film is available on YT, but I must caution that you have to approach it as a piece of history. In 1935, our film making was constrained by limitations of technology. With our poor record of preservation, the film lacks in production values. But there is a still more serious problem. The stilted acting of female characters and the dialogue delivery sounds very awkward. It is also jarring to hear Devdas say, ‘Main apne waaldain ki udool-hukmi nahi kar sakta’, or Paro mouthing dialogues like, ‘Aur mere waaldain ki razaamandi zaroori nahi?’ I had earlier written on KC Day’s songs in the film (yes, he is there and has sung three songs), in which I have made a mention of these aspects. In their later films, the New Theatres were able to arrive at a more acceptable Hindi/Hindustani language.

But the everlasting music and the songs make up for everything in the film. Let me part with this film with Saigal’s immortal songs, written by Kidar Sharma and composed by Timir Baran.

Baalam aye baso more man mein

Dukh ke ab din beetat naahi

Piya bin naahi aawat chain

And now let us hear the original Jhinjhoti thumri, sung by the maestro Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, which had made Pt. Bhimsen Joshi restless in childhood. Its impact was so powerful that he left home wandering from place to place in search of a guru.

The film Devdas (1955): Poetry on celluloid
Director: Bimal Roy
Cast: Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Vyjayanthimala, Motilal
Music: SD Burman

A sad, lonely and drunken Devdas wandering aimlessly in desolate mangroves, shooting birds with his airgun is a sight etched in memory. And when he (Dilip Kumar), sitting by the pond, sings Mitwa, mitwa naahi aye, laagi re ye kaisi anbujh aag, and touches the desolate trees which once came to life with their childhood pranks, you cry with him. And you admire the sensitivity of Bimal Roy and his eye for detail. On the tree, there is a solitary bird, as still and sad as the trees, the surroundings and the characters. When the child Devdas and Paro played around the same trees, the same bird also chirped in happiness as the kids sang O albele panchhi tera door thikana hai. The scene cuts to Parvati reading her friend Manorama’s letter describing the pathetic condition of Devdas. She rushes to Tal Sonapur only to find him gone. And then comes the immortal scene of Paro returning in palaki when her pensive eyes meet Chandramukhi’s who is walking along the ridge of the fields in the opposite direction on the same mission. She would also come back empty handed. This is poetry on celluloid.

Devdas_Poetry on celluloid

Mitwa mitwa nahi aaye, laagi re ye kaisi anbujh aag by Talat Mahmood from Devdas (1955), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanavi, music SD Burman

One can’t imagine any actor surpassing Dilip Kumar’s Devdas. Chunni Babu deserves a special mention. In the novel, his character is not very well etched out. Moti Lal has made him a lovable character. Yes, he drinks and frequents the kotha, but he has an innate sense of goodness and humour. When Devdas asks him to take where he goes to drown his worries, he is surprised, and tries to dissuade him that such places are not for him.

A fellow respected blogger, and regular at SoY, Madhu (Dusted Off) has a section in her reviews: “What I didn’t like in the film.” There is nothing in the film that is out of place. Bimal Roy does more than pay a tribute to PC Barua and KL Saigal. He creates a masterpiece as tall as the novel itself.

The film Devdas (2002): The mauling of a classic
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Roy, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff
Music: Ismail Darbar

The first film to cross 100-crore budget, opulent, lavish sets, operatic. These are the terms by which Sanjay Leela’s Bhansali’s Devdas is described. The rich golden hue, perhaps a favourite of Bhansli, permeates the entire film. Donald Trump has also done up his penthouse in New York in gold. The characters have to be larger than life, loud and melodramatic to fit in such a film. The film opens with the mother of Devdas, Smita Jaikar, prancing around the mansion, shouting instructions to the servants, generally creating a ruckus that her son is coming from London after completing his studies.

That is not enough. The characters also need dramatic scenes and thunderous dialogues. For that, Bhansali makes her a vicious character. How dare a lowly Kiron Kher (Paro’s mother) think of Paro’s marriage in her family? Such persons have to be shown their place. She deviously invites her at the gode-bharai of her expectant bahu (the wife of the elder son, and bhabhi of Devdas). Kiron Kher is touched by this gesture – so, the initiative to broach the subject of marriage has come from them. Smita Jaikar requests her with a sly smile to perform jatra dance, which Kiron Kher had given up long ago. But she has to reciprocate the graciousness shown by Devdas’s mother who is much superior in status. After the dance is over, Smita Jaikar hurls choicest abuses on Kiron Kher for their lowly past, and going to the extent of using their pretty daughter to ensnare her son. Kiron Kher is herself a powerful actor, and she retaliates soundly by cursing destruction on Smita Jaikar’s haveli, and climaxes it with the most horrific curse: I had come to bless that तेरे घर बेटा पैदा हो, लेकिन जा तेरे घर भी बेटी पैदा हो.

The battle of mothers

Where did Bhansali get all this from? This is not Sarat Chandra. Devdas’s mother definitely not, nor do I think any mother in Sarat Chandra, was given to such villainy.

The desolate pond, trees, orchards would mar the lavish sets. Therefore, Bhansali shifts the iconic scene of Devdas hitting Paro on the forehead to interiors. A brooding, silent Devdas does not match with the opulent sets. A dejected lover can also be aggressive and violent. Shahrukh Khan has a high-octane scene with his greedy bhabhi who refuses to hand over the keys of the cash chest to the mother.  Shahrukh Khan has no option but to sprinkle petrol all around the floor and set it to fire. Kiron Kher watches the soaring flames coming out of the haveli with some vindication.

In the classic, Paro and Chandramukhi are engulfed in deep sadness in the knowledge that they can’t unite with the man they love, and their sole aim in life now is to somehow take care of him to save him from self-destruction. Bhansali gives them a makeover by having them perform a high-energy item dance number Dola re dola re dola re.

Paro and Chandramukhi perform item dance

In his penchant for high voltage confrontations, Bhansali creates a new character, not there in the novel – a lecherous son-in-law, played by Milind Gunaji. After Dola re dola re, he makes some offensive comments about both Aishwarya Rai and Madhri Dixit. Madhuri Dixit lashes out at him with thunderous dialogues: Sharminda to inhe hona chahiye, kyonki inhi badnaam muhalle me ye bhi jaate hain, jahan inke purakhon ne apni aiyyashiyon ki nishaaniyan chhodi hain. Kabhi socha hai Kaali Babu ki unhi kothon mein kisi tawwaif se aapki bahan paida hui hogi? Bahan kyon, ye to apni beti ko bhi..As he tries to raise his hand, a resounding slap lands on his cheek. (Wah, wah, taaliyan).

Chandramukhi slaps Paro’s (Bhuvan’s) son-in-law

Bhansali does not spare even Chunni Babu. He creates a loud Jackie Shroff with his irritating tukbandis.

I have since seen some laudatory reviews of the film on the net, written, obviously, by people more knowledgeable than me. But to me, Bhansali has drowned the pathos and tragedy of Devdas in the spectacle of his 100-crore budget. The beauty of Devdas lies in its minimalism. The best I can muster is: if you blank yourself of the novel or the earlier versions, Bhansali has made a paisa vasool film; there are scenes when you would rise from your seat and clap with the janata wildly in cheers. But if you see it with reference to Sarat Chandra and Bimal Roy, he has not taken liberties with the story, he has mauled the classic.

What is so special about ‘Devdas’?

When we read in newspapers about a spurned lover destroying himself in alcohol bit by bit, we hardly feel any sympathy for him. We don’t even have pity for him, but contempt: why couldn’t he pull himself and move on? It is easy to be judgmental about Devdas. The misfortune has been brought upon by himself. This is where the power of the creator comes in. When Devdas says, पल भर में क्या से क्या हो गया? पारो शादी के रास्ते चली गयी और मैं बरबादी के. एक छोटी भूल और उसकी इतनी बड़ी सज़ा? क्यों पारो बार बार मुझे याद आती है?, all judgment withers away. We are no longer detached observers, but we become a participant in the events. Devdas’s tragedy affects us as it affects his near and dear ones.

The story is not only about Devdas, but also about Paro and Chandramukhi. And you marvel how Sarat at the age of 25 could create characters of so much depth, courage and compassion. When a married Paro tells Devdas, come with me I would look after you, you are not scandalised, you feel the pathos of the situation. Paro at that moment is full of dignity and courage. When Manorama is aghast that Paro could could think of taking Devdas with her, Paro simply replies, where is the shame in taking my own thing with me? The tawaif Chandramukhi has all her life traded in ‘love’, but feels love for the first time. But she seeks nothing in return from Devdas. She deeply respects Paro who loved him so intensely, therefore, she couldn’t have betrayed Devdas, he has betrayed himself. What empathy a ‘fallen’ woman has for a respectable woman! For Sarat, there is no distinction between a ‘fallen’ and a respectable woman; a point comes when they both converge; there is something very universal and profound about womanhood and love, beyond the surface distinction of chaste and unchaste.

The novel or the film?

This question has relevance only for Bimal Roy’s version. No film can be a substitute for a literary classic. The two are different mediums. A novel has passages of description of paces, situations, or even writer’s own reflections. There is a different kind of रस in reading such passages which are difficult to be adapted on the screen. The visual medium has its own strengths in capturing a scene which would require long text in writing. Bimal Roy has brought Devdas’s tragedy and its surroundings alive. Dilip Kumar as Devdas, Suchitra Sen as Paro, Vyjayanthimala as Chandramukhi, Nazir Hussain as Dharma Das, Moti Lal as Chunni Babu are unforgettable characters of cinema. The scenes have a picture postcard beauty. As I have said, Bimal Roy has made a classic, as tall as Sarat Chandra’s. If not a substitute, Bimal Roy’s Devdas is a valuable supplement to Sarat Chandra’s Devdas.

Acknowledgements and notes:
1.    I have taken Sarat Chandra’s profile from his highly acclaimed biography, ‘आवारा मसीहा’, written by Vishnu Prabhakar. This has been translated into several languages.
2.    My access to the novel is through its Hindi translation which would always be short of the original. SoY is fortunate to have many erudite readers who would have read Sarat Chandra in original. I would look forward to hearing from them.
3.    Bombay’s answer to Saigal, Surendra debuted his acting-singing career with Birha ki aag lagi mere man mein (Deccan Queen, 1936, music Pransukh Naik), which was almost a carbon copy of Balam aye baso mere man mein.  He also played a Devdas-type character in his next film Manmohan (1936).
4.    However, it is said that V Shantaram was concerned at the romanticisation of ‘Devdas’.  Therefore, to counter its ‘unhealthy’ influence on the youth, Prabhat Films made the bilingual Aadmi (Hindi)/Manoos (Marathi) in 1939 with a positive message. In this film, the Havildar wants to marry the prostitute, but she withdraws for the honour of his family, but not without making sure that he moves on with life. Having seen both the films, I would be very surprised if V Shantaram himself made any such claims about his film. In my opinion, the experts who are making this connection on the basis of the ‘message’, are trivialsing both Devdas and Aadmi.

{ 133 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Siddharth June 30, 2017 at 6:25 am

Wow! What a review. The novel as great as this and a great film(1955) based on it deserves a great review as this. Really enthralling.
Thank you AKji for another excellent post.
Please also accept my congratulations on completing 7 great years of this blog and thanks to all the contributors for their excellent writings and views.
I am commenting after a while but have been following all the articles.

2 Subodh Agrawal June 30, 2017 at 8:27 am

Excellent article AK. Your question about the appeal of the self-destructing Devdas, however, remains only partially answered. Let us see what the learned members of SoY add in their comments. Tragedy does have its appeal, otherwise Shakespeare wouldn’t have devoted so many of his plays to this genre. I have a vague intention of reading Nietzsche’s ‘Birth of Tragedy’ to see if he answers the question convincingly.

Talking of mauling and taking liberties, we must not forget Dev.D – the Punjabi Jatt version. I think this was the best movie made by Anurag Kashyap. He excelled in portraying the characters of Paro and Chanda – both come out as strong-willed, independent minded women. Dev, on the other hand, is not only weak-willed, but also confused. He wants to have fun with Paro, but chickens out when Paro is more aggressive than him in setting up the rendezvous. As for music, it did give us a modern classic – ‘Emotional atyachar!’

As for the book vs film debate, it would be interesting to know, if possible, whether Devdas and other books of Sarat Chandra were popular before Devdas the film. Sometime a film gives a book an exposure it wouldn’t otherwise get. Sarat was a very popular author in Hindi translation during our parents’ and even our youth. I doubt if our children have even heard of him. That way Sanjay Leela Bhansali may have done Sarat a favour in spite of all the liberties.

3 AK June 30, 2017 at 8:28 am

Welcome back. Thanks a lot for your generous words and your greetings on SoY’s 7th anniversary.

4 Subodh Agrawal June 30, 2017 at 8:32 am

Continuing with tragedy, Dharmveer Bharti’s ‘Gunahon ka Devta’ was considered one of the greatest novels of Hindi. I bought a copy as an undergraduate student after hearing all the praise from my friends and found it underwhelming. Some of my friends, however, were completely sold on it. One of them would repeatedly check my progress in reading the book and give me, much to my annoyance, a preview of the next chapter. I have heard of people from our parents’ generation shedding copious tears as they read the book. Amitabh and Jaya Bhaduri were to play the title roles in a movie planned on this book – ‘Ek tha Chandar, Ek thi Sudha’ but the movie never saw the light of the day.

5 AK June 30, 2017 at 9:00 am

Thanks a lot for your appreciation. You have enlarged the question of the appeal of ‘Devdas’ to that of appeal of ‘tragedy’. Fortunately, we have a number of scholars on this site. Surely they would enlighten us on the Theory of Tragedy. I may only very briefly say that among the nine rasas, Karun is regarded as the highest form of art. Interestingly, while Greek tragedy is well-recognised, there is a view that in Sanskrit dramatics there is no concept of tragedy really, because every mishap, misery and pain has an explanation in ‘Karma’. That is why Bhasa’s ‘Urubhang’ has a special place in classical Sanskrit literature as it is regarded as a bold break from the tradition, depicting a pure tragedy on stage. Bhasa predates Kalidas and is considered the first playwright of Sanskrit (though there is some dispute in precedence between him and Ashvaghosh). I should leave it at that for the scholars to take over.

Dev D.: “He wants to have fun with Paro..” I am sorry, this is not ‘Devdas’.

If Bhansali’s ‘Devdas’ led to the younger generation reading Sarat Chandra, I would take back all the negative comments I have made about his film, and regard him as having done a great service.

6 Subodh Agrawal June 30, 2017 at 11:19 am

Thanks AK. I read Bhasa’s Urubhang in translation and realized that presenting the characters of Mahabharata against the standard ‘Kauravas bad, Pandavas good’ paradigm was not a modern phenomenon. Mahabharata itself is more nuanced than the popular story. I wonder who are the first authors and playwrights to raise questions like Rama’s killing of Bali and expulsion of Sita. May the scholar’s enlighten us.

7 D P Rangan June 30, 2017 at 11:23 am

I dreamt that Sarat Chandra rose like a phoenix from ashes and hugged you for portraying him and his works in such an erudite manner. His descendents, if they are around, ought to praise you sky high for this great article. At least accept my congratulations on this serious bio of a great novelist.
Devdas is not a great character to be revered. Yet the film industry’s fascination with him is inexplicable. I will venture to describe his character as fascilis descensus averno.
In 1953 Devdas was produced in Telugu and dubbed in Tamil. The leading actors were Nageswara Rao and Savitri. The music was set by the great mastero C. R. Subbaraman and there were several gems. It is stated that Dilip Kumar appreciated the fact that Nageswara Rao could act as a drunkard without touching a drop of liquor while he had to resort to drinks to become tipsy and portray the character. I will give below a link to a philosophical song wherein Devdas describes the world we live in and the life we lead as mere mirage. The title of the song is – Ulage mayam vazhve mayam.
Devdas could transcend the language barrier and be portrayed in Kolliwood too.

8 AK June 30, 2017 at 12:23 pm

DP Rangan,
Thanks a lot for your very generous praise. I would definitely love to meet with people associated with him. I have been to all the places associated with his life, such as Bhagalpur, Deoghar, Muzaffarpur and, even, Rangoon. But then I was not aware that one day I would be writing on him. I doubt if there would be any trace of his association at these places now.

I know your views about ‘Devdas’. 🙂 In one of your guest articles, I edited and tempered down your very adverse views (without your permission). I don’t know whether you noticed it. After reading the book and seeing Dilip Kumar’s Devdas, I have stopped being judgmental about the character.

9 Gaddeswarup July 1, 2017 at 3:22 am

Wonderful article connecting films with India in general. Books like Diana Eck’s ‘Sacred Geography of india’ give the idea f India and the connections in the diversity, there are also continuing connections through literature, the films etc. your article on these two themes is rewarding. Coming to Sarat, his books were popular when I was growing up in the fifties. Many thought that he was Andhra, and most of his novels had 3-4 translations. The famous film produce Chakrapani translated most of them. He already knew Hindi through the efforts of a fighter for independence Yellamanchili Venkatappiah who started in many places Hindi propagation schools. Then in the Madanapalle sanatorium for TB, his neighbour was a Bengali and he learnt from him. Anyway, I got to read most of Sarat novels during that time. I think like Parvati in Devadasis, Rajyalakshmi in Srikanth also was partly inspired by real life characters. Sarat struggled with problems which may appear trivial to us now. For me two characters stand out, Kamala in Seshprasna and Bharati in Pather Dabi. Those women indicated some hope for the future, interestingly both are of mixed heritage. Another moving story that stayed with me is Mahesh an intriguing story of Hindu-Moslem interactions. In any case, I like this kind of articles which also inform about people of India as a whole, popular persisting themes and hopefully some visions for future.

10 AK July 1, 2017 at 4:05 am

Thanks for your appreciation and very insightful comments. I understand most of Sarat Chandra’s characters were inspired by real persons. You have mentioned “Shesh Prashna”. Shibnath, about whom there was an ambiguity whether he had a live-in relationship or was properly married, is also a part of Sarat – a fallen character gifted with a melodious voice.

I wish a day had 48 hours. I would love to read and reread Sarat.

11 Ashok Kumar Tyagi July 1, 2017 at 1:46 pm

AK ji
Wah Kya baat Hai.
Charche to yeh the ki AK sangeet aur geet ke baare mein sunder lekh likhte hain.
In this post another talent of yours gets revealed.
Sarat was a genius. His life-sketch, as brought out by you, makes a fascinating reading. Definitely he was a rebel with a cause.
Your comments on three movies are so good that a print-out needs to be kept in a separate file.
Carry on, God bless.

12 AK July 1, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Thanks a lot for your very generous praise. This article owes its birth to your discussion with Hans.

13 ksbhatia July 1, 2017 at 7:42 pm

AK ji;

I am unable to find any superlative word in praise of your beautiful in depth studies ; the article that will move many readers to tears and many in silent state … it did to me too . Its a knock on the door of emotions …..of soulful characters….. riding the gentle trouble waters …… hopes eluding the shores .

With master’s stroke of Genious Film Maker , Bimal Roy , Devdas can easily be rated as his most intense creation . The attention to details , as brought out by the cinematographer , capturing the moods and emotions are just fantastic . The symbolic shots of chirping and silent bird ; as brought out in your article ; is again an emotional experience . The narration and gentle progressive ; slow paced screenplay ; fully makes one feel of the devotions of the various production team inputs .

Sahir and SDB made tremendous contributions ; adding to the lyrical excellence based on soulful tunes ; some bringing out the Rabindra Sangeet factor . The songs itself brings out the story , if one listen to 5 or 6 songs in chronological order .

Aan milo Aan milo Shyam…..
Sajan Ki ho Gayi Gori…….
Mitwa Lagi yeh kaisi ……..
Jise tu kabool kar le……
Woh na ayenge palat ke…….
Manzil ki chah mein …….

The last song tells it all. …..The emotions par excellence.

14 AK July 2, 2017 at 2:36 am

KS Bhatiaji,
And, not to forget Kisko khabar thi kisko yakeen tha aise bhi din ayenge/Jeena bhi mushkil hoga, marane bhi na payenge, which perfectly illustrates the tragedy of Devdas. Our friend Mr Rangan still despises the character. Shall we say that his is a more rational response, and those who are charmed by it are letting their emotion get the better of reason? Food for thought.

And thanks a lot for your very generous praise and your heartfelt views.

15 Ashok M Vaishnav July 2, 2017 at 4:25 am

A very fitting remembrance to one of the very popular novel.

In the times of Sharatchandra, if the loved ones did not get married, normally they would go on to marry individually with some one else, their married lives may be happy or otherwise. That Devdas chose to ‘rebel’ and destroyed his life,may have been construed as some sort of rebellion against the then social system. And hence (probably) the popularity of the Character.
In his autobiography too Dilip Kumar is said to have noted that he was not very willing to play a role wherein just the loss of love leads a man to so much drunkenness, as that leaves a very unhealthy social message. Had it not been Bimal Roy, Dilip Kumar would not have accepted this role. Pyasa, coming soon after Devdas was also the reason quoted by Dilip Kumar for not accepting the role of man who does not fight the wrongs of life.

16 D P Rangan July 2, 2017 at 6:57 am

Here is the link for the song AK mentioned at 14. I saw the entire movie, but this link is not available. So the you tube link is not a live video.

17 AK July 2, 2017 at 6:58 am

Nice interpretation of Devdas. Except that one does not associate wallowing in self-pity as rebellion. In a way, Suraiya’s deciding not to marry was more of a rebellion against the family/community’s orthodoxy. The only problem is that punishing oneself takes away a great deal of loftier meaning.

18 D P Rangan July 2, 2017 at 7:00 am

In continuation, I forgot to state that I saw the movie in Singapore from a DVD lent by my son’s friend. There this song was picturised. It shows Dilip Kumar sitting on the steps of a river ghat and singing his heart out. Regret I did not take a copy at that time.

19 ksbhatia July 2, 2017 at 8:49 am

AK ji; D P Rangan ji ;

Yes , I missed the song……kisko khabar thi … my listing . A superb heart rendention by Talat that summed up tragedy of Devdas within.

Rangan ji, I had posted this song in your ….Horse driven buggies ….article earlier also . The film have only one para and is picturised with Dilip sitting beside a gutter in a corner of the dark street and with Vyjentimala passing by and recognising him by his voice .

Watch this scene and the song @ 1.57 of the link……

20 ksbhatia July 2, 2017 at 10:22 am

AK ji;

Your remark on Devdas as ….poetry in celluloid….. is a fitting sum of integral of emotions . Note the variations of expressions of young Paro [ Baby Naaz ] through out the song ….Aan milo aan milo Shyam…. , sung by Baul singers . The lyrical aggression dwell upon Paro to tears as sadly she waits for Devdas to return .

Aan milo Aan milo…….

After a gap of many years , same Baul singers appears before Paro and sing ….Sajan ki hogayi gori……hoping Paro had married her childhood lover ; but alas ! . Again the expressions that Suchitra Sen gave through out the song is really a ……poetry in celluloid ……and that too thru the eyes of the Great Bimal Da.

Sajan ki ho gayi gori…….

Sahir and SDB did splendid job , recreating the atmosphere thru their lyrics and Rabindra sangeet set tunes that Baul singers used to sing on the streets of town and villages of Bengal during those days.

This rustic touch was again brought out by Sahir , SDB in Pyassa in the song ……Aaj mohe aang laga lo ……and their too the Director Guru Dutt excelled in its various close up expressions.

21 AK July 2, 2017 at 11:49 am

KS Bhatiaji,
Such lyrical references are galore in the film. Thanks for mentioning this. I think every frame can be described as “Poetry on celluloid”.

22 Gaddeswarup July 2, 2017 at 12:12 pm

I was trying to find some comparison of the 1955 version with the 1953 Telugu version. I was not too serious about it because I, like many Telugus like the Telugu version better. Anyway, I came across an article which may be of general interest. I do not agree with the author’s idea of seeing Devdas’s plight in terms of colonialism but I think that some of the problems like parental role in marriage are still there. I have seen such cases. And it may the reason why the theme is still popular. Here is the article

23 Shalan Lal July 2, 2017 at 12:43 pm

For a quick comment which could be superfluous but I would like to say that your “Look back” at both Devdas as a literary work and as a celluloid poetry like “Pyasa” is extremely good and definitive. I do not know if there are any critiques of Sarat literature that had done the critical appreciation as you have done of “Devdas”.
I also wonder is Sarat on the syllabus of the Bengali literature at the universities in India or is all Tagore?
.The film made “Sarat” more famous in those parts of India that have very scanty literary background. Especially Dilip Kumar’s Devdas has reached the Western mountain regions and Afghanistan as well.
Looking at your re-reviewing “Devdas” I think “Devdas” has become the “Hamlet” in the sense it has been reinterpreted every year on the British stage, as for the “Devdas” in the subcontinent, as it has tendency to appear in most of the tragedy films and on its own in various versions. Many of the tragic films of forties onwards have some “Devdas” in them. In turns many actors liked to play “Devdas” in their tragic films. Dilipkumar played many times “Devdas” in his tragic films before he played in “Bimal Roy’s film and perhaps later as well.
I would like to see a “female” version of” Devdas” on the Indian screen.
My memory of reading Devdas as a long short story attached with another story called “Bindur Chhele”, not on its own as a big novel.
I wonder if anyone has taken point that Devdas is less about alcoholism and more about his depression due to inability to take the decision and his unsuccessful struggle to come out of it.
About “Shantaram’s “adami” it is in the “Shantaram’s autography “Shataramaa” published in Marathi, Hindi, and English.
I shall come back to comment again if I had something more to say but you already touched many issues from the books “Awara Maseeha, Shrikant etc.
“Awara Maseeha” is a very big book just to read through is at least a month’s job.
The New Theatres made more films on the stories of Saratchandra and earned money and popularity than any other company. Sarat’s stories perhaps have more cinematic appeal than Tagore’s stories.
According to my reading of Sarat, his first story that got published was a short story called “Mandir”.
Sadly people see “Devdas” as the only good book by Sarat. They do not read other stories and big books like “Shesh Prashan, Shesher Parichay, Shrikant, and many more. They all are worth making big films.
Shalan La

24 AK July 2, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Most of what Poonam Arora is trying to say is so stretched that it does not make any sense to me. I am also not very persuaded to see Devdas-Parvati-Chandramukhi relationship in terms of sexuality and chastity. The open-mouthed pitcher on Parvati’s waist, the phallic stick, flow of fluid – I think she is going overboard. There should be some check on academic fluff.

25 Ashok Kumar Tyagi July 2, 2017 at 3:34 pm

Shalan Lal,
The actual lives of actors Meena Kumari and Madhubala come to my mind whenever I think of famous ladies whose second half of life had many sad moments. However not comparable with the fictional life of Devdas.

26 AK July 2, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Shalan Lal,
Thanks a lot for your appreciation. Since almost all the Sarat’s novels have been picturised, I am sure someone must have written a book surveying his novels and films thereon.

On Devdas, Gaddeswarupji has just linked Poonam Arora’s article above. Being academic, this might appeal to you more. Bombastic stuff is not my cup of tea.

I have mentioned ‘Mandir’ in my post. As per “Awara Maseeha”, this was Sarat Chandra’s first story, but he had sent it in a competition in the name of his Mama Surendranath Ganguly.

27 SSW July 2, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Very nice article AK. I am not really enamoured of “Devdas” I was unfortunately at an age where the idea of getting drunk over love did not go over very well. I like Sarat’s “Srikanta” though.

28 Gaddeswarup July 2, 2017 at 10:01 pm

I am not persuaded by Poonam Arora article either. I think that there is some academic literature on his work but I have not kept the links. One interest for me is the persistence of the theme and the reason for it. I see part of it in the in the relationship with parents which is perhaps obvious though the family structures are somewhat different in South and north.

29 mumbaikar8 July 2, 2017 at 11:00 pm

You have done it again! This one is beyond expectation, like ksbhatiji I am at a loss of words too!
Great subject and greater presentation.
Sarat Babu was my mother’s favourite author, she was equally affected by Devdas’s tragedy, though I cannot sympathies with Devdas.
I feel he was a weak self-centered character, loved unconditionally by very strong women, who could not make right decisions and blamed others for it.
Makes an irreversible (at least in those times) mistake and feels एक छोटी भूल और उसकी इतनी बड़ी सज़ा?
I would love to know (if available anywhere) what Sarat Chandra thought about, his much loved and glorified character, later in his life)
The Vijay of Pyasa (with shades of Devdas) can call for sympathy because the tragedy was inflicted on him but in Devdas it was by him.
Both Suraiya and Madhubala had Devdas syndrome, did not rebel when ought to have.
I liked the characterization of Devdas’s characters by Anurag in Dev D.

30 AK July 3, 2017 at 2:08 am

Thanks a lot for your appreciation. Worse than Devdas are those dejected lovers who inflict violence on the pertner.

Parental control was a reality in those days. But the interesting thing is that though the daughters were subject to greater control, Paro was confident of taking her own decision. Fortunately, that has loosened a great deal.

31 AK July 3, 2017 at 2:28 am

Thanks a lot for your very generous words. You have made very insightful comments. If we sit in judgment, Devdas does not deserve any sympathy. I have said he was responsible for what befell him. But Sarat obliterates all judgment by his concluding paragraph in the novel, which I have translated in my post. Bimal Roy is so lyrical and Dilip Kumar is so fascinating that you cease to be judgmental.

With Suraiya and Madhubala, I would add Meena Kumari, and if I am not offending someone, Annapoorna Devi (wife of Pt Ravi Shankar) too. I have no sympathies for them. But they did not have a Sarat Chandra and Bimal Roy.

Having been a kind of ‘Devdas’ himself, I don’t know whether Sarat viewed the character differently later in his life. From आवारा मसीहा I understand his hesitation to its publication also extended to its picturisation. But PC Barua would not relent. Sarat sat through the shootings initially. After being convinced of Barua’s sincerity, he gave permission.

32 D P Rangan July 3, 2017 at 4:46 am

So far the emphasis of the discussions revolved around the tragedy in the life of Devdas. Telugu film and its Tamil dubbing contained a few songs sung in a happy bent of mind. I will give a few links. The male singer is Ghantasala, a well known figure in the Telugu filmdom. Since he did not know tamil script, songs rendered in tamil were written in telugu language for him. His pronunciation of many words is queer indeed. That adds to the charm.

The first one is sung in a chariot when he is returning after completing his education to the village. It starts with the line – Santosham tharum savari povom chalo chalo, jaldi jaldi chalo.
He is impatient to reach destination. Sorry no live video.

Here are two duets, one as children and another as grown up.

I know it is difficult for non Tamilians to follow the lyrics of the song. Yet all of them are sung in an exhilirating and light mood and one can enjoy sheer musical content. If RSR reads this comment he may agree with my view.

33 D P Rangan July 3, 2017 at 5:07 am

I was able to access original video of the song – Pallekupodam, telugu song of Santosham tharum ……

Nageswara Rao is driving the goda ghadi himself, probably to ensure he reaches his village in quick time.

34 RSR July 3, 2017 at 10:40 am

1) First, my humblest pranaams to AKji for an astoundingly lovely introduction of the story and film Devadas. In the next post I will highlight the gems in his introduction.

2) I was just 11 years old when the telugu and tamil versions of Devdas starring a great and dignified actor A.Nageswara Rao and one among if not the best actress that Tamil/Telugu screen has seen, Savithri . The tamil film had many fine songs all of despair and dejection rendered by Ghantasala. Those songs are still hugely popular and cherished by all the youngsters even remotely familiar with those golden years of Indian cenema. ( 1950-1956). We were mere boys then , not even adolescent ,at that time and what captivated us all in that generation was the songs and the personality of Nageswara Rao as Devdas and superb cast and acting by Savithri, S.V.Ranga Rao and
the eldest of the Travancore dancing trio from Travancore , Lalitha
( the other two are Padmini and Ragini). (Incidentally, Padhmini in her teens and early twenties was an absolute angel in looks and dancing. Vyjayanthi lacks something. (perhaps, an oval face and a bit of artificiality or something. These things are difficult to pinpoint.) Lalitha herself a nice beauty , as Chandramuki, did a great job. Everybody excelled because Sarath is a magician who brings out the divine’ in all of us. …Later on, as I grew up, the film used to be shown occasionally in rural theaters and we never missed a chance to see the film again and again. ( I searched youtube last night but the tamil film is not available). Without an iota of exaggeration, I am proud of our audience , who all had either misty eyes if not flowing tears in the last scene. when Devdas reaches the rural station and is in a hurry to see and die at Parvathi’s feet. It was a black and white film and the shooting of the scene was superb. I request AKji to see the telugu film in the link .

3) Ah! Love is certainly not about carnal cravings. Whole early decade after independence in Tamil cenema was glorious in depicting such romance. The hero and heroine hardly ever touched each other! Those films shaped the values of whole generation of sensitive tamil youth. to the glory of ‘platonic ‘ love.

What then is the significance of marriage and wedded life? To have the constant companionship, ever sweet to us in everything even in quarrels and reconciliations made sweeter because of mild quarrels. Without wedding, we are denied that charming life. It has nothing to do with carnal aspects. or physical comeliness.
What a far-cry from the acid-throwing male lovers of present generation!
4) Saigal was a great singer ofcourse . but in no way handsome. Dilip had ‘something indefinable’ a great presence though it cannot be classed as a classic profile. But Nagewara Rao was a really dignified and handsomely aristocratic looking actor ( ‘Aristocratic? ‘.. Nazir Hussein is the best example. as was S.V.RangaRao) . Savithri was no dancer but greatest actress of India ( Meena Kumari?) .Tragically both Savithri and Meena Kumari became drink addicts in later life!). . Compared to the regular heroes of Tamil films of those years ( 1950-1955), Sivaji Ganesan , MGR , Gemini Ganesan and Nageswara Rao, the Hindi film world had no such great looking actors. Blasphemy! ? No. RajKapoor was irritating with his stereotyped twiddling of fingers and marred even the greatest duets like AajaSanam and Yeh Rath . Dev Anand was a poor imitation of Gregory Peck. Dilip of course had that something extra -a tremendous presence! but Sivaji Ganesan had everything. looks talent , greatness of character ( without innate character, one cannot play the role of V.O.Chithambaram Pillai,) Dilip kumar could never have done any of those great roles by Sivaji Ganesan. so versatile. ( Ashok Kumar and Balraj Sahni and ofcourse GuruDutt had that presence, but would not fit in roles done by Sivaji Ganesan ) Nageswara Rao was perfect fit for a fine youth incapable of idiotic leering in romantic scenes and ever a picture of dignity, honesty, striking features and of course great acting! Quite a few novels of Sarath Chandra were adapted to Telugu and Tamil films by directors and producers , from aristocratic Telugu families. from the rich Krushna and Godavari delta. , the richest part of Deccan in natural resources. D.P.Rangan Sir and Sri.Venkataraman, may have seen ‘enga veettu mahalakshmi ‘(Deliverence). What superb acting by ANRao, Savithri ,Ranga Rao and Kannabaal! But we never had great directors of the caliber of Bimal Roy, Hrishkesh or Sathyajith or GuruDutt. ( Ray’s films owe not a little to the grandeur of the novels of BibuthuBhushan Banerji) . I saw Bibuthi bhusahm ‘s Sahib Bibi our Ghulam in both Bengali and Hindi versions but Guru Dutt’s presentation was way ahead , embellished by some superb acting by Meena Kumari, Dutt and Rehman.

All the world loves a lover… Is not Casablanca(1942) number one classic still? What is that ‘fulfillment ‘? Not physical surely. It is the joy of reciprocated admiration and loyalty . and bond growing stronger day by day by shared joys and sorrows and duties of married life in caring of relatives, parents and children and grand children. We used to have a song ‘Samsaram.. sakala dharma saaram, suka jeenana aadhaaram; . in an old film.
I wanted to present the clips from Devdas ( Tamil). It was done late last night. I am creating a site for that.
I will be adding as many clips as available in due course.
I would request our Subodh ji to listen to the songs and deliver his verdict.
Many thanks to Sri.D.P.Rangan for correctly assessing what my reaction will be to the BEST EVER intro by Sri.AKji. Somehow, it is the Tamil community in Malaysia and Singapore which still stores and jealously guards old time classics be it classical music, classic old films and articles and books. Would it be possible to upload Devdas tamil film in full to youtube?

I have a lot more to say on Sarath’s other classics like Charithraheen, Pather Dhabi, SeshaPrasna. , a novel about Bairavi and Jevvanada zamindar. Dena Paona, Grihadaha ( I read all these in tamil translations by T.N.KUMARASWAMY who lived in ShantiNiketan and learned Bengali to do the translation). Our libraries had all the translated classics of Sarath. …But no longer! Alas! Tamilnad is going down the drains day by day.
In closing, I should add that Sarath Babu was also involved in India’s freedom struggle and served as the president of Howrah district branch of Indian National Congress (1921-1936). University of Calcutta awarded him the prestigious Jagattarini medal. University of Dacca awarded him an honorary doctorate (D.Litt.)
Thank you for patient reading!

35 Gaddeswarup July 3, 2017 at 11:30 am

Now that more South Indian reactions are coming, here is a comment I wrote this morning but hesitated to post.
I grew up thinking that Telugu Devadasu was one of the best films made. I knew a drunk, one Narayanarao in a village Thullur, who was so similar to ANR in his dress and mannerisms, that ANR”S action seemed so natural. And according to reports, Dilip Kumar was supposed to have said (according to Wikipedia sources) that there was only one Devdas and that was ANR. ANR told us that he was very healthy during that time that so they had the drunk scenes during the nights when he was dropping off to sleep to get that droopy look. They also tried putting ice cubes inside Ghantasala’s cheeks to try to get drunken voice. But it did not work and he sang in his natural voice.
During this discussion, I have been comparing bits of the 1955 version with Telugu version. I did not spend much time in villages in North India or watch drunks, and may be my tastes have developed towards more stylised acting. Now I feel that Dilip Kumar has an edge over ANR. I like equally the music from both with the great MDs Subbaraman and S.D. Burman. The Telugu was version was made by Vedantam Raghavaiah who started as a Kuchipudi dancer and then made lot of mythological and Janapda movies. For Bimal Roy, it must have been in his blood. How two so dissimilar directors made memorable movies from the same story remains fascinating.
I wonder how the story and films fared in Pakistan. I have a feeling that North India is closer culturally to Pakistan than to South India. But Sarat stories seem to be more popular in South India, and as I said before many in Andhra thought that he was an Andhra ( North Indian names including Bengali ones were popular in Andhra for a long time. I have relatives with names like Banerjee, Mukherjee, my own name Anandaswarup,…). Vague thoughts on the topic but I hope that the appeal of Devdas story will fade.

36 RSR July 3, 2017 at 3:26 pm

quotes from AKji..”Whenever a classic is adapted into a film, the two most common questions asked are: How far is the film faithful to the source? And whether the book or the film is superior. But another, and more important question in the context of Devdas is: This is the story of a weak-willed character who, unable to defy parental objection to his marriage to his childhood sweetheart, dissipates himself and self-destructs in alcohol. What is there in it that has charmed millions of readers transcending barriers of language and culture for a hundred years, and has inspired generations of filmmakers? ”
—————-“Unprepared for such an eventuality, he asks in shock: So late in the night? Have you come alone? Were you not frightened? How did you enter the house, didn’t anyone see you? Did anyone recognise you? How would you face slander and shame? Paro is cool, no I am not scared of ghosts and spirits; yes, darwan might have seen me; people know me here, some of them might have recognised me; and where is shame in coming to you? You are my swami, I know you would cover my shame and protect my dignity. I have come to surrender myself at your feet. Devdas cannot get himself to commit in the face of parental objection, and quietly escorts her back to her house. In the morning, he does tentatively mention marriage with Paro to this father, but he is unmoved. Back he goes to Calcutta in a thoroughly lost and disoriented state.”……….”No two persons loved each other more intensely, yet they are destined not to unite. For Sarat Chandra, unrequited love is the highest form of love. Paro gets married to Bhuvan Babu, becoming the mistress of a big household and mother of two grown-up sons and a married daughter. A defeated, helpless and forlorn Devdas goes back to Calcutta with nothing on him.”……..”Chunni Babu takes Devdas to the kotha of Chandramukhi. But Devdas is bitter with life, with women, with love, and does not conceal his contempt for her. She had never seen a customer like him. She instantly develops a deep empathy for him, but he is too far gone down the cliff for even her most sincere affection and care to be able to retrieve him. As he leaves, throwing money at her contemptuously, Chandramukhi returns the money to Chunni Babu, and pleads with him to bring Devdas once more after he recovers”…”Chandramukhi’s entreaties to give up alcohol is of no avail, because now it is not an addiction, it has become his life. At the funeral of his father, Paro also comes for giving him comfort. She has by now come to know that alcohol has taken over Devdas. Her entreaties, too, to give up alcohol are met with a painful reply: “..”OK, if this gives you any satisfaction, I shall remember it, I promise I would come to you before I die.”..”In Calcutta, Chandramukhi has renounced everything and has wound up her Calcutta establishment to shift to a small village, only waiting to meet Devdas once before leaving. Both Paro and Chandramukhi separately go to Tal Sonapur looking for Devdas as they have heard of his pathetic condition. They miss him, but knowing that he might be somewhere in Calcutta, Chandramukhi goes back there looking for him. She finds him finally, and her care improves his health to some extent. But his drinking continues unabated, which has eroded his body to a point of no return”…”Finally, he takes a seemingly endless train journey. As the train stops at Pandua, he remembers that this is the place where one has to get down for going to Hathipota, Paro’s sasural. As his life is ebbing away, he desperately asks the coachman to go faster. The coach is indeed able to reach him there in the midnight when he is still not quite dead. By the dawn, a crowd starts collecting around his dying body. When he is finally gone, no one is willing to touch his body; it is given over to chandals who consign it to vultures and animals. From the letters, tattoo etc. found on his body, it is clear he is Paro’s Devdas from Tal Sonapur. She runs to meet him, but this would be scandalous, therefore, her family and servants run after her to stop her. The huge gates of the haveli are banged shut on her. Her limp body is brought inside”…. A classic summary.
When Tagore once asked him why he didn’t write his autobiography, Sarat replied, “Had I known I would become such a famous person, I would have lived my life very differently.” But in that case, he wouldn’t have been the Sarat who created fascinating female characters like Paro, Chandramukhi, Rajlaxmi, Kiranmayi, Hemangini, Bindubasini, Narayani and Sabitri. The writer who had no intellectual pretensions, who wrote stories in simple language, tales of relationships, oppression of young widows, their ‘forbidden’ desires and the hypocrisies of the society in dealing with them, of noble and compassionate tawaifs and sex workers. These characters were not fiction, these were real people he met and lived with in his life. The man for whom नारीत्व was superior to सतीत्व. Who valued character more than chastity”…. AMEN

37 RSR July 3, 2017 at 6:32 pm
38 AK July 3, 2017 at 6:45 pm

I am deeply grateful for your enormous praise, but I feel somewhat awkward by a senior saying “Pranam” to me.

That the film was made in Telugu/Tamil, too, was simply a piece of information. Now I realise how deep Sarat’s influence down South was. Devdas seems to have fascinated people there no less than in other parts of the country.

You are very dismissive of the Hindi film’s great trinity – Dilip, Raj and Dev. I have no means of comparing them with great stars of Tamil/Telugu cinema you have mentioned, because I can’t understand the language. But another respectable reader from South India, Gaddeswarupji, has differed with you. I would not like to make it a North-South divide.

Having read so highly of Telugu Devdas, I am tempted to see it. However, I am deterred by the fact that the YT link does not seem to have Hindi/English subtitles.

A small factual correction: Saheb Bibi Ghulam was written by Bimal Mitra and not Bibhuti Bhushan.

Your impression that North India is culturally closer to Pakistan than South India is correct in a very narrow context – with reference to Punjab. If by North, if you include Sarat’s Bengal, it has less in common with Pakistan than with down south. That should explain Sarat/Devdas’s huge popularity in south.

39 Gaddeswarup July 3, 2017 at 10:22 pm

Here is a review of the 1953 Telugu version from Melbourne by two young white women. I think that they got interested in Indian films after they acted as extras in some Indian films made here. They cover some Hindi films too.

40 AK July 4, 2017 at 12:19 am

I am extremely grateful for this link. Very well-written review by two sceptics. Now I am more sure I would watch the film despite the absence of subtitles. I have already started on it and I entirely agree with Heather that the child Parvati is wonderful, better than Baby Naaz.

41 RSR July 4, 2017 at 5:24 am

AKji , yes. I slipped. Sahib Bibi Ghulam was written by Bimal Mithra. It was late night and I wanted to make the correction first thing next day. .. I think Swaroopji is of the same opinion as mine regarding ANR devdas. .The review cited by him is very superfluous. In the Telugu/Tamil version, almost 35% of the footage deals with the transformation in the life of Chandranmukhi. after her meeting Devdas. ..Do see the videoclips that I have given in my first comment . Without disparagement to Savithri, I think, the scenes involving Devdas and Chandra are absolutely poignant and soul-lifting. Foreigners cannot understand. We do not need subtitles though it may help sometimes. I do not know much of Hindi or Bengali but it has not caused any problem in following many great Hindi , Bengali films. As an aside, sometimes, the presentation of a story by a creative director may even improve on the original even of a genius like Tagore. I am referring to Tapan Sinha’s Kabuliwalah ( of Tagore, a short story) and Chubby Biswas acting in that film. .. Kindly do see the Telugu /Tamil version with special attention to the later parts where Chandra is introduced. . It is these scenes that I have placed in my website page , though not properly arranged. Forget subtitles. Imagine yourself as seeing a film of the ‘silent-movie era’. Battleship Potemkin is a silent film more eloquent than the loud war films of later years. … Shar Ruk Devdas is simply revolting. and does great violence to one of the greatest novels of Sarath. I should mention that alcoholism is a mental disease and addicts are to be treated with sympathy and medical care. Devdas might have begun to take the inebriating brew in the initial stage to forget and get sound sleep but gradually , it makes the patient a slave and make him crave. It is a pity that modern science has found no medical remedy to cure alcoholism. Seen in that perspective, what is there to sneer at Devdas? I bet Lalitha’s portrayal of Chandramuki is infinitely moving and ennobling and the earlier portrayals could not be a match… Sarath Babu’s Devdas is not so much about Devdas or Paro but about Chandramuki. Yes, Lalitha was well-endowed but she is not flaunting her physical grace. It is in the eyes of the beholder. Look at her great expressive face and eyes. Swaroopji may agree with me when he sees the clips. . Thank you. . ( regarding Sarath’s work in Independence movement, there could be some mixing up with that of Sarath Chandra Bose ( brother of Subash Chandra). If possible, kindly give some information as mine is from wiki which is not always totally reliable.

42 Shalan Lal July 4, 2017 at 10:07 am

Ashok Kumar Tayagi @ 25
Thanks for your comment and suggestion. There are many women artists right from the beginning of the Indian film Industry had been alcoholic on many counts.

But as I suggested the theme of Devdas story is less alcoholic and more about his inability to come out of the mire he created. It is nicely worded in his filmy dialogue:.एक छोटी भूल और उसकी इतनी बड़ी सज़ा? क्यों पारो बार बार मुझे याद आती है

So that should be the fulcrum on which a male or female story should be based. There are many stories acted by many actors on trying to get away from the alcoholism like Devdas.

So one has to find a story which could be of a female and based either in the female atmosphere or male atmosphere or the new modernism which women are now enjoying like being a cricketer or other sports or politics or just competing with their spouse/partner etc.

This is just one idea. One may find many women failed in the history both because male domination or religious constrains o leg pulling by their own kind etc.
Or even from the story from Mahabharata, Puranas Ramayana etc.

World is wide

43 Shalan Lal July 4, 2017 at 10:18 am

AK,RSR, Rangan, Guddeswarup et alia

The debate about the acting abilities of South against North has not much water in it to swim.

Only thing is that because the South Indians still find it difficult to penetrate the North. Leave it aside

I had seen “Kalyan Parsu before it was made into Hindi film “Nazarana” of RK , Vaijayanti Mala and Ushakiran etc.

Both were very two different films with some similarities. RK’s film was entertaining but Kalyan Parsu was far more effective in acting and over all the full the time.

Shalan Lal

44 RSR July 4, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Shalann Lal, The only reason that the greatest actor of India, Sivaji Ganesan and similarly greatest actresses like Banumathi, Padhmini, Savithri were not well known and appreciated in North India is the language barrier. The actor and actresses mentioned were not fluent in Hindi. …nor the directors and producers. Had they been, entire discerning audience of North India would be life time devotees.of South Indian greats. I am not talking about north-south divide. Far from it. The curse of Indian film industry all along has been all its films try to be everything to everybody. except those of exceptional Bengali directors like Sathyajith , Tapan Sinha and Mrunal Sen. . . Not a single Indian film like the all time greats of Hollywood . To mention a few , Friendly Persuasion, Roman Holiday, Casablanca, Tunes of Glory, Dr.Zhivago,Million pound note, Gas Light, The Last Angry man, East of Eden, The mouse that roared. . They do not mix up music, adventure, history, romance, comedy, dance, pure entertainment, mystery, horror and many other themes into a single film. …More importantly, the films are short. mostly just about 90 minutes. So, what our industry needs is very capable editors. . .. As for your query about female characters as alcoholics, the classic novel and film Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam is the illustration. directed by Guru Dutt . . To really appreciate Sivaji and Savithri, Navarathri may be the best example. in which Sivaji plays nine different roles. Most of the old classics of Sivaji-Padmini, Gemini Ganesan-Savithri, MGR-Banumathi and ANR-Savithri during the turning point in Tamil-Telugu films around 1950-1956 are available in youtube. DPRangan Sir can guide you to the links of the classics.

45 RSR July 4, 2017 at 3:35 pm

AKji, I saw Devdas ( DilipKumar) again today. The film DOES NOT capture the essence of Sarath’s novel. Of course, Suchithra brings out the quiet dignity and grace of typical Bengali orthodox and opulent family of feudal times. and how neat-looking Dilip is all the time! Alcoholics especially afflicted by depression are always slovenly and least conscious of their dress and appearance. The Telugu film is an adaptation . fitted in Andhra environment.. . I was put off terribly by the dialogs and dancing and what not by Vyjayanthi . That was the main problem in casting Dilip and Vyjayanthi in those roles. Do see how delicately the Telugu director has handled the compassion-filled Lalitha and her care and tending to Devdas . Her devotion to Devdas is very subtly portrayed. She never once tries to win his heart by overt / covert coquetry. Even Bimal Roy faltered. here and Telugu film captures the real Chandra. I am a bit surprised that many in this forum are even unaware of the great film performance by ANR, Savithri and of course the endearing Lalitha. Seeing the relevant clips may prove my point.

46 Anu Warrier July 4, 2017 at 3:39 pm

An interesting and very comprehensive look at one of the – perhaps, the most – iconic fictional characters in Indian literature, AK. Devdas is not one of my favourite characters, spiralling into alcoholism for whatever reason does not appeal to me, and I don’t consider it a mark of ‘great love’ either. Neither does pre-alcoholic Devdas appeal to me – he’s too egotistic and too arrogant to appeal.

What interests me about Sarat Chandra’s characters is that, almost invariably, his male characters are weak. Losers, if you will. It’s his female characters who, within the constraints of the society in which they live, are strong. And that is true not only of Devdas, where Parvati and Chandramukhi are both strong despite being in love with Devdas (one wonders what they saw in him), but also in works like Srikanta.

As for the cinematic adaptations, with due respect to Saigal, I think Dilip Kumar’s was the most definitive characterisation in Hindi.

Also with reference to the south vs. the north debate, with all due respect to Sivaji Ganesan and ANR, both of whose work I’m in awe of – their talent needs no validation from such as me – that there was no Hindi actor who matched them either in looks or acting prowess is rather regionalistic.

47 AK July 4, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for your comments. Whether we like or despise Devdas-character is beside the point. The important question is whether Sarat Chandra/Bimal Roy have made him credible and created art.

As you are watching Dilip Kumar’s Devdas, I am into ANR-Devdas. I have to differ with you very strongly on his ‘looks’. He may be a great actor, but in looks he would be considered unhandsome. But we can leave it at that. We have a right to have our own opinions. The picture does seem to be very well made. Paro is not a stunner either. Too plump. Though nothing lacking in her living the role. You deserve the credit for making me see a Telugu film without subtitles.

I think Bimal Roy’s film is impacting us differently. I am surprised you were put off by Chandramukhi (Vyjayanthimala). I am yet to reach there in the Telugu version.

48 RSR July 4, 2017 at 6:56 pm

AK ji, Just now completed placing the telugu film in website for viewing convenience of our forum members.
(in 13 parts) .
I do not remember any part in Sarath ‘s novel, where Paru and Chandra happen to see each other for a fleeting moment. Was it added by Bimal Roy?

49 Gaddeswarup July 4, 2017 at 10:33 pm

AKJi covered several aspects of Sarat’s work. One aspect about which there was some question by RSR somewhere whether Sarat was mistaken for Sarat Chandra Bose, our Sarat had political view too. He was president of Howrah branch of the Indian National Congress for several years. Of course, his politics may not have a strong relationship with his art, after all he thought Devdas was immature and did not want to publish. Some of Sarat’s views onpolitics come out in his correspondence eith Tagore after Patheri Dabi was banned. Perhaps also in the views of Savyasachi in the novel. I like this quote “My sole aim in life is to achieve the independence of India, but I’ve never made the mistake of thinking that there can be nothing greater in life. Independence is not an end in itself. Religion, peace, literature, happiness, are all greater than that. It’s for their fullest development that freedom is essential; else of what use is it? Your heart, which is full of love, affection, compassion and sweetness, is far more valuable than freedom. It’s far greater than anything I’ve ever strived for. I can’t sacrifice it for the sake of independence!” says Savyasachi to Bharati. A discussion here

50 AK July 5, 2017 at 12:30 am

You are right, in the novel Paro and Chandramukhi never meet. But they both go Tal Sonapur looking for Devdas. Chandramukhi needed some pretext – since she was living in their estate (the village where she had shifted), she told the chhoti maalkin (Devdas’s bhabhi) that she had come to seek remission in rent. Thereafter, it was a creative imagination to have their paths cross each other.

51 Shalan Lal July 5, 2017 at 9:00 am

Anu Warrier @46

With reference to your comment in the first paragraph may I suggest you to see if you have not seen it and review it in your illustrious blog the film “Days of Wine and Roses is a 1962”


52 Shalan Lal July 5, 2017 at 9:10 am

RSR at 44

Thanks for your comment. “Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam” is very wonderful film. But Bibi’s tragedy is not about “एक छोटी भूल और उसकी इतनी बड़ी सज़ा? क्यों पारो बार बार मुझे याद आती” nor about alcoholism. It is about the imprisoned wife in a house of a big Zamindar who is traditionally enjoys his pleasures outside the house let his wife burn in smoldering heat of desire. A great film should have sent to the Academy event. Far better than “Pyasa”.

I wonder if Meena K got the idea of hitting the bottle from this film.


53 Shalan Lal July 5, 2017 at 9:16 am

AK @ 50
I like very much your pointing that “Thereafter, it was a creative imagination to have their paths cross each other.”

That was extremely well done by Bimal Roy. Should be measured in gold and diamonds!

Shalan La

54 Ashok Kumar Tyagi July 5, 2017 at 2:11 pm

AK ji,
While replying to various comments, you show a lot of restraint.

Also, you don’t edit/abridge the comments. After going through the comments, I beg to say the following (now I am not writing about the theme of this post) :
Some cinegoers feel that Indian movies have unnecessary inclusion of songs. They refer to some classical Hollywood films which were without songs. My argument:-
a) In the normal lives of Indians songs are always present. We have songs when a newborn arrives. In school, the day starts with singing of prayers. In the weekly House meetings in schools, there are songs. In colleges there are lots of musical events. Before the date of marriage, the ladies have boisterous ladies sangeet for one full week. When we have a sitting with friends, songs/ghazals are as important as the eatables and alcohol.
b) So songs in movies are welcome. The film Mother India had 11 songs. It would have been a bad situation if it had only 4-5 songs. The seven songs of ‘Bees Saal Baad’ enhanced it’s appeal though it was a murder-mystery. ‘Bandini’ was a very intense script, yet the seven songs in it were most welcome.
c) Some people laugh at the mannerisms/gestures/ dialogue delivery style of Dev/Shammi K/Raaj Kumar etc. But general public did not mind. Dev/Shammi presented a typical style in song scenes, but their songs and movies were very popular

Therefore we ought to ignore prejudices of individuals in a field which is meant for masses.

55 RSR July 5, 2017 at 3:32 pm

49> Swaroopji, Thank you very much for the clarification. Pather Dabi is a very fine novel, almost based on the real movements at that time allied more to the ideology of Anushilan Samithi and Juganthar Samithi. I read it long back . and do not remember the full details. I used to think, it was based partly on the path chosen by Rash Bihari Bose and M.N.Roy. . Barathy ,the revolutionary heroine has come off very well in her values and activity in contrast to Mahendran(?) whom she loves and tries to make more determined. There is also an inevitable Maharashtrian revolutioinary of Lokamanya school, impatient with talks of peaceful methods. Thank you, ji.

56 RSR July 5, 2017 at 4:25 pm

54-> I am not against songs in films. ( else, we will not be having this forum!). Nor do I deny that songs are there for all occasions in our country. But, all films need not have songs. If at all there are, it should not be artificial. Dance and songs may be natural in a film on a dancer ( Anarkali, Kathputli, Anuradha, Pakeeza,Amrapali etc). It requires imagination to introduce the songs in a natural way. I think, one of the finest songs by Lata (Sapnon me sajan ki roop aathi..Gateway of India) is just played in a radio. ! like Sanware song in Anuradha. There are any number of Hollywood films like Sound of Music ,almost entirely devoted to music and many more musical comedies. Again, though music is part of our life it is filmy when a hero or heroine bursts out into song as if she /he is a poet and singer. …….
Shalan Lal -> My impression about the greatest novels of Bengal is that they all spoke for Liberation of Women. In Bankim’s Ananda Mutt, Shanthi is a revolutionary . Sarath gave us many such characters . Perhaps, Tagore was not in that list. His Choker Bali I felt, showed the revengeful side of some women. Sarath Babu’s novels and short stories are all definitely taking the side of heroic and hapless women. The Best Feminist continuing the work of Easwar Chandra Vidhyasagar. ( Is there any novel or short story by that great reformer?)
Anu Madam, Is that regional chauvinism , when all south indians adore Hindi film music ( in fact, it was mostly for the music, that hindi films have fans). ? Also, great admiration for actors like Balraj Sahni( Kathputli, Seema, Anuradha, Garam Hawa), Ashok Kumar ( Parineetha ..again a Sarath great!.. with Meena Kumari, ) Guru Dutt ( Pyasa, Kagaz ke Phool, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam). many fine films by Snajeev Kumar , Dharmendra, )? No.

57 AK July 5, 2017 at 4:44 pm

I follow a standard protocol to allow all views without any censorship. I am only concerned when the comment demeans an artiste or a fellow reader. But the SoY members are highly educated and mature, and such situations rarely occur.

The place of songs in our films has been subject of several scholarly books. The simplest way to understand is that for good or bad, songs became a defining and integral part of our films right from the first talkies. Just as we have two eyes, two ears etc, our films had seven-eight songs.

Whether these songs were an essential part of the narrative or added to the artistic merit of the films is a very different question. Some did, some were a drag. In parallel, songs started acquiring an autonomous personality of their own decoupled from their films by virtue of their dissemination through radio and records. They became the most important form of popular culture and music, to be sung on any social occasion.

“Bollywood” connoted this feature of our films. There was a period when it was used as a pejorative term to mock this song and dance fare of melodrama in contrast to the sophisticated Hollywood. This was something to be defensive about. Good taste meant being dismissive of “Bollywood” and being endowed with superior intellect to appreciate art cinema and international cinema. Now the term has been denuded of its negative image. ‘Bollywood’ is now recognised as a distinct style of film making worthy of serious study.

I do have a very high for respect classic Hollywood and international cinema which can tell solid stories in 2 hours without burdening it with unnecessary songs. We now a have a crop of young film makers who are coming up with unique themes and saying it within two hours without feeling the necessity of adding songs and dances. This is mainstream cinema and not ‘art’ or ‘off-beat’ cinema.

58 Anu Warrier July 5, 2017 at 6:29 pm

@RSR, it’s regional chauvinism when you take a subjective matter (i.e. looks) and demean a whole bunch of actors from another region. Or when you deride the talent of ‘north Indian actors’ vis-à-vis their counterparts in the south. (Or vice versa. Regional chauvinism, at least, knows no boundaries.)

FWIW, I’m a south Indian; a Malayali, to be specific. And I can, if I choose to, say, there was once an actor named Satyan in Malayalam cinema, who could have chomped all his peers down with one hand tied behind his back. By saying so, however, I’m not elevating Satyan, really; I’m demeaning others whose talent is no less, just different.

To admire ANR or Sivaji Ganesan, one doesn’t need to put down Raj Kapoor or Dev Anand. Dev may have been a ‘poor man’s Gregory Peck’ but which poor man’s? To Indians who didn’t know or care who Gregory Peck was, Dev was their hero, and they only recognised him as ‘Dev Anand’.

p.s. And what on earth does Raj Kapoor’s ‘irritating mannerisms’ have to do with his looks? You seem to be conflating one with the other.

Surely we have all come to the point where we can actually admire someone’s beauty or talent without having to put down someone else’s looks and talent?

59 Anu Warrier July 5, 2017 at 6:31 pm

WRT: Dev – let me clarify – Dev didn’t have fans because he looked like a poor man’s Gregory Peck. He had fans because he was Dev Anand. For us, that was enough.

60 Anu Warrier July 5, 2017 at 6:33 pm

@Shalan Lal – I have watched Days of Wine and Roses – brilliantly acted, but oh, what a depressing movie! 🙂

let his wife burn in smoldering heat of desire.

Loved this line – it so beautifully encapsulates Chhoti Bahu.

61 RSR July 6, 2017 at 4:40 am

Anu madam, Though I am from Tamilnadu, I have lived in Kerala for quite a few years and cannot agree with you more about the great Sathyan. ( However, the astounding range of roles done by Sivaji Ganesan convincingly is unmatched). .And I have also seen quite a few of PremNazir, Madhu films. ( for negative reasons). No view on my appreciation of Balraj Sahni, GuruDutt and Ashok Kumar? or about the Hollywood and British greats? Regional Chauvinism?

62 RSR July 6, 2017 at 4:54 am

AK ji, Nice. 1) I thought about this problem last night, and it struck me that instead of hero / heroine ‘singing’ the songs (after all it is background music. with orchestra), the songs can be played in the background as ‘asareeree’. while the actors are not shown as singing them. It would in no way affect the effect. and would satisfy all types of audience. ….2) As suggested, it may be a good idea to introduce word count as done in some dailies in comments section and to limit a post to ,say, a thousand letters. It would force the comments to be precise and more compact. 3) Would it be possible to introduce ‘edit’ feature before the comment is posted?
May be even to limit the number of posts done by a member to say 4 or five?
Swaroopji, I read the link provided by you on Pather Dabi. I am with Sarath Babu. .Thank you for the link.

63 AK July 6, 2017 at 9:07 am

There is no pre-editing feature, and it is for the better, because in that case none of the comments would get posted without my first seeing it. There is no feature limiting the comments to four or five, and I would not like to issue an advisory either – people are intelligent and mature enough.

You still seem to be forcing Anu on the issue of whether south Indian actors were superior to north Indian stars. She has already made her views clear. Everyone has a right to have a view and his/her evaluation, the problem arises not on the view but how you put it across.

64 RSR July 6, 2017 at 11:35 am

AKji , Actually I have endorsed Anu Madam’s view about Sathyan. Now about a famous Tamil film Andha Naal ( that day) by Sivaji Ganesan. A mystery thriller. without any song or dance. To quote from Wiki, “Andha Naal (English: That Day) is a 1954 Indian Tamil-language mystery-thriller film, produced by A. V. Meiyappan and directed by Sundaram Balachander. It is the first film noir in Tamil cinema, and the first Tamil film to be made without songs, dance, or stunt sequences. Set in the milieu of World War II, the story is about the killing of a radio engineer Rajan (Sivaji Ganesan). .
The film was shorter than most contemporaneous Tamil films. It was the only film directed by Balachander for AVM Productions.
The film was released on 13 April 1954, on the eve of Puthandu (Tamil New Year). It was critically acclaimed and was awarded a Certificate of Merit for Second Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 2nd National Film Awards in 1955. Despite being a commercial failure at the time of its original release, it has acquired cult status over the years, and is regarded as an important film in Tamil cinema. In 2013, Andha Naal was included in CNN-News18’s list of the “100 Greatest Indian Films of All Time”…..
The more interesting point is that it was directed by S.Balachander, an expert and famous Veena player of classical carnatic music! .. Am I wrong in thinking that it may be the ONLY film made in entire India without song or dance?. Open to correction always.

65 SSW July 6, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Mr.RSR @64 , I am not sure if I get you correctly but I would have thought that you would be aware that there are quite a few films made in India without song and dance. In fact for quite some time there have been Malayali and Bengali films in the mainstream without song and dance except as background. In Hindi we have had Achanak , Kanoon etc. Parallel cinema has always been pretty devoid of the song and dance sequences.

I did not know S Balachander had directed a film. I have always adored his mastery of the Veena, Such a prodigious talent.

66 AK July 6, 2017 at 12:24 pm

On Balachnder, his biographer, Vikram Sampt, says he was passionate about chess and was a national level player. I recall from the book he also acted in a V Shantaram film.

He had a quirky hatred of Swathi Thirunal, and took it as his life’s mission to prove that he was a fraud in music.

67 ksbhatia July 6, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Anu Warrior , RSR, AK [ji’s] ;

It is really difficult to digest that the most admired and successful actors of the golden era period are subjective of criticism of their mannerism . More so when these three top actors were institution themselves ….for others to follow . At one moment of time one of the south India’s top actor was respectfully called as Dilip Kumar of south.

I totally ditto the views expressed by Ms. Anu and AK ji . There is no point continuing with the …..Charge of the Light Brigade …..situation when no one is ready to retreat . As they say….more the assault , more the casualties . Adopt…..To Each His Own……policy as a defuse and carry on with the subject of the theme which is so interesting , reading the content , again and again.

To me …..Song and Music … a short form of feelings , which otherwise takes a longer time when in a narration mode . Not only song , but background music , or even chorus , some times are more effective in conveying the feelings . It is really a soulful experience listening to lonesome violin in …..Mitwa lagi re yeh kaisi …. song ; as also the choral effect in …..Manzil Ki Chhah Mein .

So movies of the class , without songs and background music … again a casualty ; if not a cruelty . The songs have been integral part of the movies since talkies . And it started with more than 20 or 30 songs in the initial indian movie , slowly coming down to 8 or 10 songs in the golden period . The best of the hollywood movies of the 40s thru mid 60s did carried the support of beautiful songs adding to the charm of the movies like Casablanca [1942] which till today is ranked as one of the top ten all time . The six or seven songs of the movie are class apart . ” As time goes by” and ” Knock on wood ” still finds most fav. with class listeners . Who can forget the great musicals like ….An American in Paris….and….Singing in the Rain . Yes ; serious cinema made musical pause for some time and saw the failure in ” Hello Dolly ”. There were great filler in between when we were treated with the best of background music in …..Dr Zhivago , Godfather , Zorba the Greek etc. The Musical had great comeback in ….Moulin Rouge’ and Cabaret again .

Coming back to Indian classics , I think mentioning Andaz , Awara and Shree 420 would be enough to highlight the importance of Songs and Music in films irrespective of the orchestra shown or not on the screen . I cannot imagine a scene where Hero is singing a song while carrying an harmonium with him . Mughal e Azam had a great support of fine songs . This three hours long movie was cut down to 90 minutes movie as an indian entry in one of the International film festivals in 60s . Most of the scissors cut were on songs . The cinema halls showing the movie had to spend a lot restoring the damages caused by the unruly crowd owing to this act of the festival authorities .

To watch a classic ; one has to be a class himself ; otherwise many mock songs are there for other class to enjoy with their desi ”Santra ” and ” tharras ” . A mockery song of Devdas, Paro and chandrmukhi is there in a mid 70s movie …..Haath Ki Safai . It is a great pain to listen and view the video of the song…..peene waloan ko peene ka bahaana chahiye… Kishore and Hema Malini .

68 SSW July 6, 2017 at 1:31 pm

AK, S Balachander questioned the existence of Swati Thirunal, not the music that is attributed to him. He believed (or it is said that he believed) that Swati Thirunal never really existed and was an invented personality.

That I did find funny as Swati Thirunal not only existed as a musician but was was very interested in science and built an observatory at Trivandrum for which he got the best instruments from Europe. There are English records that talk about this, if we want to disbelieve the Indian ones.

But no taking away from his Veena skills. He was non-conformist and wonderful.

69 N Venkataraman July 6, 2017 at 2:12 pm

You never fail to spring surprises and you have done it again. Thanks for an outstanding review and analysis of the novel Devdas and three of its well-known film versions. Besides you have paid an apt tribute to Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay by way of penning an excellent biography on him. It could not have been any better.

The erudite members of SoY have taken the discussion further and added lots of value to this extraordinary post. The discussions have meandered through several aspects and since I have made a late entry I would prefer to enjoy the better part of the discussion from the sideline as an interested observer. However I would touch upon some points, which may be repetitive. As of now I would restrict myself to the novel.

I do tend to agree with Anuji that the character Devdas was too egoistic and too arrogant, besides being fickle minded and possessive. After succumbing to parental objection, he leaves for Calcutta and mails a letter in haste. And soon has a change of mind. Was this change of mind only because of his love for Paro, may not be wholly. Parbati was compliant to his whims and he was very possessive about her. I think, his egoistic mind could not accept the thought of losing her. You have given a fairly good account of the conversation between Devdas and Paro at the pond side which gives a reasonable look into both Devdas’s as well as Paro’s mind-set. In fact Sarat Chandra has used the words “Chanchalchitta”, “Agyan”, while referring to Devdas here, through Paro’s dialogues.

Further Paro says to Debdas
“You have good looks, but do not have good qualities, I have both. Leave my way; if you are big people, my father is not a beggar either. Besides, after a few days I myself would be in no way inferior to you in status and wealth. ”

Debdas was stunned beyond belief.Paro’s stubbornness, as depicted by Sarat Chandra is no less than that off Debdas. And his egoistic mind could not accept Paro’s behavior. We can see a constant shift in his attitude, arrogant and egocentric at one instance and repentant and caring later.

During his first visit to Chandramukhi, Sarat Chandra again depicts Debdas mental disposition. Sarat Chandra writes
“Chandramukhi came out and greeted the. Devdas was irritated and felt anger and hatred engulfing him. Within the past few days, unknowingly he had developed an aversion towards even the shadow of women-folk. As soon as he saw Chandramukhi , he felt a deep rooted hatred within him.”

Atthis point it should be noted that the feeling was not because of Chandramukhi’s profession or social status. In keeping with his character he has again formed a hasty opinion on women-folk in general, most likely out of a perceived sense of betrayal and self pity. Devdas’ self-destructive tendencies occur because he feels like a victim of the situations that he has created for himself. Sarat Chandra does not describe characters but puts them in difficult situations to which the reader has to infer into the character. But as you have rightly said, his deep sympathy for Devdas is quite obvious.

Sarat Chandra in his later life said,
“It is true that my irregular life has caused me much pain and loss. But this was more than compensated for by the people I met. They taught me that man was not simply a bundle of faults, sin and wickedness. They gave me a glimpse of the real man behind all this wickedness and sin. Let not my writings insult this real man!”
Probably, Devdas was the representation of this real man.

Sarata Chandra writes,
(Loosely translated)
“It is in the character of the alert and the experienced that they do not come to hasty conclusion. Without weighing the pros and cons, they do not form any definite opinion. There are people of a different kind, whose nature is just the opposite. They do not have the patience or ability to dwell deeply on any subject. They jump into hasty conclusions; they just bank on their instinct and beliefs. But, these types of people are not always a failure. If lady luck bestows upon them her mercy with her benevolent smile, they can reach the altar of accomplishment. Conversely they can slip to abysmal depths, never to awake from their self inflicted stupor. Bereft of light, they become inert, living dead. Devdas belonged to the latter category.”

Sarat Chandra belonged to that breed of writers who dealt with the mal-adjustments of their characters with sympathy and humanism in a manner that was never done before.

The abject condition of self-destruction of the hero is offset by the depiction of the two women characters, both in possession of unshaken strength of character and the power to love with steadfastness. I find Chandramukhi the most absorbing character. I may come to that later, if my touching upon “some points” does not appear to be a drag.

70 Anu Warrier July 6, 2017 at 2:23 pm

RSR, your appreciation of one lot of ‘North Indian’ actors does not preclude you from the charge of regionalism when you insist that no one can compare to Sivaji Ganesan in terms of acting talent or good looks!

I grew up in Madras, with a cine-buff father who was probably a Tamilian in Malayali disguise. I cut my eye-teeth on the greats of Tamil cinema, and having lived in Bangalore as well, am fully aware of the greats from the four South Indian languages.

My point was that someone’s mannerisms does not take away from their looks (your example of RK). Neither does calling someone a derogatory ‘poor man’s X’ take away from that person’s looks. And looks being subjective, that you seem to think ANR, Sivaji, MGR et al are ‘better looking’ than their compeers in the Hindi industry and you choose mannerisms and similarity in looks to dismiss the latter, is ridiculous on the face of it.

Re: song and dance in Hindi cinema – when you are waxing eloquent over Andha Naal, which is absolutely a great film, you seem to forget that film was an anomaly. Tamil cinema has had plenty of films with the hero and heroine running around trees. Song and dance is an Indian tradition – to look for Hollywood-like films in our ethos is silly. (Which, by the way, Hollywood is also full of crappy films – just being ‘Hollywood’ doesn’t make it great.)

Two, there are lots of Malayalam films without songs. Plenty of Hindi films without songs, too. Kanoon, Ittefaq, Achanak, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Naujawan, Uski Roti, Sara Akaash… except for JBDY, everything else is pre-70s. There are plenty more in the parallel /art cinema space as well as many mainstream Hindi films today without songs. The lack of songs doesn’t make for a great film; a good story and the intelligent use of songs where necessary, does. There have been great films with great songs as well.

Anyway, to each his own. You think the south Indian heroes of the time were better looking and more talented than anyone else – sure, that’s your opinion, and while I disagree, you’re entitled to it. Only, opinions are not facts and presenting them as such while demeaning others for something quite unrelated, is where the trouble lies.

In any case, since my comments are apparently long and frequent, I shall bow out; as Mr Bhatia sapiently points out, not retreating only prolongs the battle.

71 AK July 6, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Thanks and welcome back. “..mal-adjustments of their characters with sympathy” – you have said it very well. Everyone admires the two principal women characters for their strength and their power of love. Devdas seems to be problematic – I find on SoY that a good number of readers have a very unflattering view of the character. I think creating such a character who evokes such conflicting opinions itself shows the power of the author.

72 RSR July 6, 2017 at 5:51 pm

1) Thanks for the information about Indian films without music.
2) Casablanca had great music and they merged eloquently with the scenes and theme. 3) a) Did I ever say that only films without songs are good? No. I gave quite a few examples (b) Nor did I say that films without songs are always good. (c) While there may be Indian films without songs , how do they compare with British and Hollywood great films cited? I would add Gregory Peck’s ‘To kill a mocking bird’. d) any film like the delightful ‘Hatari’? .(e) any serious opinion about my suggestion that songs may be in background. ? .. I thought of requesting Anu Madam ( her rejoinder was too acerbic. ) to write in ‘Dusted off; about another great from Kerala ..Acress Sujatha ( though she got her break in Tamil film ‘Aval oru thodarkathai’. directed by K.Balachander and another great film by her with Rajanikanth and Kamalahasan. ‘Avarkal’. My feeling is that numerous nice films from Southern states are ignored by SoY due to language barrier. Let us agree to disagree and move on.
Sri.SSW has enlightened me on a number of points.S. Balachander
There is a nice book ‘Carnatic Summer’ about the greats of Carnatic music. I understand that Backhander’s grouse was not so much against Swathi Thirunal as against Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. As we dont know much about that, let us leave it. . Balachander had talent in many fields. He has acted in many Tamil films too but not with anything special worth mentioning. It is high time for other Tamil members of the forum to move in.
Devdas ( Telugu/Tamil) was made in 1953 and Bimal Roy version done in 1955. I would expect erudite members of this forum to know a) about the existence of the Nagewswara Rao/Savithri/Lalitha film considered a top class classic even today by great many critics. ..Even Dilip Kumar would agree. (b) really viewing that film with an open mind. (c) offering insightful comments and comparisons.
My negative comments about songs were due to my total repugnance to the songs in Telugu/Tamil devdas ! though as I said in my very first post, Devadas was a rage for the songs! the wrong reason. Not that the songs are bad but totally incongruous… a man in severe booz singing half a dozen philosophical songs that too , in chaste and literary language . ! The effect would have been very great if the songs had been
‘a sareeree’ . I still hold that ANR and Lalitha did a far better job as also the director. than the Hindi counterparts. . And interpolation of a scene in a classic not envisaged by the author ( Paro and Chandra seeing each other) in my opinion is much too ‘filmy’ and questionable. . Waiting for comments about the performance of ANR and Laitha in the latter half of the telugu film

73 RSR July 6, 2017 at 6:04 pm

@68-> Balachander was saying that many of the kruthis attributed to him, were actually by many lesseer known but more gifted composers. and that Senmmangudi because of his loyalty to the Travancore royal patronage was collecting and editing them and attributing them all to Swathi Thirunal. He was appointed to the pst by Travancore Royal family, . Owing western instruments and even havinga band need no necessarily show any creative genius.

74 RSR July 6, 2017 at 6:45 pm


75 Gaddeswarup July 6, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Real life background of Devdas? I just came across this, most of it new to me.

76 AK July 7, 2017 at 12:39 am

To be fair, Anu immediately realised that she might have used some harsh words and wrote to me that I could delete her comments if I so felt. This has been overtaken by many comments. But you would recall I and some other readers too strongly differed with you and felt uncomfortable on the way you dismissed and mocked the north Indian stars. But as you said we can agree to disagree and move on.

A minor point – Anu writes “Conversations over chai” and Madhulika Liddle writes “Dusted Off”. Both write on regional films too. May be some day they might think of comparing ANR and Dilip Kumar’s Devdas.

SoY was a forum meant for Hindi film songs from 30s through 60s. It had the good fortune of attracting some very erudite readers who have enriched and expanded it by their comments and guest articles. In general it is beyond the scope and competency of SoY to delve into regional cinema.

This exchange has been highly educative for me and I have to especially thank you for that. I never realised Sarat Chandra was so popular in south. In north, he was as popular as Premchand.

77 RSR July 7, 2017 at 5:53 am

AK ji, Thank you. And for the corrections . Best Regards.

78 RSR July 7, 2017 at 6:48 am

@75-> Swaroopji, Thank you for the link. It was wonderful and gave new insight.

79 RSR July 7, 2017 at 7:34 am

Songs of Yore is a site dedicated to old HINDI films songs. and related HINDI films. ..MS Meera Hindi ( 1947) was one such film. I could never have enough of such songs in that film itself. So, I am definitely not against songs in Hindi films if set to such ragams, sung in such fervour and sweetness and filmed in such suitable settings.—————-Dekh Kabira Roya may be a very fine example for a musical comedy in Hindi films. …As for AKji’s term ‘regional languages’, I would have written it differently as ‘other regional languages’ for Hindi is just another regional language for south indians especially Tamilians. …Factual errors do creep in. and I have always acknowledged such errors.
Subramanya Barathy born in Tamilnad studied in Kasi, attended INC sessions, visited Sister Niveditha in Bengal and later lived in exile in the then French colony of Pondichery where Sri.Aurbindo Ghosh also was an exile. It is said that Barathy knew English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, French and of course Telugu , and Kannada. His co-exile VVS Iyer knew Latin, Greek , French as well. Though I do not subscribe to the view that Tamil is the sweetest language ever ( my choice in Sanskrit), I am tempted to give a great song by MS on the greatness of Tamil ( penned by Barathy).
” Among the languages known by us, there is no sweeter language than Tamil. But we live like deaf, mute and blind people. Among the poets known to us, poets comparable to Kamban , Valluvar and Ilango. are yet to be born” .. It is puzzling that the entire Hindi-belt is depending on Mumbai and not on real cultural centers like Pune, Lucknow, Gwalior and Indore. We perhaps would have seen many more classics reflecting the real culture of our land instead of crude films in hundreds. from Bollywood which only a professional film critic can find either the time or inclination to wade through. The classic duet by MS and DKRoy of Bankim ‘s VENDHE MATHARAM is given below. For us, entire India is one country. a fusion of many cultures as Dr.Kalaam put it, over a minimum of 5000 years. Nothing but the BEST is my motto.
Not meant to hurt anyone but courtesy need not mean , surrendering one’s well-thought out convictions. And I am not a professional film goer. Bye.

80 Gaddeswarup July 7, 2017 at 7:57 am

RSRJi, At the top, we have ‘Open House’ which gives a lot of latitude. I myself often stray from main topics, partly because I do not know Hindi. I find overall, people here are gentle and it gives me a chance to revise my opinions. It is a lazy way of learning, but I find that I do learn new stuff. Today because of these discussions, I looked around and found the link at number 75. I found it very interesting written by a historian without links or references, probably because he was writing for a magazine. Some things seem to falling in place thanks to the varied discussions here.

81 N Venkataraman July 7, 2017 at 8:20 am

RSR wrote,
“I should mention that alcoholism is a mental disease and addicts are to be treated with sympathy and medical care. “
Very True.
“Devdas might have begun to take the inebriating brew in the initial stage to forget and get sound sleep but gradually, it makes the patient a slave and makes him crave.”

Devdas did not take refuge in alcoholism on his own. Devdas was introduced to alcohol by Chunilal in a particular circumstance. We find, at least on three occasions, Devdas stayed away from alcohol. He reverted back to his old habit when he came in contact with Chunilal again. Chunilal’s intentions might have been nontoxic, but the fact remains that his influence, not once but twice, put Devdas in predicament from which he could never recover.

Nor did Devdas take the inebriating brew to forget and get sound sleep After the pond-side episode, a self-defeated Devdas, returns to Kolkata and spends the night on a bench at the Eden Gardens (sleepless and not playing cricket). After sunrise he aimlessly wanders around the city and late in the day arrives at the mess where Chunilal stayed. He spends that night and the next three days sleeping. After these three days of sleep, Devdas was feeling somewhat better.
Chunilal requests Devdas to go with him to Chandramukhi’s place at least once, since he had given his word to Chandramukhi. Devdas is unenthusiastic. He does not feel good (comfortable) visiting Chandramukhi. Chunilal lures him saying that I will make such arrangements to make you feel good. Thus Devdas was introduced to alcohol by Chunilal.

After Devdas’s father’s demise, during the period of mourning, Devdas did not consume liquor. This we find in the conversation between Devdas and Chandramukhi. When Chandramukhi expressed her surprise that how come Devdas could converse with her in a normal state, Devdas replied that during this period of mourning he is not suppose to touch liquor.

Again, Devdas falls sick during his stay at Chandramukhi’s place, after she finds him on the roadside in an inebriated state and brings him home. Under Chandramukhi’s two months care and custody Devdas recovers and during this period he does not resort to alcohol.

Then he leaves for Allahabad with Dharmadas. During his stay in Allahabad, we do not find Devdas under the influence of alcohol.

Only when he shifts to Lahore, where meets Chunilal again, Devdas again starts consuming liquor. Sarat Chandra clearly states that Devdas never indulged in drinking at home during his stay at Lahore. Only when Chunilal visited him or when they went out together they consumed liquor.

Chandramukhi’s untainted love and self-sacrificing care made Devdas stay away from alcohol, whereas Chunilal’s friendship and association no doubt was “spirited”, but frivolous /light hearted.

82 AK July 7, 2017 at 9:37 am

Your analysis is like that of a mathematician. Gaddeswarupji is a known mathematician. You have not disclosed your background, I am curious to know. But my first response is that the character and novel is not amenable to such Euclidean proof.

I am more interested in hearing from you on Subodh’s poser – how popular was the book before KL Saigal’s film and the impact of the film on its popularity. I am also curious whether before the film, ‘Devdas’ had entered the popular usage as a metaphor.

83 Shalan Lal July 7, 2017 at 10:38 am

There is some discussion going on “Chauvinism”. The regional chauvinism grew up during the Victorian times. Before that Indians did not know much about each other nor about the state boundaries etc. The one mistake Tagore did even he glorified the regionalism in Janaganman unlike in Vande Matram where it was very little, is the glorification of the various regions. Further on Tagore developed the ideas of states according to the regional languages. That gave a fierce fight for each state to fight for own corner in India.

The stupid war over Krishna water or Kaveri water etc is somuch narrow-mindedness grew out of this false pride. It is now in the worse condition and movement for the people from one state to another state has become difficult without being labeled by the state and measured by the state. During the rule of Gupta Kings some leveling was done then under the Mogul or Islamic rule regionalism was ignored and during the British rule it did not encouraged as they created states by the names of the big cities like Bombay, Madras etc.
I was born in Bombay and grew up there but Mumbai is very strange and frightening place to visit for me.

I think we should try to see and measure people with their abilities in various fields of humanities and should not be seen as provincialism in them. To me regionalism is just bigotry and stark prejudice against humanity.

What about those who are stateless like Kashmiri, tribal, Sindhi and those who have been in those states for donkey’ years but do not associated the loyalty to the lingo groups?

For them “Hindostan Tumhara” and you kill yourselves on the false pride and patriotism.


84 Gaddeswarup July 7, 2017 at 11:23 am

Shalanlal Lal at 83, I find this passage about Krishnadevaraya’s time
“An interesting tidbit that might be noted here is that people who ridiculed other languages were supposed to be fined by the king with a fine of one hundred ‘panas’, and that ‘arava’ was considered a derogatory term for Tamil.” from

85 N Venkataraman July 7, 2017 at 3:59 pm

AKji @82
Well I do not know how to respond to the first part of your comment. With my limited intellect I cannot even make out whether it is a compliment or otherwise. But I believe propriety demands that I should at least present a semblance of a response. I do not have any background to speak off. I am Jack of many a trades, master of none. I am separated from mathematics as the distance between the poles.
I will have to go with your comment – “But my first response is that the character and novel is not amenable to such Euclidean proof.” Yes it is Sarat Chandra’s novel and he wanted his character(s) to be thus. But I was not trying to say that if Aunty had grown a beard, she would have become Uncle. No, not at all.
First of all I was responding to RSR’s comment and two, I was elaborating upon Sarat Chandra’s delineation of his character. I have already mentioned in my earlier comment (#69) that Sarat Chandra does not describe characters but puts them in such situations to which the reader has to infer into the character. Had Devdas acted differently at each of these crucial junctures, which happened to be the turning point(s) of the story, then there would have been no Devdas, the character nor the novel. Sarat Chandra clearly indicates that Chunilal as the catalyst in Devdas’s addiction to alcohol. I was trying to emphasize on this point.
And Devdas could stay away from alcohol on couple of occasion for two reasons. The first instance, out of his steadfast adherence to socially accepted norms and conditions. As we have observed on more than one occasion that he could not defy the accepted social norms. Even he could stay away from liquor for almost 13 to 14 days, the period of mourning after his father’s demise, since he was not suppose to touch alcohol during this period. He was the son of a rich, noble, upper cast zamindar. He is expected to toe the age-old norms and rules, lest he and his lineage would fall in the eyes of his community in particular and society in general. What a noble thought and act? What an irony? All these can be clearly inferred from Sarat Chandra’s delineation of the characters and situation. Yes that is how he wanted his character(s) to be. Probably Sarat Chandra was subtly mocking at the notions of accepted customs, beliefs and creeds.
The second instance when he was under the loving care and custody of Chandramukhi. During his two months long stay at Chandramukhi’s place, when she restored him back to good health by her selfless service, Devdas could stay away from liquor. He had the opportunity to reciprocate to Chandramukhi’s love and sacrifice. That is why Sarat Chandra writes (I have mentioned earlier)
‘…..they just bank on their instinct and beliefs. But, these types of people are not always a failure. If lady luck bestows upon them her mercy with her benevolent smile, they can reach the altar of accomplishment. Conversely they can slip to abysmal depths, never to awake from their self inflicted stupor. Bereft of light, they become inert, living dead. Devdas belonged to the latter category.”
That is how he wanted his Devdas to be. Hope I got your comment right and could explain myself suitably, though in a circuitous route.

86 N Venkataraman July 7, 2017 at 4:32 pm

I do not have a definite answer to your question -. “How popular was the book before KL Saigal’s film?” During the silent movie era, Indian film makers chose popular and familiar stories for screening. Since the story of Devdas was selected for a silent movie in 1928, we may assume that the story was popular among the elite and educated section of people in Bengal then. On the same count, we can assume that NT and Pramatesh Barua selected Devdas based on its already prevailing popularity. But there is another point that contradicts this assumption. Most of the popular stories, whether they were mythological, historical and social, were adapted for stage production earlier. But I cannot recollect nor could find any stage version of Devdas. I hope Gaddeeswarupji can produce some link in his usual manner

87 RSR July 7, 2017 at 5:29 pm

Shalan Lal. ->
May I request you to read my reply as a post at
and also a great speech by Nehruji at Aligarh University after partition?

88 RSR July 7, 2017 at 5:48 pm
another lovely article against bigotry.
‘Unity in Diversity’..the stress is more on Unity than Diversity.
A garland of flowers of great many hues and fragrance…but no place for stinking and dirty weeds in the name of variety. Is it not the right approach?

89 Gaddeswarup July 7, 2017 at 9:36 pm

VenkatramanJi at 86, I read almost all of Sarat’s books in the 1950s in Telugu translations and got caught up in mathematics afterwards. Some stayed with me, parts of them, like Mahesh, SeshPrasna, Pather Dabi (the translation was titled Bharati), bits of Srikanth and others. I started revisiting only after this post by AKJi which I thought was I do not have much to say except that I learnt a bit more about Sarat and why he is popular. At a few places, I saw the statement that he regretted writing it because of its effect on youth. So the process must have started before his death. I did not realise before but the Wikipedia article says “He remains the most popular, most translated, most adapted, and most plagiarized Indian author of all time”

90 Shalan Lal July 8, 2017 at 9:06 am

ESR @ 87

As requested I read your article on the Unity Of India. It has some good understanding about the Indianess.

But I have lost which context it is directed to?

At present Mr Trump has appealed to the G20 representatives that “Our ways must be protected.” He means at present numerous extreme groups in Islam are targeting European cultural centres.

But the thing is that European Culture presently is not dogmatic or with a rigid frame. In fact over the last fifty years it has grown towards Internationalism and Give ant take honourably and Live and let Live etc and less religious.

As for Indian Context it too is growing towards the Internationalism as there is a vast exodus from India to Europe, Australia, America

This is the first time Indians are living with people with other cultures and they are not withdrawing their senses like a tortoise but with open mind.
So blindly harping on the past is not good for growing up in modern times.


91 AK July 8, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Venkataramanji @81, 85

I was surprised to see that you were putting a good deal of blame for Devdas’s descent into alcoholism to Chnunilal. This was not my reading of the novel so I checked up again.

They first meet when Devdas had written the damning letter to Paro and is tossing and turning in the bed. Chunnilal is solicitous about his condition: “Are you not well?” Devdas suddenly looks at him and asks, Chunni Babu, don’t you have any क्लेश in your heart? Chunnilal laughs it off and avoids the question: “Nothing.” But Devdas is insistent in finding out about it. “Why do you ask this?” I am very keen to know. “OK, I will tell you some other day.” They plan to go to that place of entertainment, but Devdas had packed up to leave Calcutta for good. Not for starting the life afresh, but because all education is futile. It is only meant for gratification. When Chunnilal is aghast that Devdas is going to give up studies, Devdas replies, “Studies have greatly harmed me. Had I known known before that after spending so much money over this long period I am going to learn only this much, I would have never come to Calcutta?” Chunnilal asks him askance, “What has happened to you.”

Their second meeting is after Devdas has been rebuffed by Paro at the pond, he has hit her on the forehead, comes to Calcutta in a thoroughly disoriented state, spends the entire night at Eden Garden, and staggers towards the mess. Chunni Babu is concerned at his condition. He gives him his bed, and himself sleeps on the floor on the mat. After Devdas has slept off over three days, he is composed and asks Chunni Babu, “Achcha, where do you go in the night?” Chunnilal says with some embarrassment, “Yes, I go, but leave that aside. You would be going to college today, wouldn’t you?”
No, I have given up studies‘.
“Don’t be stupid. How can that be? You have exams in two months. You must give exams.”
When Devdas wants to know where Chunnilal goes, he avoids, “What good it would be for you to know. I don’t go to a nice place.” When Devdas insists Chunnilal take him there, the latter relents, “I can take you there, but you really shouldn’t.”

On the third occasion Chunnilal does take Devdas to Chandramukhi, but that was to honour the word he had given to her, seeing her deep emotional feeling for Devdas. But at her kotha, his alcoholism is his own.

On the fourth occasion they meet in Lahore where Chunni Babu has taken up a job. There is no hint that he insists Devdas take a drink. Sarat Chandra only says Devdas drinks when Chunni Babu comes.

His ritual abstinence from alcohol during his father’s shraddh is adherence to social customs. It does not show much resolve, because when Paro and Chandramukhi ask him why he can’t give up altogether, he shows his helplessness. He is a man who has surrendered himself to his lack of self-control.

Chunnilal also has something that is gnawing at him, but that is his personal pain, and he has found a way to escape in alcohol and kotha. He has acquired a carefree exterior. This is an equilibrium far short of being destructive. He always wards off Devdas when he becomes too intrusive to know about his worries. Devdas is like a person who was desperately seeking confirmation that Chunnilal was as miserable as him, but Chunni Babu does not oblige him.

I find Chunnilal sympathetic to Devdas, solicitous about his studies and his welfare. He discourages him from going to that unwholesome place where he (Chunnilal) goes. Chunnilal has very little to do with Devdas’s hurtling into self-destruction in alcohol.

As I said, it is possible to despise Devdas and be judgmental about him. Sarat Chandra’s last paragraph in the book conveys that a tragedy of such proportions subsumes all sins. A helpless, unfortunate character whose blemish in character is visited upon retribution far too disproportionate.

92 Shalan Lal July 9, 2017 at 12:18 pm

The discussion about the three great actors of the Indian Hindi films is interesting. All these three great actors at the beginning of their career were not so much successful even they were handsome. Handsome is that handsome does.
Raj Kapoor’s early films disappeared without any notice only got some prominence when he became very famous and owned a studio and international reputation.
So were unnoticeable films of early Dilip Kumar. But once he became very famous that is Andaz onwards all his old films became famous even he was very stilted in them.
Dev Anand’s films and acting were very sissy even he had very good support from Suraiya with her good property as singing actor. It was Suraiya’s fascination and correspondence with Gregory Peck and later on his stopping in Bombay on his travel to another country made Dev Anand copy Gregory Peck.
Gregory Peck in his turn was very self conscious actor in his early days. Read the biography of Ingrid Bergman.
A lot of people think RK did not copy or copy Charlie Chaplin. I think he was very much influenced by Ronald Colman. Most of his mannerism and facial acting come from Colman’s films and lasted there until Shri 420.
Dilip Kumar was told by Devika Rani to master method acting. He struggled until he found some hooks in the film “Jugnu” 1947. But in Andaz he found complete mastery over the Method Acting. He even used it in songs and later on his songs became famous for his method acting.
A lot of people do not know that Kidar Sharma’s “Neel Kamal 1948 had Dilip Kumar in a small role and also as assistant director of the film.


93 RSR July 9, 2017 at 3:55 pm

@92…Thank you Shalan Lal. I had given link to a great speech by Jawaharlal Nehru in Aligarh University in the same comment. Indian way of life as Nehru points out in his book, ‘priority to family over self, to the village above family, to the country above our region, to humanity over our country’- whenever there is clash of interest. Nehru was an Internationalist par excellence. USSR which attracted him hugely, was abbreviation for Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. True, there is a big Indian diaspora in the West but very few of it , seem to be aware of the ravages wrought about by their adopted countries to the ‘wretched of the Earth’ in Africa, Latin America and Middle East. Human tragedy in Syria and Somalia. Central African ‘republic’, many Latin American states. Here is the quote from Nehru. “I am proud of India, not only because of her ancient, magnificent heritage, but also because of her remarkable capacity to add to it by keeping its doors and windows open to fresh and invigorating winds from distant lands. India’s strength has been two fold. She was far too strong to be submerged by outside streams and too wise to isolate herself from them. Thus there is a continuous synthesis in her real history. ” ..Soon India may become the most populous country and the youngest at that of its majority , unlike the West. True, there are many defects here still persisting but we are tackling them by Nation-building. Let us not deride the spirit .It was the poet Iqbal who sang ‘saare jahaan se acchaa , hindhusthan hamara’! … May be taken as a foot note to Sarath Babu’s Pather Dhabi .

94 RSR July 9, 2017 at 4:15 pm

@84..Swaroopji, It was during the time of KrushnadevaRaya, that Purandharadasa composed and propagated his thousands of compositions in Kannada. As you know, he is considered to be the originator of Carnatic system of music. Tamil country had its own classical music system. and temple singers known as ‘Oathuvaars’ ( hymn-singers in temples ). That was as old as Pallava Empire times ( 600 AD).I am told that tamilians are known as ‘arava’, because they do not have the fourth sound for consonants. ( pa,ppa,ba but no bha)(ka,kka,ga, no gha ) as in all the other Indian languages patterned on Sanskrit. It was just descriptive not derogatory. I feel that the fourth sound is rather unnatural and tamil omits that sound rightly! .. I like all your links. They are informative. Do not take Barathy’s assertion too literally. It was just poetic frenzy. He has eulogized Telugu as ‘Sundhara Thelungu’ too.

95 RSR July 9, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Sri.Venkataramanji helped me greatly in getting the translation of D.L.Roy’s ‘Pathithoddhaarani Gangae’.
I could sense that he is vastly read and has excellent exposure to both South Indian and Hindusthani music ( both film and non-film). . I understood his comment(@81) to stress that bad company is what drags us into vices. out of which we find very difficult to get out later. While reading a novel, each draws his own mental picture. Too many details and precision may not be conducive to overall understanding and appreciation. So long as the film does not change the original story itself, drastically, adding ‘creative poetry’ may not harm. if it serves the purpose. Let us take it easy. The Telugu film was an adaptation and Randor Guy ( Rangadorai, famous writer on films in the columns of The Hindu says that the Telugu film-script’ was considered by many to be better than Sarath’s original itself!.

96 RSR July 9, 2017 at 5:08 pm

AKJI -> A very comprehensive article on the various versions of Devdas by Randor Guy. ..You will love it
( some interesting titbits of Saigal singing in Tamil ). My uncles were great fans of Saigal songs. back in the fifties. While Saigal was a rage in that generation in tamilnad, Sarath’s novels became famous by translations slightly later. (Till very late, I did not know that Saigal sang ‘Balam Aaye’ for Devdas!) Quite independently of films, Sarath novels were famous in all the southern states, including Kerala. ( how could it be otherwise, the state that gave us great novelists like Thakazhi of Chemmeen, MT Vasudevan Nair, Rajalakshmi, ‘URUBU’, Malayattoor Ramakrushna and my favourite SURENDHRAN. ( Thalam, Kattukurangu triology).
Kalki also was.a fan more of Saigal . and he penned a song to be sung by the young singer D.K.Pattammal.
in exactly the same tune but on Lord Subramanya. ;poonkuyil ‘ The song was a big hit and DKP was called Poonkuyil for that.
I am happy to share this page. Kindly do not miss the youtube version given at the bottom of the page. Mumbai’s Mathunga area was haven for numerous Tamil families in the olden days. and an ekderly gentleman proudly presents the song in his gramaphone .I loved the video.

97 Ashwin Bhandarkar July 9, 2017 at 6:00 pm

A great post, AK! Had watched the Bimal Roy version of ‘Devdas’ on Doordarshan as a boy. Your post has made me want to watch it again.

Am surprised that no one has made a mention of Vyjayanthimala famously rejecting the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film – maybe it is too well-known to bear repetition in this forum.

Here’s something that occurred to me while going through your post – The name ‘Devdas’, while not being too common, was not too uncommon either, in the community that I belong to – I am talking about the period before the 50s. For example, I know of at least two members of my extended family who were named Devdas – one was my great-grandfather’s brother (born in the 1880s) and another is my naani’s cousin, who is in his late 80s now. But one can hardly find a person named Devdas in the generations that came after the 50s. Methinks it is a combination of a disinclination towards naming babies after a loser + the trend towards favouring more ‘modern’ names (such as mine) that took root around the 60s.

98 Manoj July 9, 2017 at 11:53 pm

It was a real pleasure to read an excellent article on one of my favorite authors during high school days. Sharadbabu was great for many of us (siblings and cousins). Very eager to get our turn to read any of his novels which was brought from library. Would forgo other activities and sometimes even meals to complete the novel in one stretch.
Have seen 1935 / 1953 / 2002 Devdas films. Enjoyed them but not as much as the novel. Sharadbabu’s narration helped mental visualization while reading. Among the three actors (for Devdas) my choice first KLS, then DK and last SHK. Late actor Rajkumar was easily living in his characters compared to Dilipkumar but had not yet established when Bimal Roy made Devdas. He would have been a better choice.

99 AK July 9, 2017 at 11:54 pm

Thanks a lot. I could have added Vyjayanthimala refusing the best supporting actress award in the footnotes. It is difficult to say whether she or Suchitra Sen acted better. There is also a problem of definition.

Devdas is a common name in Begal/Odisha without any negative connotation. In other parts, it would have been an one-off thing.

100 AK July 10, 2017 at 12:05 am

Thanks a lot. Rajkumar as Devdas is an interesting idea.

101 Gaddeswarup July 10, 2017 at 12:15 am

Thiru RSR, There is a mainly Tamil forum which has also discussions on Hindi film songs, particularly by one RajRaj. If you have not visited, you may enjoy it. It is chaotic and a lot of good stuff is somewhere obscure and may be one has to ask one of the moderators. Some excellent commenters like Aravindhan were driven out by the crowd. It may be worthwhile visiting.

102 RSR July 10, 2017 at 5:27 am

Just a thought crossed my mind. .Even today, it is not uncommon to come across news items in dailies of suicide of a young girl of school-going age unable to bear the loneliness caused by parting of a bosom friend , another girl. either due to death or marriage. Kindly do not imagine anything physical or indecent. They are usually of very tender age…..I am just wondering if a girl deeply in love with a boy, is unable to get married to him, due to social customs or whatever, has ever committed suicide in world literature? Kindly enlighten me. Paro could have ended her life in the swirling waters which abound in Bengal. Why did she not do so? Tolstoy condones Natasha’s springing back to life and love again after bereavement of her beloved.

103 RSR July 10, 2017 at 5:33 am

@101->Swaroopji ,Do you know Thamizh? That would be wonderful. I have been unable to access mayyam site for a long time now. I get the message that the URL is banned. Are you able to?… Do you read Wodehouse? Drones club has very strict norms about entrants! It is not ‘open house’! Soy I hope is not Drones club.

104 Gaddeswarup July 10, 2017 at 8:36 am

Thiru RSR, I have been a member of hat site for more than 12 years though I am not active. I can write to rajraj if you like, I corresponded with him a few years ago. I can follow Tamil a bit better than Hindi. I studied in Madras from 1956-60 but was thrown out of college for lack of attendance. I thought they were teaching nonsense and they did not like it. Then I went to Hyderabad and did my a college where attending classes was not taken seriously.

105 Gaddeswarup July 10, 2017 at 8:56 am

My apologies about some of the previous messages. If anybody is interested they an write to me directly at

106 Shalan Lal July 10, 2017 at 9:49 am

RSR @ 93

I do not contribute to your eulogising of Nehru. In fact I do like to eulogise any one unless I am sure that the person has dispassionately contributed to the human experience and enriched the humanity.

However you have your god and I have my logic.

Bringing Nehru in this space is not very logical and connected.


107 Shalan Lal July 10, 2017 at 10:20 am

KSBhatia @ 67

I like your various points about the songs in the films. Film comparatively a new art has to follow the other arts that existed before the art of the film was born.

The background music was needed for the silent film. And films had to have a structure which followed in the West with the discussion in the Aristotle’s Poetics and the Hindi films naturally followed the Ras theory of the Sanskrit poetics. In Sanskrit plays there are many songs or poetic verses.

Both Mahabharat and Ramyan use poetry or songs in their creations.
What happens with the Indian audience is that they want the story told without the songs breaking the curiosity raised by the story.

However many directors like Hitchcock use celluloid poetry when he organized his scenes and characters. David Lean in many of his films created sheer poetry and majesty of the celluloid poetry.

I will not fight to demand song-less films.

I shall see the film and then criticize if what the director has done has worked for me.

Recently I have seen the paintings of John Sargent. They are sheer poetry in pictures!


108 N Venkataraman July 10, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Akji @91
I am not putting the blame on Chunilal. I have clearly stated in my comment #85 “Sarat Chandra clearly indicates that Chunilal as the catalyst in Devdas’s addiction to alcohol. I was trying to emphasize on this point.” When I mentioned Chunilal as the Catalyst I meant to say “the agent/the medium/the vehicle through which Devdas was introduced to alcoholism.

I go with your narration of the novel till the second meeting. But the difference is on the third occasion. You say Devdas’s alcoholism is his own at Chandramukhi’s Kotha. Yes if you mean Devdas’s addiction or dependence to alcohol is his own, I am totally with you. But who introduced Devdas to alcohol. Let us go back to the novel. Let me pick-up the dialogue between Chunilal and Devdas from this point.

Chunilal looking at Devdas for sometime asked him
“Will you keep a request?”
Debas asks “What?”
Chunilal – “once more you will have to go there. I have given my word.”
Debdas – “Where, to the place we went the other day? You mean to that place?”
Chunilal- “yes”
Debdas – “Chih, I do not like (going to that place).”
Chunilal – “I will make SUCH ARRANGEMENTS to make you comfortable.”
Debdas like an absent–minded person, after silently staring at Chunilal replies, “OK, let us go.”

Sarta Chandra writes “Advancing him a flight of steps towards his downfall Chunilal goes away somewhere. Sitting on the floor of Chandramukhi’s room, Devadas drinks alone.”

The only special arrangement we could find, to make the visit to Chandramukhi’s place agreeable to Devdas, was alcohol. And Sarat Chandra was not definitely referring (only) to Chandramukhi’s association as the “flight of steps towards his downfall”. That is my inference.

I have already mentioned in my comment #85, the three occasions he kept away from alcohol.

The first occasion was somewhat brief, after his father’s demise. One should remember that an addict cannot stay away from alcohol even for a day under any circumstance. Yes, he is spiritless person with no firm resolve. His refusal to accept Paro’s and Chandramukhi request to give up alcohol for good, in my opinion, is not due to lack of resolve, but a display of protest or should I say audacity, even at the cost of self destruction.

The second occasion, during his two month stays at Chandramukhi’s place, when under her loving care he recovers completely. Here is an example of what right relationship can do even to a weak-willed person. He did not crave for alcohol during this period.

Then he goes to Allahbad with Dharamdas. Yes, both Paro’s and Chandramukhi’s thoughts were bothering him. Yet, he did not crave or resort to alcohol. May the love and care he received from Chandramukhi was still lingering in him and acting as an deterrent.

But I would like reiterate that I am not blaming Chunilal for his addiction or dependence to alcohol, but no doubt he happened to be the catalyst. And about Chunilal’s character, and all other points you have mentioned, I am in agreement with you.
Well, that was an interesting interaction which led to our referring to the novel once again. I enjoyed it.
Thank You AKji.

109 AK July 10, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Thanks to you too.

110 RSR July 11, 2017 at 6:36 am

@105->Swaroopji, Very happy to have your mail-id. Will write to you as rs.ramaswamy(gmail).Regards

111 RSR July 11, 2017 at 6:57 am

@108 and @109 -> May I know, if you have read Devdas in original Bengali or in translation? How faithful are translations to the original? I read in tamil translation only.
@93-> Thank you. I am in good company in eulogizing Panditji. and no intention of being an apostate. May I know your role-models? Do you have a blog..That would give me an idea of your ideological orientation. Regards
@70-> Anu Madam .. I suppose there is a generation gap. I happened to visit your blog last night. The latest on Madan Mohan. I stopped listening to even Lata songs after 1947- 1967. You may like the songs in the page given, ( one of my many sites on various topics. ). I am not against songs in films evidently. Yet to visit your page on Lata-MadanMohan songs. Will do so tonight.–in-memory-of-madhan-mohan

112 RSR July 11, 2017 at 8:36 am

@70-> about Andha Naal being the first INDIAN FILM without song and dance.
Although Naujawan (1937) is widely considered Indian cinema’s first sound film without songs,[8][9][10] the Limca Book of Records and Meiyappan’s son M. Saravanan claim Andha Naal to be the first songless film in India.[11][12][13] According to Indian cinema: A Visual Voyage (a book by National Film Development Corporation of India) and film historian Randor Guy, Andha Naal was the first of its kind in the whole of South Indian cinema.[14][15][16]

113 AK July 11, 2017 at 9:01 am

RSR @111,
If your query is addressed to me too, I have already mentioned in Notes 2 of my article that my access to Devdas is through its Hindi translation. Since Venkataramanji is a polyglot and a naturalised Bengali, he might have read it in original Bengali. But that is not very important. The translations – even poor ones – generally get the facts right. It is the nuances and the author’s complex reflections where the a translation may be lacking.

However, even without any factual error in translations, the interpretation of characters, events and inferences may vary from person to person, just as I and Venkataramanji have somewhat divergent views on how far Chunnilal be held responsible for Devdas’s fall.

114 Shalan Lal July 11, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Subodh @ 2
Your comment raised tow issues about Tragedy and taking liberty with the first creation by the second creator.

AK has brilliantly explained both Greek Tragedy and Sanskrit Poetics rejecting the understanding of the Greek Concept of the Tragedy.

Between the two we understand the idea of the art and purpose of the art as well. In both there is a great understanding of the “Ras theory” as Greek poetics have need of Choruses.

Both up to a point see the reality on the stage or paper on which the art is created. In Greek Tragedy the reality is left towards the end but on the English Stage the dead actors come alive and take a bow to the audience who in their turn applause. Thus the reality of tragedy is cancelled.

In Sanskrit there is “Bharat-Vaakya” in which pacification is done for the minds of the emotionally raised audience.

Now about the second creator taking liberty! With Devdas all had to take liberty as it was written as a long short story form to read.

To turn it into the filmy form plenty of liberty had to be taken. The New Theatre was perhaps the first company that did filmy form.

But my readings told me that the first silent film on Devdas was done in South India and then the Bengali version followed. The Barua version was a later on.

The New Theatre is supposed to be authentic. But what is Authenticism?

Once I had been to Banaras and sitting on the steps of the Ganges I was reading the Holy Valmiki Ramayan as I was told the experience would purify me.

I was watched by a Pandit. He approached me and asked me why I was reading Valmiki Ramayan etc. I told him my reason. He told me he has got a Pothi called “Sitayan” in which Sita kills Ravana and releases all the imprisoned women, gods and even Rama and Laxman as well” He insisted that, that is the most holy book and reading it would certainly purify me. For touching his book I had to take a bath in the Ganges before and I have to choose only one chapter and I had to pay him “Dakshina” of just one rupee. I did it. But the experience was an eye opening that there is another version than Ramayan and that is equally respected by certain sect. In Maharashtra there is a place called Nasik where Rama stopped and from where Sita was kidnapped by Ravana. There is a temple carved in the underground and one has to go in creeping on one’s haunch. The Pujari told that Sita was never kidnapped but protected underground and she created her image by the power of her सतीत्व.
So if one believes that Valmiki Ramayan is the true Ramayan then there is Jain Ramayan in which Ram and Sita are brother and sister. The Indonesian Ramayan is very different that all the Indian Ramayan.

So before we cast stones at “Sanjay Leela Bhansali” we should have plenty of latitude. Most of the Hollywood writers know well that their creation would be minced about by the writers, designers, producers and famous actors.

I want to encourage Bhansali to make films on “Jhansi Ki Raani” Shakuntala as different from existing versions of ithem.


115 Shalan Lal July 11, 2017 at 12:49 pm

RSR @ 111

Just to give you some idea that my mentor is “Eklavya” who shot an arrow at the dog of Dron Rishi’s in such a way that the arrow would not hurt the dog but stop him barking.

116 RSR July 11, 2017 at 2:53 pm

RSR wrote @93-> Thank you. I am in good company in eulogizing Panditji. and no intention of being an apostate. May I know your role-models? Do you have a blog..That would give me an idea of your ideological orientation. Regards
@115-> Shows your class and mine….!

117 RSR July 12, 2017 at 5:30 am

@113, AKji, It is OK. I read all the Russian classics of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Pasternak, and ‘Quiet flows the Don’ by Mikail Sholokov in English translations only. My brother’s son, who is widely read,and knows some Russian feels that his experience while reading a few of those classics in the original Russian was far more rewarding. May be he is right. I learned Malayalam just to read the Malayalam greats . and also in thamizh and English translations.which really did not succeed in capturing the scenes. I concur with my nephew.However, something is better than nothing. No time to learn all the Indian languages even.

118 RSR July 12, 2017 at 5:40 am

AK ji, I am deeply hurt by the remark @115. unbecoming , in my opinion, of members of this forum. I just want to register my revulsion. I restrain myself with great difficulty, from replying in kind, in these pages. in deference to the reputation of some nice people in this forum. Normally barking dogs do not bite. Killer breeds do not bark but bite mortally wounding the victim. . where is the ‘red flag’ ?

119 Shalan Lal July 12, 2017 at 9:15 am

RSR @ 118

If the statement at the comment of 115 have hurt you then I am very sorry. And I beg your pardon.

The example of the Dog in the Mahabharat story is about “Eklavya” who learned his skills on his own though he needed a statue of Dron to give him spiritual energy.

I have learned all things in the experiences of life and some ideas of both Indian and European liberalism which started from Martin Luther onwards. But still in the anvil of my inside of head has the hammer of my own logic has to be there. My knowledge and “look out comes from my own thinking. I do not need to depend on any Guru.

I do not approve any Gurus to tell me what is correct and what is not. From the above comment 117 it seems that you are widely read and for that I bow to you. But sadly many of your conclusion are not acceptable to me.

After all the purpose of a blog is we must have a jolly good argumentation but not being argumentative.

Once more the Mahabharat “Dog” is not addressed to you. It is a part of the story that tells how clever was “Eklavay” an untouchable youth wanted to be included in the main stream of life at the time of Mahabharat.

But sadly he got very bad treatment from the Brahmin honorable Guru who should have been far more generous and this is what I see the meaning of the story. And not as you see it as an attack on you.

As a great reader of many books you should have seen the meaning of the story and not everything to be taken as a personal thing.


120 RSR July 12, 2017 at 4:27 pm

@119-> Thank you . I think, we can have free exchange of views if you write to me at rs.ramaswamy(gmail). This forum may not be the right place as it is mainly about Hindi film songs. Best Regards

121 RSR July 21, 2017 at 3:02 pm

‘Bari Didi’ of Sarath Chandra was produced in telegu and tamil sometime in early 1960’s. I had the luck to see the film in theater. ( but for youtube, many great films would have vanished from public view..that is why ‘luck’). The name of telugu film was BATASARI and of Tamil version ‘KANAL NEER ( meaning MIRAGE). Banumathi and Nageswara Rao played the lead roles. .. This was a very famous novel of Sarath Chandra . Both Banumathi and Nageswara Rao gave absolutely great performance. It is only the telugu version that is available in tube. I request the forum members not to miss this film. ( very unique production.. approaching the theme with reverence.. no dance.. no cheap gimmics as ‘comedy’.
.Randor Guy mentions some dance and songs by Banumathi in tamil version. ! I could not find any in the telugu version or I missed it/..perhaps edited by the uploader? if so, very nice of him. ).
Native Bengali speaking/reading members may kindly give the synopsis of the mini-novel.
If forum members can give links to bengali and hindi vesrions of this novel, ( there must be!), I will be thankful.

122 Gaddeswarup July 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Thiru Ramaswamy at 121. We always thought that Devdas was ANR’s best film. But a few years ago, we spoke to ANR in Melbourne. He said Batasari was his best film and the toughest for him.

123 AK July 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm

RSR and Gaddeswarupji,
I am delighed to know about Bori Didi. I am also tempted but alas, without the subtitles I would find it difficult to go through the Telugu version. (I did see the Telugu Devdas because of your strong recommendaion and because I was so familiar with the story.)

124 Gaddeswarup July 21, 2017 at 6:14 pm

AKJi, When I come to Delhi next, perhaps we can watch them together and I can explain. In my school days. We used to have translator sitting in the middle and shouting the meanings.

125 RSR July 21, 2017 at 8:50 pm

@122-> Swaroopji, Yes. If Sri.ANR himself thinks so, it is. Very difficult role indeed but done almost to perfection. Banumathi, of course, does equally well. Even Devika looks so nice and decent and does adequately.
@123-> AKji, there surely must be a good translation of Bari Didi in English and Hindi. Why not read that ( preferably in Hindi) and then see the telugu film? Are we not seeing French, Russian, Japanese classics without subtitles in English? Though we may miss the nuances in dialog, we can still appreciate the action.

126 RSR July 21, 2017 at 9:36 pm
127 AK July 23, 2017 at 7:35 am

Thanks for the link.

128 Anil Bhatnagar July 23, 2017 at 8:43 pm

Dear AKji
Before expressing anything on the novel – ‘Devdas’, written by Sharat Chand , I am pleasantly surprised to know about creative and literary side of your personality , more so you are writing this blog for the last over seven years. Great
Expressing limited knowledge on the subject – Devdas powerfully depicts the prevailing social customs in Bengal in the early 1900s, which are largely responsible for preventing the happy ending of a genuine love story
Devdas is a household name throughout India – a character projected by Sharad Chand in 1917.
In today’s time nobody wants to be Devdas. Nobody wants to look Devdas, yet this character has managed to touch everyone’s heart and it is a character has managed to touch everyone’s heart and it is a character that can’t be ignored. It has become timeless classic. The four key characters – Devdas, Paro, Cunni lal and Chandramukhi are so believable and depicts the people, we meet almost in our day to day real life. In fact this novel has also so vital influence in reel life that this story has been adopted into movies 16 times.
* One Silent film in 1927
* Five times in Bangla out of 2 are from Bangladesh Film Industry.
* Three times in hindi.
* Two times in Telugu
* Two times in urdu. Both are from Pakistan Film Industry.
* One time in Assamese and Malayalam.
* One modern take called Dev. D
( source through media)
Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you.

129 AK July 23, 2017 at 9:10 pm

Mr Bhatnagar,
Welcome to Songs of Yore and thanks a lot for your detailed comments. Now SoY has become a community of knowledgeable people like you who are adding to it by their participation and, in some cases, as guest authors. Thanks for your offer for assistance.

130 Iffat Zafar Aga September 7, 2017 at 9:26 am


Loved reading this article. Though I was only a fan of the new devdas made by bhansali but after reading your blog I would love to read the original devdas in English. The pain and the loss depicted in this story really inspires me somehow …….

131 AK September 7, 2017 at 9:36 am

Iffat Zafar Aga,
Welcome to SoY and thanks a lot for your appreciation. I am happy that my article has inspired you to read ‘Devdas’.

132 Raunak October 2, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Quite an interesting post..and some quite interesting comments 🙂

First of all, as far as sarat’ s popularity down south is concerned, there is no doubt that he was incredibly popular there, esp in Andhra Pradesh. Not only Devdas, a host of Telugu film classics were made based on Sarat stories. These include-

1.) Manadesam (1949)- Based on Bipradas.
2.) Deeksha (1951) -Based on Ramer Sumati
3.) Devadasu (1953) – As mentioned above.
4.) Mudda bidda (1956)- Based on Bindur Chheley
5.) Thodi Kodallu ( 1957)- Based on Nishkriti
6.) Batasari (1961) – Based on Badi Did I
7.) Vagdaanam (1961)- Based on Datta
These I can recall as of now..I am pretty sure there will be more.. Even in Tamil cinema, there was an adaptation of Parineeta starring the golden couple of Gemini Ganesan n Savithri.. The name of the film is escaping me right now.

Now for the south vs north actor debate, I think both the parts have produced great actors n great stars.. In my very subjective and humble list, all the below mentioned 25 actors belong to the same A-grade. ( I am restricting myself here to actors who debuted before 1990 here).. The list is in no particular order and is solely based on acting merit and not stardom based.
1.) Ashok Kumar
2.) Motilal
3.) Pahadi Sanyal
4.) Chandramohan
5.) Chhabi Biswas
6.) S.V.Ranga Rao
7.) Dilip Kumar
8.) Balraj Sahni
9.) Uttam Kumar
10.) Sivaji Ganesan
11.) Akkineni Nageswara Rao
12.) Soumitra Chatterjee
13.) Pran
14.) Anil Chatterjee
15.) Sanjeev Kumar
16.) Amitabh Bachchan
17.) Utpal Dutt
18.) Kamal Haasan
19.) Mammotthy
20.) Bharat Gopi
21.) Mohanlal
22.) Mithun Chakraborty
23.) Naseeruddin Shah
24.) Om Puri
25.) Nana Patekar.

Now to find the absolute best of the lot, we have to undergo very minute dissections, which is beyond the scope of this discussion. Also it is not needed, as different parameters will lead to different results. Suffice to say, that all these actors are great and we are blessed to have been able to witness their talent n skill unfold on the silver screen. 🙂 🙂

133 AK October 2, 2017 at 4:29 pm

Thanks a lot for your appreciation and your detailed comments. The ones you have mentioned themselves show that not Sarat Chandra was not only enormously popular as a writer, his works were eminently suitable for adaptation as films.

North-South debate rightly evoked strong reactions. You can’t compare two great artistes.

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