Bimal Roy's Devdas

Bimal Roy's Devdas ran for 15 weeks at Roxy in 1955. It wasn't as big a hit as P C Barua's Devdas for which Bimal Roy had done the camera work. He brought some of New Theatre's team with him to Bombay. He wrote scripts, did the camera work, the editing and supervised the sound track and the film's music. He was a complete workman, a complete craftsman and a complete artist.

He had studied chemistry which helped in the development of his prints in the film-laboratory. He did not know Hindi well but he knew Bengali Baul music and Rabindra Sangeet, and had a literary sense: his few writings show it. He must have been a very sensitive, humane, soft-spoken man besides being handsome. He had a way with children (he uses child artists in every film very well), and with women, first Vyjayantimala and later Nutan.

Devdas is a young man's story. Sarat Chandra wrote it at 17. And later disowned it saying, "I wrote it when I was drunk". Drink, prostitution, a failed attempt at a love-marriage: 'Ek choti si bhool ki itni badi saza'. What did newly independent India think of it? India became a nation of wimps until the Angry Young Man arrived, taking the law into his own hands. India is now a nation of angry men.

Dilip Kumar is a hunk. He invests the inner vacillations of a man buffetted by fate into a strong voice and a strong body. Never had Dilip looked better than in his two Bimal Roy movies. Lovingly photographed as a matinee idol and as a sex symbol of the '50s. But Devdas to forget Paro drinks and whores: 'Accha kiya hai aur bura kiya hai', he says to Motilal who takes him to the brothel. The whore is reformed by love. 'Arre tum kyon ro rahi ho, tum to Paro nahin ho', Devdas tells Chandramukhi. If she will bring him more drink, he will love her.

I do not agree that Devdas is a man's film. Like all Bimal Roy movies it is an essay on the Indian woman. Paro and Chandramukhi crossing each other on a country road and unknowingly knowing each other through feminine intuition that they both love the same man, is an unforgettable scene. There is all the unreal sacrifice of the wife in an arranged marriage, the staple of Hindu melodrama, but I do not think Chandramukhi is a nun; she is a whore and Devdas condemns her to remain a whore. This is our Hindu morality.

I can go on, but I'll stop here. Bimal Roy never drank. Movie stars never came to his house except Dilip, who brought his own whiskey, and Lata, a family friend. Aaja re Pardesi: But that's another story.

(Presented at the Devdas festival of the Hyderabad Film Club, September 2002.)

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