Sudhir Mishra On Daas Dev, And The Other Hindi Films On Devdas

From PC Barua’s version starring KL Saigal, to his own film, the director of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi takes us through the Hindi Devdas down the ages
Sudhir Mishra On Daas Dev, And The Other Hindi Films On Devdas

Sudhir Mishra says that the idea of making a film on Devdas, the Bengali novel by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, was first suggested to him by his "interesting, and provocative friend", media personality and producer Pritish Nandy. He had started working on it, but he lost the impetus to carry it forward after he saw Dev D (2009); he thought the Anurag Kashyap film said pretty much everything he wanted to say in his adaptation. Maybe not. Mishra revived his Devdas a few years later, and that film, featuring Rahul Bhat, Richa Chaddha and Aditi Rao Hydari, will release soon.

Mishra has lived with Devdas, which has had a number of film adaptations in different languages including Bengali, Assamese and Telugu, for a long time. He has only seen the Hindi ones. From PC Barua to his own, the director of films such as Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003) and Chameli (2003), takes us through the Hindi films based on Devdas down the ages.

PC Barua's Devdas (1932)

I saw it more like a film student when I was hanging out in the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). I thought of it as a story of a time when nobody found true love. It was kind of impossible and there was a lot of pining for love, all that poetry about loss and separation. It connected with everybody at the time, because I guess everybody lost their love. I remember Javed saheb (Akhtar) said his father had told him that since KL Saigal coughed a lot in the film, it became fashionable to cough after the film came out. Saigal became an iconic lover. There is a beautiful quality to his face. The style might have become too odd for us to connect with, but it harks back to a certain past.
I saw it more like a film student when I was hanging out in the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). I thought of it as a story of a time when nobody found true love. It was kind of impossible and there was a lot of pining for love, all that poetry about loss and separation. It connected with everybody at the time, because I guess everybody lost their love. I remember Javed saheb (Akhtar) said his father had told him that since KL Saigal coughed a lot in the film, it became fashionable to cough after the film came out. Saigal became an iconic lover. There is a beautiful quality to his face. The style might have become too odd for us to connect with, but it harks back to a certain past.

Bimal Roy's Devdas (1952)

I must have seen it in 1978-80 as a film buff. I think it's a damn good film. It's a Bengali novel and with Bengalis making it, they get the milieu really right. Bimal da was a magnificent craftsman and I remember his use of train and sound, I thought he brought out the whole idea of descending into grief and doom brilliantly. It was a very well executed film. It is still in a sense a very Hindi film, but there was an interesting element of truth in the work of Bimal da, where he would retain the ordinariness — it is something you can see in the works of Hrishi da (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) as well. You remember it for Yusuf sahib's performance, Suchitra Sen's face and that forlorn, tragic quality of Chandramukhi played by Vyajanthimala, who knows that she can't cross the class barrier. I think Devdas is a very interesting pulp novel of its time, that's why Sarat babu also called it a popular novel, and distanced himself a bit from it. But it's a good example of how sometimes a work becomes bigger than the writer imagines it to be.
I must have seen it in 1978-80 as a film buff. I think it's a damn good film. It's a Bengali novel and with Bengalis making it, they get the milieu really right. Bimal da was a magnificent craftsman and I remember his use of train and sound, I thought he brought out the whole idea of descending into grief and doom brilliantly. It was a very well executed film. It is still in a sense a very Hindi film, but there was an interesting element of truth in the work of Bimal da, where he would retain the ordinariness — it is something you can see in the works of Hrishi da (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) as well. You remember it for Yusuf sahib's performance, Suchitra Sen's face and that forlorn, tragic quality of Chandramukhi played by Vyajanthimala, who knows that she can't cross the class barrier. I think Devdas is a very interesting pulp novel of its time, that's why Sarat babu also called it a popular novel, and distanced himself a bit from it. But it's a good example of how sometimes a work becomes bigger than the writer imagines it to be.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas (2002)

Realism is widely confused as the only form of good cinema. I find that very odd. If I keep a camera in the middle of a street and capture everything around it, what have I done? What Sanjay Leela Bhansali does in Devdas, which I saw in Cannes Film Festival, is create a spectacle and a sense of scale from a story about loss, and good music. Shah Rukh Khan had this sense of doomed arrogance of someone who suddenly realises that he is vulnerable, that he is forever entwined with this woman who he can't do without. I remember the scene in the beginning when Shah Rukh Khan first comes into Paro's room after returning from London, when he catches the buzzing mosquito (because he doesn't like the fact that anyone touches Paro). The film's stylisation and the performances are in tune.
Realism is widely confused as the only form of good cinema. I find that very odd. If I keep a camera in the middle of a street and capture everything around it, what have I done? What Sanjay Leela Bhansali does in Devdas, which I saw in Cannes Film Festival, is create a spectacle and a sense of scale from a story about loss, and good music. Shah Rukh Khan had this sense of doomed arrogance of someone who suddenly realises that he is vulnerable, that he is forever entwined with this woman who he can't do without. I remember the scene in the beginning when Shah Rukh Khan first comes into Paro's room after returning from London, when he catches the buzzing mosquito (because he doesn't like the fact that anyone touches Paro). The film's stylisation and the performances are in tune.

Anurag Kashyap's Dev D (2009)

I love Anurag's work. And he did so much within that story. The whole atmosphere of Punjab, Paro's own sexuality, that iconic gadda scene (in which which Paro carries a mattress to the mustard fields for her and Dev to make love), which everybody talks about. I really like the way he adapted the Chandramukhi's character as this lost girl, and Dev coming to terms with his own decadence and then standing up. It was interesting that at the end he found hope, which is unusual for an Anurag Kashyap film. And of course Emosanal Attyachar which had a kind of mockery of his lament.
I love Anurag's work. And he did so much within that story. The whole atmosphere of Punjab, Paro's own sexuality, that iconic gadda scene (in which which Paro carries a mattress to the mustard fields for her and Dev to make love), which everybody talks about. I really like the way he adapted the Chandramukhi's character as this lost girl, and Dev coming to terms with his own decadence and then standing up. It was interesting that at the end he found hope, which is unusual for an Anurag Kashyap film. And of course Emosanal Attyachar which had a kind of mockery of his lament.

Sudhir Mishra's Daas Dev (2018)

After I had got bored with the idea of making my own Devdas, it struck me – What if Devdas is not Devdas but Hamlet? What if he grows up in a political dynasty; if Paro is the daughter of his father's political secretary, who lives in their outhouse, and there is a rift between Paro and Dev. Chandramukhi is the seductress, fixer, manipulator who politicians refuse to acknowledge. She is mysterious, and she retains that fatal flaw of attraction for Dev, but won't walk away with a resignation. All three are addicted to power, and their journey is to liberate themselves. There is a lot of Shakespeare, Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Sharat babu, and my maternal grandfather, DP Mishra, who was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in the 1960s. He was close to Indira Gandhi. He walked away from it when she came to power. When I'd asked him as a child, why he did that, he'd said, "Power is not yours, because you come from a certain womb." He became ordinary. We didn't have a life of privilege at all, my father was a mathematics teacher, and I came to Bombay and became a production assistant to Vidhu Vinod Chopra. I constructed Daas Dev from this whole idea.
After I had got bored with the idea of making my own Devdas, it struck me – What if Devdas is not Devdas but Hamlet? What if he grows up in a political dynasty; if Paro is the daughter of his father's political secretary, who lives in their outhouse, and there is a rift between Paro and Dev. Chandramukhi is the seductress, fixer, manipulator who politicians refuse to acknowledge. She is mysterious, and she retains that fatal flaw of attraction for Dev, but won't walk away with a resignation. All three are addicted to power, and their journey is to liberate themselves. There is a lot of Shakespeare, Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Sharat babu, and my maternal grandfather, DP Mishra, who was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in the 1960s. He was close to Indira Gandhi. He walked away from it when she came to power. When I'd asked him as a child, why he did that, he'd said, "Power is not yours, because you come from a certain womb." He became ordinary. We didn't have a life of privilege at all, my father was a mathematics teacher, and I came to Bombay and became a production assistant to Vidhu Vinod Chopra. I constructed Daas Dev from this whole idea.

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