DEVDAS (1955)

 A fatalist or a realist?

How do I feel about 'Devdas', our protagonist in this classic, much-loved Bengali movie & turn-of-the-century novel of the same name (written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1917 & translated into film no less than an astonishing 15 times)?.....Frustrated to begin with, confused some, ready to rub garam-masala into his eyes (& with the same sadistic impulses, he himself portrays!)....Well, maybe not, but deeply ambivalent is where I'm ready to sit. For what do we make of a man who passively accepts the dictates of family & society at the expense of true love & happiness, who drinks himself into oblivion with the love & live's of two devoted women looming large & left hanging in the balance?

 The graceful Suchitra Sen as the long-suffering Paro

Chattopadhyay's Devdas is given its finest & truest rendering (IMO) in the 1955 adaptation, directed by Kolkata's very own Bimal Roy. An earnest, unsettling look at the lives of people held captive by entrenched social-customs, duty & position, their actions (or inactions) & the anguish this all engenders.

A doll-faced Vyjayanthimala as Chandramukhi, 
the courtesan with a heart of gold
Son of a rich, high-caste landlord, Devdas is conditioned to do what is expected of him - to honor his parents, marry well, prosper. Parvati, his one true childhood friend. Sweet, devoted daughter of a poor, lower-caste neighbour, knows her place & should never look above her station. Their love, of course, blooms into adulthood & all 'holi-hell' breaks loose - your standard subcontinental fare. Except, Devdas & Paro do NOT run away & get married or make a passionate poisonous pact.....They, instead, test each others love & loyalty by wager. Trying to circumvent the bounds of class & carriage, negotiate their affection in turns & roundabouts. Paro is bold in her suggestions & unrelenting in her willingness to sacrifice all for Devdas. He, on the other hand, is unwavering in his obedience to family. He loves Paro, but will not risk his reputation for her sake. 

 Paro defies custom & visits Devdas, 
unchaperoned in his room!

 Devdas succumbs to the lure of a 
little liquor

 Chandramukhi shimmies for her paramour

Family against family set out on a game of humiliations, culminating in a complete reversal of fortune. Paro, after being rejected by Devda's parents as a suitable daughter-in-law, is married off to a wealthier man, in turn ascending her social-status. Devdas finds forgetfulness in drink & dancing girls & descends into a life of shame & disrepute. Irony after sweet irony unfolds as Paro's husband, still in love with his dead wife, reveals he has no interest in consummating their marriage. Devdas does not want consummation with Chandramukhi because he loathes & pities her at the same time. Chandramukhi falls helplessly in love with Devdas because he is the only man who hasn't used her for her services. By twists & turns, each player is left exposed, unrequited in their love, yearning & forlorn......& therein lies the tragedy of Chattopadhyay's tale.

 Devdas 2002 (The charismatic Shahrukh Khan) maligns Paro (Radiant Aishwarya Rai) 
by the light of the moon, in a shocking, but powerfully symbolic gesture

The subtext to all of this runs far deeper. 'Devdas' can be seen as a treatise on the impotency of men in a largely patriarchal society, governed by what Mummy tells them to do. The ideals of romantic/spiritual love, the Mother-Goddess (Paro) versus the impure, physical love of the women of the night (Chandramukhi), parallels of mythology, with Krishna & Radha (a God with a cowherd girl), the consequences of not harnessing the will & directing it where you'd like it to be, &, lastly, a life lived in denial & torment, leading to mental instability & ill-health. The Master-Guru-Caste complex sees its ultimate demise in the story of Devdas.

Bewitchingly beautiful Madhuri Dixit as Chandramukhi 
in the 2002 Devdas remake
*Coming a close second in the remakes stakes is the hyper-colourful, visually stunning, 2002 reinterpretation by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. A confection of light, sound, shiny surfaces, lavish design, & boasting the flamboyant title of most expensive Bollywood film ever made. It offers a much better English translation, catchy, gyrating dance-routines, & explores more closely the relationship between Paro & Chandramukhi. Devdas character too is a little more animated & arguably more likeable. My only criticism would be that, at times, the 'look' of the movie overwhelms the subtlety of the original story. It also fails to give a proper background to Paro & Devdas's friendship, which the 1955 version does exceedingly well.

Devdas on his final journey

For the true Indian cinema aficionado, Devdas provides a fascinating insight into the lives of early 20th century Bengali people, their whims, fancies & prejudices. The complexities of love & relationships in a time of feudalism & the ever-present demarcation of class. A study in psychology & human-nature revealed through resignation & cowardice, consciousness & naivety, defiance & withdrawal. It is a movie that tugs at the very heart-strings of life & leaves us at once devastated & in awe of the human spirit. 


*Both DVD versions, 1955 & 2002 personally owned. Top picture original DVD cover. Others, screen-captured images.
#All writing by Rani.C (Char)


 (The Greatest Moghal King)

The epitome of 'Palace chic' & 'Maharajah exuberance' can best be seen in the amazing set designs, of the Indian classic, "Mughal-E-Azam".....not only is this movie a fabulous (somewhat factual) tale of forbidden love between a 16th Century Indian Prince & a common, dancing-girl (scandalous!!!) but also an excellent initiation into the Hindo-Islamic aesthetic; Curvaliscious shapes (no structural straight lines here), colour used in every conceivable shade, tone & combination. Textures & contrasts, vibrant embellished costumes, whimsical geometric gardens, sensual furnishings & fabrics. Glass, plaster & mosaic-work, like you've never seen before, sculptures that come to life (literally), shimmying dance sequences, jewelry to die for & much, much more. What else could a sensualist ask for?

BEWARE MINIMALISTS: the following scenes may cause you to break out in a colourful rash!

 I might just sit here & bask in my Royalness........all day!

Queen Jhoda sits upon her bedazzling, bejewelled throne.

Do not mock my feathers.........
they blend......

The beautiful actress Madhubala and Dilip Kumar, dressed to the nines in colourful, courtly, couture.


Two heavenly, intricate, Jali (screens) in the background  
& one scary Queen in the foreground.
 Just stay on her good side!!

Gorgeous blooms, summer days & a man with more
jewellery than me.... what's not to love!

Never fear.........a fabulous feather comes in to edit the kiss!!!!

  I'm hot & you're not!

Let the eyes do the talking and
the jewels speak for themselves.

The palace vixen turns it on, with a shimmying dance & song of seduction.

Noooo!....don't take the flower!!

Heart break amidst the Palace'll have to watch to find out.

Running at just over 3 hours (like most tear-jerking, song & hip-swivelling-dance-filled, Indian films), 'Mughal-E-Azam' is artistically, a study in authenticity and devotion to detail. A heady mix of opulence, romance and nostalgia...........everything this "Palace Walker" dreams of.


# [The movie was originally in black & white, but expertly colourised 60 years later, according to the late director's wishes.]
*Above images are movie still-photographs taken by & from my own DVD.
#All writing by Rani.C (Char)


  1. Brilliantly written! I can not remember the last time I actually enjoyed reading a film review! Now I really, really want to watch Devdas, both versions!

  2. Thank you to the Moon, my dear, kind friend!
    Your appreciation is a gift to me.
    Hope you get a chance to watch both, or either......Long & at times arduous, is the Indian movie journey, but rewarding in the end.
    Love to you & MANY thanks again
    Rani Xx

  3. Wonderful review, so beautifully worded! Your intelligence shines through and is inspirational. Interested to see these films now. Love the colors and love your warning to the minimalists haahaa. Really gorgeous blog you have here and just saw you have a shop too. Wowza! Stunning. Will definitely be back. - Margrite


#Thanks for bringing some extra sparkle & cheer to the Palace today. I'm delighted to read your comments (& Shimmying too!!!)