Sarat Chandra’s classic novel has long been a coveted script for many filmmakers. Hence, Devdas has a record 20 film adaptations in 7 different languages to its credit and some loose ones. This literary work was first made into a silent film in 1928 by Naresh Mitra. In 1935, veteran director PC Baruah made the film in Bengali and went on to create two more versions in Hindi and Assamese, respectively. In the following years, Devdas's most recognized film adaptations in Indian cinema came to be: Bimal Roy's Devdas in 1955, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's version in 2002, and Anurag Kashyap's much-acclaimed postmodern version Dev.D in 2009.
Devdas’s cinematic journey is self- evident of its literary prestige. Along with being a Bengali classic imbued with meticulous characterization, raw emotions, and a rich dramatic flavour, Devdas also has an enigmatic touch. It has a core that one cannot decode completely. Hence, for many filmmakers, it has been an exciting undertaking. The characters of Paro, Devdas, and Chandramukhi, are not merely flesh and blood but also spirit. Spirit of the times they were conceived in and spirit of all the times they have been recreated in. In Anurag Kashyap's Dev.D, the postmodern version of Devdas, characters retain the original story's outward mould but interact differently. Contemporary socio-cultural factors highly influence their decisions, choices and way of being. More than customary bounds, the characters' interpersonal dynamics result in their separation. Dev.D’s retelling of the story of Devdas represents the cultural milieu of today.
Devdas is a story impregnated with many themes. The rich variety gives filmmakers the scope to focus on whichever one they wish to showcase. The essence of the story is the actual classic element. Despite numerous mutations, it remains relevant to generations.
This makes us wonder how would we interpret the three main characters of the novel today?
A man who thinks his ‘right’ over a woman is something natural and that justifies his aggression, his impulsiveness, and his dominance; is not the ideal hero of today. Yes, his moments of weakness or indecision cannot and should not incriminate him, for that is a part of being human. But his expectation for acceptance of his chauvinism is not welcome today. His inactions don't enjoy impunity. His dominance cannot be disguised as love. If there were to be a Devdas today whose love story met a happy ending, it would require responsibility, consciousness, and respect on his part.
Her decision to not marry a man who cannot stand up for her in the most testing times, is not arrogant but wise. Her 'no' is not ego but self-respect. Her love is passionate but also independent. Her love doesn't oblige her to obey. She embraces her 'self', speaks her mind, and chooses her way of life. She doesn't necessarily have to be the wife of another man to avenge Devdas's abandonment. She can keep her stand and be independent.
Her profession is not linked to her character. She is seen as a woman capable of fending for herself. Her self-respect emanates from her strong mind and will. She is a self-respecting woman who can defend her work, choices and decisions. Her work doesn't subdue her, doesn't undermine her strength.
Sarat Chandra Chatterjee (also known as Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay) lent Bengali Literature a story in the form of ‘Devdas’ that enjoyed a broad readership, many adaptations, and many retellings. More remarkable is the fact that he wrote characters who were born in fiction but prevailed in reality.
Pratha Chief Editor