Review: The Dialogue of Devdas
Just as every serious actor wants to play Hamlet, every actor of substance in the subcontinent dreams of playing Devdas. From among those who portrayed the character of a man who is both non-conformist and spineless, the one who defined it was the legendary Dilip Kumar, directed by Bimal Roy in 1955. Kumar benchmarked the role and became the yardstick by which his predecessors and successors were measured. But none could come close to him. It was after the release of Devdas that he was given the title of “The Tragedy King”. The character became such a part of his personality that he had to seek the help of a psychiatrist in the UK who advised him to play lighter roles. This he did with no less success, and in the process proved his versatility.
Devdas, based on a novelette by Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, was made in Hindi/Urdu, apart from Bengali and other regional languages, no less than eight times. This includes a Pakistani version. Other films based on Chattopadhyay’s stories include Biraj Bahu and Parineeta. The eminent Bengali filmmaker P. C. Barua made Devdas twice, first in Bangla and later in Hindi. The Hindi version featured the popular singing star of the first half of the 1940s, K. L. Saigal. Much more recently, in 2005, Sanjay Leela Bhansali made an opulent and glamorous film, loosely-based on Chattopadhyay’s book. Though it broke all box-office records and bagged many awards, it was criticised by the puritans for not conveying the spirit of the novelette.
When playing Devdas, as in most other earlier films, Dilip Kumar’s rendition of dialogue and measured speech, together with his intense and realistic expressions, often made you forget that someone else had written his lines. Nasreen Munni Kabir, the noted documentary film maker and a painstaking writer, has now produced the dialogue of the movie, written by Rajinder Singh Bedi, in the form of a book, The Dialogue of Devdas. (She had earlier published books of the dialogues of four other outstanding movies, Mughal-i-Azam, Awara, Mother India and Pyaasa.) The book contains the dialogue in Urdu, Hindi, English and English transliteration.
Serious students of cinema and literature are most likely to vote for Roy’s version of Devdas. Undoubtedly one of the most talented filmmakers of the black-and-white era in Bollywood, Roy had handled the movie camera for the two versions made by Barua, which is why when you watch his version you are struck by his powerful images. The proof of Roy’s competence as a producer and director lies in the fact that between the time the Filmfare Awards were instituted in 1954 and 1966, the year he died, Roy won 11 awards.
Even though I include this version of Devdas on my list of ten outstanding movies, I was not aware that the dialogues were penned by Bedi, one of the topmost writers of fiction in Urdu. Reading them, it seems one is going through a piece of literature. One example: when Chandramukhi, the courtesan who is madly in love with Devdas, tells him not to drink because he is new to alcohol and wouldn’t be able to tolerate it, Devdas replies:
“Kaun kumbukht hai jo bardasht karne ke liye peeta hai, mein to peeta hoon ke bus saans le sakoon”(“Who is the wretched person who drinks to tolerate it; I only drink so that I may be able to breathe”.)
The above lines may sound dramatic but they are in a simple, colloquial and powerful language. Another example of powerful dialogue is when Devdas’s love Parvati comes to meet him after his father’s death. He says:
“Babuji nahee rahe. Ye mere liye kitne dukh ke din hain. Agar too hoti to ye sab dukhh rehta? Bhabhi ko to too janti hai aur bhayya ka svabhaav bhi kuch tujh se chupahua nahi hai. Aise me bhala bata mein apni ma ko le kar kahan jaonga? Aur phir mera kiya hoga, ye bhi to kuch samajh me nahee aata…”
(“Father is no more. These are difficult times for me. Would I have suffered so much if you had been with me? You know my sister-in-law and brother well. Where can I take my mother in such circumstances? I also don’t know what will happen to me.”)
The other plus point of the volume are the song lyrics. Written by Sahir Ludhianvi, who gave a new dimension to film lyrics, the songs are all highly situational. They help build up the atmosphere of the scenes and, when required, add to the movement of the plot, a quality which only filmmakers of the calibre of Bimal Roy and Mehboob Khan had in ample measure.
The most memorable numbers are songs sung by courtesans. Chandramukhi’s song, rendered by the one and only Lata Mangeshkar, “Jise too qubool kar le woh ada kahan se laon”, shows the plight of a dancing girl:
“Mein woh phool hoo jisko gaya har koi masal ke/Meri umr beh gai hai mere ansuon me dhal ke.” (“I am the flower that has been crushed by all/My youth has been washed away by my tears.”)
Four more songs — another by Lata and one by Mubarak Begum plus a couple by Talat Mahmood — are as pleasing to read as they are to listen to.
The Dialogue of Devdas features articles on the filmmaker by his children and is accompanied with a finely recorded DVD of the film. Qualitatively it is much better than the pirated prints one gets in the market. n
The Dialogue of Devdas
By Nasreen Munni Kabir
Om Books International, India