The most devastating effect of the Devdas syndrome lies in contaminating the society with the dangerous virus of self-destruction and pessimism. This attitude has deeply permeated the psyche of several generations in the subcontinent born before or after the partition. The emotional and pessimistic attitude of these generations, who remain aloof from their social realities, demonstrates a clear indifference to burning issues of the society.
One of the most influential novels of the subcontinent, the romantic triangle of Devdas has not only seized the film industry throughout the region, it has an unimaginable influence on the psyche of South Asians.
Devdas, the everlasting novel of a Bengali writer Saratchandra Chattopathyay, written in 1917, has been dominating the South Asian film screen for almost a century. Since its publication, the theme has been repeated in numerous films in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1927 to 2013 in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, Malayalam and Assamese languages.
The name Devdas has become an immortal symbol of a romantic but indecisive and self-destructive male from an upper caste, landlord family who is deeply in love with his childhood sweetheart Parvati or Paro but fails to marry her when the time comes.
Among the numerous films made on the novel, the first one, produced in 1935, was directed by P.C. Barua and filmed by Bimal Roy with the legendry singer K.L Saigal as hero and Jamuna as heroine. This Hindi film invariably narrates the theme of tradition and modernity through symbols integrated with the religious narrative of Hindu mythologies.
The same Bimal Roy who worked with the first film as cameraman, came back to remake the all-time box office hit as its producer and director in 1955. With a team of Bollywood stalwarts, this film still remains the most popular and successful attempt to reincarnate the novel.
With the popular romantic hero Dilip Kumar as Devdas and Vyjayntimala as Paro, the film was bound to become Bollywood’s classic equivalent to “Gone with the Wind.” S. D. Burman’s music and Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics, gave its songs an unmatched overnight popularity.
The film reveals the prevailing gender dynamics in the Indian society with a dominant male figure who refuses to come down from his egoistic high ground and instead of approaching his lover to explain misunderstandings, he writes a letter to her saying he never loved her, even though he doesn’t mean it.
Paro, like most women in the Indian society, suffers from a double jeopardy as a woman and as a person belonging to a lower class and caste. This double sword of humiliation hurts Paro who is rejected by her own Devdas and his family at the same time. She suffers consequences of these unfolding events for the rest of her life when she unwillingly decides to marry a widower landlord much older than herself.
The plot also unmasks the uncompromising family patriarch, who prefers to save his social status rather than saving his son’s life. Devdas, madly in love with his childhood sweetheart, unable to challenge his father’s decision, takes refuge in a self-destructive path for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, it is this self-destructive and fatalistic image of Devdas that has been fascinating the South Asian audience for decades. This is why every time a good remake of Devdas is produced; it becomes a box office hit.
The film also highlights complexities of class and caste based social dynamics where it is fine to have good relations with a low caste neighboring family but it is unthinkable to accept the same family into their own class structure. When Paro’s mother expresses her intentions to marry her with Devdas, his mother publicly insults and ridicules her for being low caste and poor.
In 2002 the story was filmed again as one of the most expensive Bollywood productions directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali with the lollipop hero Shahrukh Khan as Devdas and the glamorous Aishwarya Rai as Paro. Another graceful heroine of the day Madhuri Dixit playing the prostitute’s role, however, surpassed these two superstars in the quality of her work and the finesse of her style.
Although the film achieved its goal as a successful box office hit, it failed, however, in creating a valid cultural connectedness and characterization of its hero and heroine.
The most recent Hindi version of Devdas was made in 2009 with Anurag Kasshyap as Director, Abhay Doel as Davdas, Mahie Gill as Paro and Kalki Koechlin as Chandramukhi. With a modern title “Dev. D” the film was produced with the Punjabi back drop where the young hero and heroine are entangled in a web of misunderstandings and egoistic masculinities.
Gender dynamics, however, come forth with a full force within a macho Punjabi culture where male hypocrisies can also be noticed easily in the movie. While it is okay for the hero to flirt with another girl he met in a wedding but when he hears a rumor created by his fried that he has had Paro, the hero reacts harshly, beating his friend and rejecting Paro without checking the truth. Here, the image of an emotional but aggressive hero who also embraces a fatalistic life style, dominates the whole storyline.
Overall, the novel and the feature films based on it, bring forth multiple narratives on social and gender undercurrents of a complex Indian society. First, they expose the gender inequalities where women are depicted as victim of male dominance and their oppressive behavior.
Gender based dependencies of women are also defined in terms of their romantic relationships where a passionate but egoistic hero tends to marginalize his beloved. Women are also depicted as target of caste and class based oppressions.
The most devastating effect of the Devdas syndrome, however, lies in contaminating the society with the dangerous virus of self-destruction and pessimism. This attitude has deeply permeated the psyche of several generations in the subcontinent born before or after the partition. The emotional and pessimistic attitude of these generations, who remain aloof from their social realities, demonstrates a clear indifference to burning issues of the society.
The phenomena also added an overwhelming belief in fatalism to already a superstitious society further strengthening the view that all you have in your life is predestined which you cannot change. In other words, status quo is fine and acceptable.
The novel was written at a significant historical juncture. Almost at the same time when the Bolshevik revolution was taking shape in Russia, the Bengali novelist Saratchandra was brilliantly exposing economic and sociocultural paradoxes deeply rooted in the Indian social order.
But this similarity of historical context ends right there. While the Russian revolution was demonstrating a surge of ideological transformation rejecting a traditional societal structure, the novel permeated rather a laid back ideology into the Indian culture introducing a passive-aggressive hero who refuses to challenge centuries old traditions of class based inequalities and caste based suppressions.
The enduring saga of Devdas still continues on the screens of South Asia and we can expect more reproductions. However, tired of seeing the same storyline again and again, some cinema goers would like to see a daring director who will remake an anti-Devdas film with a hero who challenges the status quo and strives for a meaningful social change.
They are desperately waiting for a different kind of director, creative and brilliant enough to change the whole scenario with the current back drop of sectarian and religious violence where a real hero demonstrates a strong commitment to his love, and an uncompromising resolve to change his surroundings.
For a change, we need a new kind of hero and heroine, who have the audacity to challenge the status quo with an unparalleled commitment to their romantic sensibilities.
(From Viewpoint Online)