Director: P.C. Barua; Writer: Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Kidar Sharma; Cinematographer: Bimal Roy, Yusuf Mulji, Sudhin Majumdar, Dilip Gupta; Cast: K.L. Saigal, P.C. Barua, Jamuna, Krishna Chandra Dey, Kshetrabala, Rajkumari, A.H. Shore, Nemo, Biswanath Bhaduri, Ramkumari, Pahadi Sanyal, Kidar Sharma, Bikram Kapoor, Amar Mullick, Dinesh Das, Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Nirmal Bannerjee, Sailen Pal, Ahi Sanyal, Chandrabati Devi, Lila, Kishori, Prabhavati
Duration: 02:11:29; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 97.500; Saturation: 0.000; Lightness: 0.265; Volume: 0.238; Cuts per Minute: 2.829
Devdas (Saigal/Barua), son of a zarnindar, and Parvati (aka Paro) (Jamuna), his poor neighbour's daughter, are childhood sweethearts. Status and caste differences prevent their marriage and Devdas is sent to Calcutta while Paro is married off to an aged but rich widower. In Calcutta the hero meets the prostitute Chandramukhi (Rajkumari/Chandrabati Devi) but remorse drives him to alcohol and (after a long train journey in which he attempts to run away from himself) he comes to die in front of his true love's house. Saratchandra's classic novel, which touched a sensitive nerve with its implied criticism of the spinelessness of the feudal elite, later became a favourite source for films after Saigal's influential performance. The weak and narcissistic hero, esp. as played by Saigal (confirmed by his major hit song Dukh ke din ab beetat nahin
), later grew into a Werther
-type cult figure as the story, first filmed in the silent period by Naresh Mitra (1928), was extensively remade in many languages. Saigal apparently sang two songs in P.V. Rao's Tamil version (1936) also produced by New Theatres. Thereafter the story was remade in Hindi by Bimal Roy with Dilip Kumar (1955) and twice in Telugu (by Vedantam Raghavaiah in 1953 with A. Nageshwara Rao; and by Vijayanirmala in 1974 starring Krishna). The film has become a mythological reference point for Hindi melodrama: in Ramesh Saigal's realist Phir Subah Hogi (1958)
. Raj Kapoor is taunted for 'being a Devdas' and Guru Dutt used the story as an undercurrent for both Pyaasa (1957)
and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
. Bimal Roy's hyperactive camera and sophisticated lighting techniques (e.g. the use of green filters to create a negative effect of black sky above white bushes and grass) contrasts with the static acting style, generating an uncanny emotional resonance reinforced by the dynamic, even distorted editing. Barua's Hindi version is strictly a remake of the original Bengali in which Barua played the lead. This version was believed lost until a print was recently discovered in Bangladesh. Saigal, who plays Devdas in the Hindi version, had a sensational walk-on part in the Bengali film as one of the visitors to a brothel, singing Kahare je jodathe chai
and Golab huey uthuk phutey
. This was his Bengali debut and the producers, unsure of his accent and whether a non-Bengali singing Bengali songs would be acceptable to the audience, got the author Saratchandra's personal approval (his argument in favour was apparently that Bengalis were not the only people who frequented brothels). Saigal later acted in several Bengali films at New Theatres. Most contemporary critics mention the use of parallel cutting, suggesting this technique had a startling impact at the time. The montage of Devdas crying out in delirium, Parvati stumbling and then Devdas falling from his berth in the train, was described as a 'telepathic' sequence, sometimes commended for its essential 'Indianness' in conveying fate's dominion over individual destiny. Ritwik Ghatak admired the film greatly and often used it to teach film students about cinematography.
Timir Baran (music director) transits from jatra music (used here in the film credits) to film music - a usual trend of that period.
Opening shot of the film.
Parvati (Jamuna Barua), is going to the temple...an evocation of the pujarini image.
This same year, Nandlal Jaswantlal makes a film called Pujarini
The image as well as the word was newly coined (the word has not yet been entered in Hindi/Bangla dictionaries).
The image is established with a plaster of paris statue made by Govind Mhatre in 1898. It can be seen today under permanent display in J. J. School of Art, Mumbai. Since there was no word for a woman going to the temple, he calls it mandira-patha-gamini
in Marathi; in English it was called "On the way to the temple" (this title is inscribed on the pedestal).
Clearly Mhatre was inspired by all the modern images of Indian women (notably in the works of Raja Ravi Varma) doing things alone (traditionally, a woman would not be visiting the temple alone; such an image is very rare in medieval paintings).
British art critics praised this art work as an Indian artist's understanding of western proportion and aesthetics. Reacting to this view Rabindranath Tagore wrote two articles in the Prabashi
magazine and declared this an example of Indian aesthetics. (citation needed?) Apparently, he is inspired to coin a word for this image and in 1899 he writes a long poem pujarini
--a story of a court dancer, who worships at the stupa of Buddha ignoring the Hindu King Ajatshatru's injunctions. She dances and is beheaded.
So the dichotomy dancer/worshipper or profane/sacred is inscribed along with the coinage of this new word/image. Notably, Nandlal Jaswantlal's film Pujarini
is subtitled Temple Dancer in English.
Tagore later wrote a full fledged play based on the above story and called it Natir Puja
(The worship of the dancing woman) and travelled all over India with its production.
Later Tagore made a film on the play for the New Theatres. (https://indiancine.ma/BAO/info
Notably, this opening "sequence" is one single shot made up of elaborate mise en scene of camera and character movement.
To start with, Parvati's head occupies the bottom frame--a device that will be subsequently used by filmmakers like Ritwik Ghatak (Meghe Dhaka Tara
) and Raj Kapoor (Awara
In Awara, this device is more interesting, as in the previous shot we see Raju exiting the frame through the top frame; in the following shot, he enters through the bottom frame.
This particular choreography: the actor going away from the camera (revealing the full figure) turning back to face the camera, camera tracking in and once again capturing the face in close up is remarkable and highlights her search for Devdas whose singing is heard in the background. For similar choreography, see this shot in Awara
There are two elements here highlighting the aspect of ascendence: 1) The actor ascends from the bottom frame and reaches the mid-grounds; 2) a landscape with a gradient has been chosen--to go to the temple, she would need to make a small "climb."
But Parvati feels the pull of the song beckoning the beloved. She keeps the plate carrying the offerings down upon the ground and exits right of frame - leaving the divine lover, and going towards the human lover.
Parvati enters left of frame in a long-shot and comes towards the camera, stands just behind Devdas
sitting and singing his song. Thus she forms a "two shot."
She breaks the romanticism of the song and tickles him with a blade of grass. This signals towards their childhood friendship. So the film makes no attempt to follow a cinematic convention and introduce the protagonists gradually.
Instead we could say, it is quite the convention in Indian films of the thirties to base the beginning of a film on some traditional discourse (in this case, divine/mortal sacred/profane binary) or to catch a story mid-stream (depending upon the audiences' familiarity with a story or a narrative motif).
He teases her asking why she has come and she replies "I came, as my god called for me." The film prepares for the story of her steadfastness and his feebleness in pursuing love and other responsibilities.
Parvati leaves frame and he looks at her disappearance. Instead of entering into another cinematic convention, that of shot/counter-shot, the next shot creates another new composition in two-shot.
The entire film will show this restraint of engaging in a certain kind of classical Hollywood cutting pattern and establish a mise-en-scene
pattern involving a couple--something that several films in the later decades will follow and perfect.
Devdas final return