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Endurance test

What defines a classic? A work of art that’s pure in form,sincere in execution,speaks a universal language and appeals to all senses.

Written by PriyankaPereira |
February 6, 2009 12:14:28 am

Why the saga about a spineless,spiteful sot is so attractive to filmmakers across generations

What defines a classic? A work of art that’s pure in form,sincere in execution,speaks a universal language and appeals to all senses. Yes,but often,it’s a very average work of art that finds resonance and relevance across generations. The tragic love triangle linking the lovelorn Devdas,his forbidden childhood love Paro and the reformed prostitute Chandramukhi was first told in the influential 1917 Bengali novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Even today,it continues to lure filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Anurag Kashyap,whose Dev.D releases today.

Devdas was filmed by PC Barua (1936),Bimal Roy (1955) and Bhansali (2002),even as its versions were made in vernacular languages. Sudhir Mishra too is now bringing out his version in Aur Devdas.

“For any filmmaker,a story of self-destruction is very fascinating and has great cinematic value,” says Kashyap. “But I have turned the classic around completely and my test is to impress the purists.”

Despite his charming demeanour,Devdas is spineless,spiteful and virtually an Indian Hamlet in his frustrating inability to act,especially when action seems most important. But it is strange that audiences continue to empathise with the anti-hero. “We all have an anti-hero within us. There are times when we all suffer pain and many times we want to give in. At some level,everyone relates to the story,” says Kalki Koechlin,who plays Chandramukhi in Dev.D. “After all it is a love story that most of us experience in our lives.” Mishra,who will be merging Hamlet and Devdas in his next,feels,“Indians are emotional people and anything with an emotional bent works here. ”

Although the story of Devdas is of a doomed relationship between three characters,it is the newness and improvisation in narrative that has helped it survive. “Although the basic plot of Devdas has remained fairly consistent throughout its various incarnations,all filmmakers,from Barua to Bhansali,have played around with the story,” says writer Javed Siddiqui. While Barua’s Devdas introduces his characters as naïve young adults rather than children,the Hindi sounds quoted rather than spoken.

Roy’s rendition of the classic is more of an essay on the women protagonists in the movie,with Paro and Chandramukhi crossing each other on a country road and knowing through feminine intuition that they both love the same man. “In the Bhansali version,he converts the lower-middle class Devdas into a rich zamindar. Opulence plays a main part and the director plays around with the original by making the two women meet,” says Siddiqui,“It is too much icing with very little cake.” He thinks Kashyap’s and Mishra’s renditions will work if they reflect the present way of life.

While Devdas was crucial in launching the genre of the self-destructive urban hero,the story and its tragic characters have also served as crucial references for films like Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool and Prakash Mehra’s Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. “This is a classic case of mimicry. While many young actors try to imitate established ones,filmmakers more often than not opt for the tried and tested formula,mostly intentionally,” says Siddiqui.

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