Sudhir Mishra's Daas Dev proves yet again why Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's novella is a timeless classic

Archita Kashyap

Apr 30, 2018 10:22:14 IST

Sudhir Mishra, a filmmaker that can lay claim to specialising in political themes, brings Daas Dev to audiences this month. A dramatised reinterpretation of the 1917 classic Bengali novella Devdas, Mishra’s politically spiced up 21st century version walks a very long distance from the original, although both originate in deep rooted Indian feudalism. Chattopadhyay’s classic tale is a critical look at inherent unfairness and injustice of a feudal and class-centric society. Love does not stand a chance against it. Mishra’s Daas Dev draws from power structures and dynastic politics that depend heavily on feudalistic legacy and clan driven clout in public life.

Sudhir Mishras Daas Dev proves yet again why Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyays novella is a timeless classic

Sudhir Mishra (left); poster of his latest film Daas Dev. Facebook

Mishra has stated that his film is equally influenced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, about a confused young man shirking from taking up the reigns of power. His decision to adapt Devdas to contemporary North Indian political milieu reestablishes the evergreen appeal that this story holds over Indian imagination.

 In 1935, Pramathesh Barua made the first Bengali film based on Chattopadhyay’s novella. A story that captures Devdas’ conflict and inner turmoil poignantly, it has to read in context of the times to grasp its universal appeal. The story of Devdas, Paro and Chandramukhi is one of broken hearts and helpless young people who cannot escape their set in stone positions in a hierarchical society. Most major decisions in their lives have already been taken and they must walk their preset paths. Love is an aberration and Devdas’ inability to make a decision of marrying Paro when she approaches him, risking her honor, also reflects visible dependence that sheltered upbringing create in Indian men. Independence of thought and decisions are often worked out of a personality to build prototypes that can carry forward family legacies and inherited professions or trades.

Chattopadhyay’s novella was first published in 1917 when the Young Bengal movement and social reform, led by the late Raja Ram Mohan Ray, had begun to move the monolithic, superstition laden upper caste culture of Bengal.  Educated discourses argued for gradual change to society’s norms even as ground reality showed little difference. It reflected frustrations of a generation coached in Britain and living life in a colonised British India.

On reflection, the conflict, turmoil and helplessness of Devdas remain relevant to Indian lives even today. Which is why each retelling of this story on cinema has found audiences. The pain and heartbreak of Devdas and Paro find connect, and Chandramukhi’s unrequited love finds resonance with countless people.

Dilip Kumar’s brilliant performance in the 1955 Devdas, accompanied by a luminous Suchitra Sen as Paro and Vyjanthimala as Chandramukhi and Motilal as Chunni Babu, recounts the original loyally. This version is noticeable for a sophisticated and layered performance by the veteran whereby he brings alive Devdas’ penchant for addiction and defeatism. It also stays with you for highlighting the injustice in Paro’s fate. Staking her honor for love, she is spurned and then married off to a much older man who has kids younger than her. Paro’s life underlines just how women had no place to say or feel anything in Indian society.

Interestingly, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s melodramatic Devdas conveyed the same story, sporting a wide-angle female- driven lens. Be it the mother of Devdas or Paro’s mother, their mutual animosity turns the plot and makes for engaging viewing. While his film is definitely not to the liking of purists, Bhansali makes a pertinent point with it- women empower hierarchies and patriarchies, and pander to these structures. He also gave the courtesan with a heart of gold, Chandramukhi, a voice when she confronts Paro’s debauch step son during a puja ceremony. Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit brought a contemporary touch to their characters in this 2002 retelling. Devdas was urbane, educated and elitist but helpless and weak. He never turned over parental diktats even as he remained sarcastic throughout.

Between 1935 and 2002, this aspect of determining whom one gets to marry in India has maintained continuity. While a young girl might not be married off to a much older man just to assuage parental pride, a young man with legacy and wealth will often tie the knot with a woman chosen by his family. Wealth begets wealth and marriages amongst rich business families are determined by wealth-based alliances. Chandramukhi’s helplessness as she watches the man she loves slowly kill himself, has reflections in reality too. Women often choose to marry as per family demands, leaving behind love and personal choice.

This element of tragic, unrequited love makes Devdas relevant to Indian romances. Which is why, Anurag Kashyap’s quirky contemporary interpretation with Dev D found an audience. It looks at this classic story from current morals and concepts of love. In Kashyap’s version, Devdas is a spoilt arrogant brat judging his women and losing out on their love. Paro is fierce and choice driven; Chanda refuses to let circumstance dictate her destiny. Abhay Deol’s Dev D is subtle, pampered and petty; choosing to remedy himself when he starts life afresh with Chanda. Kashyap charmingly gave the women a right to choose in this version, making the story easy to connect with.

Which is why Mishra’s version of this classic tragic romance is worth watching out for. His Devdas also seems to be up against strong minded, smart women that work behind the scenes. This story’s romantic conflict and quandary is essentially Indian, where free choice of a partner is still interfered with by family and traditions. In a country where political alliances are often formed at birth, horse trading is the norm and dynastic, politicians dynasts continue to run the national opposition even if they fail, Daas Dev hopefully offers an insight on what place does love have in this intricate, self-centred scheme. In the 21st century too, Devdas and his helpless loss of love continues to have relevance and resonance. 

(Also read — Politics in Sudhir Mishra's films: Daas Dev highlights director's mastery over genre)

Updated Date: Apr 30, 2018 10:22:14 IST