Sudhir Mishra on incorporating Shakespeare into Dass Dev, and turning a tragic romance into a political thriller
Speaking to Firstpost, Sudhir Mishra said that he saw similarities between his version of Dev and Shakespeare's Hamlet | #FirstCulture
As a director and screenwriter, Sudhir Mishra is known for his adept treatment of contemporary themes. He has given fans of Hindi cinema must-see titles like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Chameli, Yeh Saali Zindagi, and Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin, among other noteworthy films. Why then would a filmmaker like him attempt an interpretation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s century old novel Devdas, which has already been adapted close to a dozen times by celebrated directors like PC Barua, Bimal Roy, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Anurag Kashyap (Dev D) in Hindi, Vedantam Raghavaiah and Vijaya Nirmala in Telugu, and Dilip Roy, Chashi Nazrul Islam and Shakti Samanta in Bengali? In fact, PC Barua, made three versions of Devdas, in Bengali (1935), Hindi (1935) and Assamese (1937)!
Speaking to Firstpost, Mishra talks about his version Dass Dev, which is slated for release on 23 March, and how it weaves together two strains of literary influences. These influences shape the major characters of the film. As screenwriter, he contextualises their actions and inactions in the political scenario unfolding in North India. "A long time ago, my friend Pritish Nandy asked me, 'Why don't you attempt Devdas?' Sometimes, you don't know how things happen. I hadn't thought of it for a long time," he says, adding that there is a lot more Shakespeare in this script, "When I finally read the novel, I found in him [Devdas] shades of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; both Devdas and Hamlet are indecisive. I’ve placed the character in a political context. In my film, Dev comes from a political dynasty and rescues his family from a treacherous uncle. This uncle becomes Claudius (the antagonist in Hamlet, who marries Hamlet’s mother Gertrude after killing his father). His journey is told in a reverse order; he is addicted to power but eventually liberates himself. Therefore the title 'Dass Dev'.”
Paro and Chandramukhi, the female characters who form the celebrated love triangle with Devdas, are given twists too. “Paro remains the woman from a lower socio-economic status. Paro’s father becomes Dev’s political secretary after his father’s death. The family continues to live in the outhouse, despite the political rift between Paro and Dev. She turns out to be Dev’s political opponent," says Mishra. Even in Chattopadhyay's original story and its subsequent adaptations, Paro has stood in opposition, only the context has changed. Paro loves Dev, and it is the impossibility of their love in the middle of politics that pushes Dev to pursue his dynastic legacy of power, says Mishra, adding that the rift between them is political. "Chandramukhi is the kind of woman that every politician refuses to acknowledge. She is a political fixer in the corridors of power. Even though Chandramukhi loves Dev, she walks away with a smile and something else. Both women find their way, independent of the man they love. Irrespective of their own desires,” adds Mishra.
The political backdrop draws from Mishra's own background. “I have a background in politics. DP Mishra (the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh who served two terms, from 31 September 1963 to 8 March 1967, and 9 March 1967 to 29 July 1967) was my maternal grandfather. He walked away from politics, I was told, while he was close to the centre of power. I could have tried to claim the legacy, but I was told that power isn't mine just because I come from a certain family. My father threw us into the world of ordinariness. We learnt to see life from different perspectives. It made me wonder, what my life could have been, if I claimed my political legacy! It’s interesting to consider such impossibilities, like the impossibility of mythical love — between one man and woman,” he explains.
All the films based on Devdas have become memorable for their musical interpretation of the doomed love between Devdas and Paro. Mishra’s film has five composers, who lend different shades of musicality to the narrative. “It was accidental [getting five composers on board]. It happened because I happen to know all of them, and because I know something about music,” he adds. There are seven songs in the film; two are composed by Sandesh Shandilya, sung by Rekha Bhardwaj, Shraddha Mishra and Papon; two by Vipin Patwa, which are sung by Atif Aslam and Javed Bashir; and one song by Shamir Tandon, sung by Papon and Krishna Berua. A new composer Anupama Raag and lyricist Gaurav Solanki have been introduced through the film, whose song is sung by Swanand Kirkire. There is also a song by Arko, sung by himself and Navraj Hans. “Music plays an integral part in the film. Dr Sagar and Gaurav Solanki wrote a beautiful piece, and there is also the pure poetry of Bulleh Shah. I pay my respects to Bimal Roy in this way,” adds Mishra.
There has been an observed increase in the number of films about powerful politicians and gangsters, which often feature larger-than-life characters and an excess of violence. Why is he choosing to a turn a tragic love story into a political thriller? “All politics is stifling. Dass Dev is a film about freedom — freedom from the lust for power. All my films are about freedom; it is about my take on life. The way I look at life is that everyone is living a myth — the myth of perfect love, of power, of money. The characters are striving for freedom," he says.
Mishra talks about Saurabh Shukla, who plays Dev’s uncle, with great fondness. “Whenever I'm in trouble while casting a complex character, I think of him, and he rescues me. His character is layered in this film," he says. Richa Chadha plays a spunky, rooted, small-town girl Paro, and the mysterious Chandramukhi is played by Aditi Rao Hydari. "Her fragile, porcelain beauty fits the character, she would rather crack than fit the mould," he adds. Rahul Bhat plays Dev Pratap Chauhan, the hero, who is addicted to power.
Mishra is best known for his film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, a delicate love story narrated against the backdrop of Naxalite movement. He is used to being asked when he will embark on a film as powerful as this one. “We are making a sequel. I'm working on the script, I can’t say anything till a good script comes up. It’s a tough choice. I'm scared of the burden of its reputation,” says Mishra, who started making films such as Dharavi and Main Zinda Hun during the time of the parallel cinema movement in India. Do the box office performances of his films bother him? “Yes, a little. I want my films to strike a chord with the audience in some manner. Otherwise, I will lose the conversation I love to have with new people, with each new film.”
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