Devdas (1955)
India 1955
Directed by Bimal Roy.

"She chose the path of matrimony, and I, of destruction! And a never-ending drama began!" This, in the words of our somber, melancholy, moping, alcoholic protagonist, Devdas, neatly sums up the movie which bears his name. Devdas (Dilip Kumar) is the landlord's troublesome son, Parvati (Suchitra Sen) is a poor tenant's daughter. The landlord forbids their marriage, Parvati's father arranges a marriage for her to an older man on another estate, and weak and simpering Devdas can think of nothing but to escape into booze and self-pity, inexplicably winning the love of Chandramukhi (Vjantimala), a prostitute, who aspires for more, and is inspired by Devdas because "No one had ever hated me like you did."

DEVDAS shows very well the tight straightjacket that traditional parental control over marriage can wrap a person in; in this case parental veto over marriage leads plenty of people into lives of unending misery; not only the lovers themselves, but everyone who has to put up with their melancholy moods. Certainly Parvati's husband, who thankfully is depicted as an extremely kind man and not a beast, gets the short end of the stick as his wife simply regards herself as his slave, not as his wife; to serve him but never to love.

The opening scenes of the film, of Devdas and Parvati as little children, are invigorating. Devdas is a little bastard, causing trouble for everyone in the way that only the landlord's son can get away with. His friend, his only friend, is little Parvati, whom he treats horridly anyway. They make up, but then Devdas leaves to the city for his education, and it is upon his return that the tragedy begins. Compared to the vitality of the child actors, Devdas and Parvati as weepy, moping adults seem stuck in molasses. As their dispair deepens, the movie has all the action and excitement of an opium den. It is only when Devdas encounters Chandramukhi, and she dances for him, does the film sparkle with life once again.

Certain scenes are wildly out of place for modern audiences. When Devdas discovers that Parvati is being married to someone else, and she is going, they misunderstand each other and are angry, for a time. He comments on her beauty, then decides it is too perfect. They are separating, and at that moment he whacks her in the face with his cane. "Now every time you look at that scar," he says, "you will think of me." Now that's true love. Even more sickening, later she confides, "If only he knew; that scar is the only thing I have, the only thing I live for." Good lord.

The story is the only part of DEVDAS I find little taste for. An essentially worthless and useless protagonist is not a pleasant one to spend time with. And yet, the acting is quite good, and the dismal dispair of the protagonists is well reflected in the black and white cinematography that combines beauty and shadow.

DEVDAS is based on a Bengali novel and has been remade many times. In fact, this version, the most famous, at least the fifth version of the story. The original was made in Bengali in 1935. This version was directed by Bimal Roy, who was the cinematographer on the original version, and so has many similarities in style. A new version of the tale has been released in 2002. I have not watched it yet, and still need a bit more of a break before I try it. There is only so much moping about a person can stand.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on May 27, 2005.

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