Devdas, the story of a doomed lover and his inability to take vital decisions in his life is a story that India has a long fascination for. The original story was written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The story is about two childhood friends Devdas and Paro. Devdas hails from a wealthy Zamindar Brahmin family and Paro, his neighbour is from the merchant class. Since they are childhood friends, they share everything with one another. Devdas becomes very troublesome and is sent away to a boarding school in Calcutta.
Both Devdas and Paro are deeply hurt by this decision. Devdas does not return till he is a young man. This long wait and separation turns the childhood friends into lovers. Paro’s mother sees that her daughter loves Devdas and puts forward a proposal to Devdas’s family. She is however humiliated and the marriage offer is rejected.
In desperation, Paro sneaks to Devdas’s room in the night, believing that he will take her as his wife. Devdas is not firmly able to tell his family that he wants to marry Paro and hence runs back to Calcutta, unable to change his fate. Upon reaching Calcutta, he writes Paro a letter saying that he never loved her and they are just friends (which of course is not true). When he realises the devastation his letter will cause, it is too late to turn back.
Devdas goes back to the village and finds a wounded Paro still holding on to her pride. He discovers that her marriage has been fixed with a wealthy zamindar. Again, unable to do anything, he hits Paro with a stick on her forehead saying that the pain will go but the scar will never heal – that the scar will be his memory.
Paro is married off to a man of her father’s age with children of her age. Devdas seeks solitude and relief from pain. His friend Chunnilal takes him to a brothel where Devdas meets the courtesan Chandramukhi. He chides her, finding her profession repulsive and cheap. She however finds that so different that she begins to love him and gives up her profession for a saintly life.
Devdas starts drinking heavily and Chandramukhi takes care of him. Devdas compares both Paro and Chandramukhi, unsure of whom he loves. When he senses that his end is near, he decides to make one last journey to Paro’s house. When he reaches her house at dawn, almost dead, Paro senses his presence and runs to see the dying man outside, but the gates of her house are cruelly shut upon her, thus forbidding the last reunion of the two lovers.
The funeral of the son of a rich Zamindar from a well known village is attended by only one unknown man.
Bimal Roy is known for his cinematography. Indeed it was he who did the cinematography in Barua’s 1935 version of Devdas. That film was appreciated for its parallel cutting and cinematography. Therefore, when talking about the cinematography in this film, there is deep symbolism associated with how the camera moves. Here are some examples.
We do not see Devdas grow up from a boy into a man, but Paro’s growth from a girl to a woman is shown using a shot of the young Paro filling water in a pot from the village pond. A lotus that is yet to bloom appears on the frame and after a dissolve, it is shown to have turned into a beautiful and fully bloomed flower. We then see that Paro has ‘bloomed’ into a beautiful woman now. The passage of time is reflected in a shot that depicts a very regular daily activity, such as filling water, which remains the same from childhood to adulthood.
A technique that also reflects the passing of time, but brings a connection between the past and present is particularly evident in one scene. As children, Devdas throws a stone at Paro’s roof so she can come out. The camera moves slowly from Devdas, to the roof of her house and it slowly follows Paro when she comes down the stairs. This shot replicates itself exactly when Paro and Devdas are adults. It shows that despite the passing of time, the connection and understanding between the two is still the same. Nothing has changed in their affections, in the way the regard each other, and in the way they expect the other to react.
In the poignant song Mitwa laagi re ye kaisi anbujh aag, the camera mourns in the same way that Devdas does. He is shown sitting near the same pond where Paro gets water. As he sits, his back facing the camera, the clouds are mirrored in the still water. This is almost as though the water is a reflection of Devdas’s feelings. He is unable to express himself. Though his heart is clear like the still water, the clouds of doubt and indecisiveness still rule over him. There is a brooding presence of rainclouds and unhappiness in his life. Even in the song what he basically says is: “Beloved, what kind of unending fire is this?”
Roy makes use of a lot of symbolic comparisons. When Devdas is almost at the end of his life and is travelling on a train, Chunnibabu makes an entrance and forces Devdas to have another drink to celebrate their chance meeting after so long. Devdas, who at this point is suffering from tuberculosis, does not reveal his condition but does not resist completely. Once the alcohol goes down his throat, a comparison shot shows coal being shoved into the train engine, almost like fire is being shoved into Devdas’s already suffering body.
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