Friday, April 11, 2008


[On the left: the original Devdas]
[On the right: Sharukh Khan]

[Originally posted on my myspace blog]

A run-in with another Bollywood fan yesterday (in my small town, no less) prompts this part 2 of my Bollywood Guide for the Uninitiated. But this will be short -- I’ve got to get to work!

Devdas is a classic Bollywood film that has been done and redone but no matter which version you see, you’ll know it’s something special. Based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s novel Devdas, it’s the Indian version of Romeo and Juliet, complete with tragedy, a sweeping story about two childhood sweethearts, Devdas and Paro (Parvati), who come from two different backgrounds and so are consistently kept apart from one another. The most famous version was directed by Bimal Roy in 1955, with Dilip Kumar playing Devdas, Suchitra Sen playing Paro, and Vyjayanthimala playing Chandramuki, the prostitute Devdas turns to when he turns Paro away. The flick was masterfully (but scandalously) redone in 2002 when Leela Bhansali directed SRK and Aish Rai (who now no longer speak to each other) in the lead roles. Bhansali’s decision to redo it would be equivalent to someone attempting to reshoot Gone with the Wind -- a 4 hour masterpiece that very few people see a need to redo.

What’s interesting about this film, though, is that the hero (unlike Romeo) isn’t necessarily likeable, especially in Roy’s version. Devdas is abusive and begins the show as a bad boy who smokes and skips school and breaks Paro’s heart whenever he can. As an older man, he’s physically abusive and beats Paro when he wants to vent his frustrations over not being with her. And, since 1950s India was characteristically misogynistic, Paro takes it and comes back for more. The 2002 version makes Devdas a pitiful but attractive creature -- not so much a violent devil as a victimized lover. But Bhansali kept one pivotal scene in the film, when Devdas purposefully scars his lover’s face without warning to make her "remember" him, and it’s just as hard to watch the 2nd and 3rd time as it was the first.

Both versions are a must-see for any Bollywood fan, but if you’ve never seen one before, don’t start with the 1955 version. It’s 4 hours long and Devdas is hateful and I’d be afraid you’d never want to watch another one! Keep an eye on the lake scene in SRK’s 2002 version, though, and tell me what you think of India’s version of an intimate sex scene though no one sheds an article of clothing.

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