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Devdas III: Bollywood's Titanic
Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2002

By Stephen Kangal

Sanjay Bhansali's block- buster movie, Devdas represents in my view the lavish response of Bollywood to Hollywood's Titanic. Both the music and the cinermatographics seemed to have derived their soul from the film Titanic.

The Sanjay Bhansali/Bharat Shah partnership deliberately created its own glittering glamorization of Sarat Chandra Chattoppadhyay's 1917 Bengali novel. Devdas was previously adapted for the Indian screen and enjoyed commercial successes in 1935 and 1955. The former featured K. L Saigal as Devdas and included Jamuna and Rajkumari. The latter starred Dilip Kumar as Devdas and included Vyjayanthimala and Suchitra Sen. In fact there are about 11film productions of the novel.

Produced with a budget of US$ 14m, Devdas is hitherto the most expensive Indian movie. It is a magnum opus- an artistic, creative masterpiece that establishes a new bench mark in Bollywood. It is also the first Indian film officially selected for the 2002 Cannes Festival. Bhansali's previous successes were with the musical Khamoshi and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

The simple plot of Devdas is a conventional one woven from a time worn love story featuring childhood sweethearts Devdas and Paro. That relationship was pre-empted from consummation into marriage because of class prejudices harboured by Devdas' father.

Paro, the heroine, (former Miss World Aishwarya Rai) with encouragement provided by her devoted mother (Smita Jayakar) then seeks sanctuary/revenge via a chaste, arranged marriage to Zamindar Bhuvan (Vijayendra Ghatge) in response to which Devdas in desperation drifts inexorably into alcoholism aided by Chuni Baba (Jackie Shroff). He rejects the passionate, worshipping tenders of stunning courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) whom he met via Chuni Babu while the latter was carousing the dens of prostitution and alcoholism.

Bollywood's super- star Shahrukh Khan was conceived in heaven to portray and immortalise the legendary role of Devdas. After returning as a cultured, westernized Indo-Saxon attorney from his law studies in London, Devdas is ravished between his enduring, unfulfilled adoration for his childhood sweetheart Paro (Aishwarya Rai) and subsequently by the wooing of seductive courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit). The film climaxes with the demise of Devdas turned alcoholic at the gates Paro's haveli (palace).

Music Director Ismail Darbar teamed up with lyricist/ poet Nusrat Badr to concoct an infectious, classical-based, new symphonic musical genre that would unleash a magical, haunting, lingering potion over cinema aficionados. In fact the music and glittering dances are integral to, inseparable from and mutually reinforcing of the love/ passion theme and the unfolding plot of Bhansali's masterpiece. In this regard the Darbar-Badr infectious musical repertoire including Monty's theme music is a fundamental departure from conventional Indian cinematographic sound tracks more reminiscent of the haunting symphonic vibrations and melodies of Celine Dion in Titanic. Feelings of tenderness and softness cushioned by scenes of majesty and opulence pervade the movie.

Devdas the movie seduces us with an unprecedented level of lavishness embellished with ornate-ness and luxuriant opulence characteristic of both the sets and the elaborate, resplendent costuming. Bansali reconstitutes Mogul India's oriental splendour in all its glory- a visual feast flowing from filigreed saris (one weighing 16 kgs and designed by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla), stained glass backdrops, sparkling chandeliers, ornate golden stairways and palatial facades (havelis) with 180 pillars all of which took 7 months to build.

Producer Shah financed director Bhansali's unbridled penchant for creativity, innovation and cinematographic razzmatazz responsible for Devdas' box office success hitherto netting more than 2m pound sterling in the UK since its release on 12 July. More than 900 prints have been made of Devdas for worldwide distribution.

Universal Music dished out a record-breaking US$ 3m for the music rights of Devdas that currently ranks No.1 in Bollywood's top 20.

The full effect of Bhansali's glittering transformation of the love-triangle of Chattopadhayay's Devdas cannot honestly be assimilated in one's first viewing. There are too many layers of verbal and non-verbal communication in this movie to absorb. It must seen several times to dissect the multifaceted layers of Bhansali's mechanics of effective story telling including the rich dramatic symbolism (e.g. the diya), the contrasting characterization, the moods, upwelling of emotions, the ambience created by the opulent sets as well the realism and images of dramatic symbolism.

Of the ten songs in Devdas I am captivated and seduced by the haunting tenderness invoked by the musical lyricism of Hamesha Tumko Chaaha (I always loved you), a duet impeccably sung by Udit Narayan and Kavita Subramanium. Udit Narayan's rendition of Wo Chand Jaisi Ladki (The Moon is like a Girl) blends into and reinforces the air of love and romance.

This is command attendance for the young, the young at heart, the romantic and the discriminating classical connoisseurs of Indian movies. Devdas is emotionally cathartic, cleansing and powerfully engaging achieving and scaling a new watershed in Bollywood's electronic art of story-telling.

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