Understanding Devdas

The story of Devdas has got to be one of the most popular tales to have been embraced by Indian cinema. There have been a number of versions in a variety of languages. Some movie versions have remained largely faithful to Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s original novella, while others have added their own twists and turns, reinterpreting the original story to suit the demands of the time period in which they were set.

Dilip Kumar & Shahrukh Khan as Devdas. Photo Courtesy: IBN Live.

This week, we at TCRC bring you a couple of pieces of academic writing on Devdas. The first is “The Devdas Phenomenon” by Corey K Creekmur, who is the head of Film Studies at the University of Iowa. He writes about the three versions of Devdas in Hindi cinema and also, discusses the original book on which these interpretations were based (click here to read his paper).

The second is “Devdas: India’s Emasculated Hero, Sado-masochism and Colonialism” by Poonam Arora, who is a professor of English at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. She writes about how the “Devdas narrative discursively construct a prototypical colonial male subjectivity.” (click here to read her paper).

And here’s a clip from PC Barua’s “Devdas”. This was released in 1935.

SS Vasan’s “Chandralekha” | The First Attempt To Get Nationwide Distribution

“Chandralekha”, a Tamil film directed by SS Vasan, was released by Gemini Studios in 1948. Starring MK Radha, TR Rajakumari, Ranjan and NS Krishnan, the film was made at a then-lavish budget of more than Rs.30 lakhs and was considered to be one of the most expensive films of that time. It was also one of the first Madras productions to become an all-India hit. It is said to have released in 609 screens worldwide. The drum-dance sequence featured here was one of the highlights of the movie, leading up to one of the longest sword-fighting sequences in Indian cinema.

We at TCRC are proud to to have, in our archive, memorabilia from films of that era.

Satyajit Ray’s foreword in Gaston Roberge’s “Chitrabani: A Book on Film Appreciation”

Srinivas Krishnaswamy (a.k.a Srini), a cinephile and a friend of TCRC, brings us this rare foreword penned by auteur Satyajit Ray for a book titled “Chitrabani: A Book on Film Appreciation.” The book was authored by Fr. Gaston Roberge and was published for the first time in 1974. It has now gone out of print and on Srini’s request, Fr.Gaston Roberge has typed out Ray’s essay from his old copy of the book. We thank both of them for making this lovely essay available to us.

Chitra Bani, 1974

Foreword by Satyajit Ray, 26 January 1974

Gaston Roberge has written a film book which is aimed primarily at the Indian student of the cinema. Even ten years ago, a project like this would have made no sense. That it does so now is due to the enormous increase in interest in the cinema among the young people of the country, thanks largely to the spread of the film society movement. But this is not a phenomenon restricted to India alone. One has only to turn to the bibliography at the end of the book to realise what a vast amount of literature on the cinema is available to the enthusiast now. In my youth, when I set out in the pursuit of film, there were hardly a dozen worthwhile books on the subject in English.

For aesthetics, one turned to Arnheim, Spottiswoode, to Balasz and to Pudovkin. Eisensstein’s erudite essays didn’t see the light of the day until the late 40’s. For history, there was Rotha, there was Bardèche and Brasillach and, if one’s special interest lay in Hollywood, there was Lewis Jacobs. There were also a few odd collections of film criticisms – Agate’s, C. A. Lejeune’s, and a compilation by Alistair Cook called Garbo and the Nightwatchman. As for screenplays, one looked around in vain for them. The only film script in book form that I was able to track down was on René Clair’s first English language film, The Ghost Goes West.

The situation has, of course, changed drastically. Today is not unusual for even a modest pavement book stall in Calcutta or Bombay to display titles in the Cinema One series, or some of the admirable Lorrimer screenplays, or even a dog-eared old copy of Cahiers du cinema. And the amazing thing is that these books and magazines don’t stay in the stalls for long, but are picked up by young film buffs who are slowly building up their own private libraries.

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