The man who made Devdas popular

The Devdas poster


We’ve seen Devdas in all colours.

But we barely know the actor who first brought Saratchandra Chatterjee’s famous character to screen.

Actor-singer K L Saigal was the first superstar of the Hindi film industry, and thanks to author Pran Nevile, we get to know more about him in his biography, K L Saigal: The Definitive Biography.

We present an excerpt from the book, about his most popular role in Devdas.

Devdas is remembered as an all-time classic of Indian cinema, which immortalized New Theatres’ P C Barua and K L Saigal. It was epoch-making, and marked the blossoming of Indian cinema; with its depiction of feelings and emotions. It brought films closer to real life.

Based on renowned Bengali writer Saratchandra Chatterjee’s popular novel which he wrote at the age of seventeen,Devdas was first filmed in 1928, in the silent period, by Naresh Mitra.

P C Barua, a creative genius of his time, best remembered for directing Devdas, raised the level of his film to a solemn tragedy. He introduced a new style of acting, which was natural and unaffected, a departure from the current theatrical mode, and also adopted simple, easy-to-follow dialogues without any literary nuances.

Barua played the title role in the Bengali version and K L Saigal in the Hindi one and both went on to become cult figures.

Devdas is the story of a young man, son of a feudal landlord, who has an abiding love for his childhood playmate Parbati, daughter of his poor neighbour of a lower status and caste. To prevent their growing attachment, Devdas is sent to Calcutta for university education and Parbati is married off to an aged widower.

Devdas returns to the village but is helpless in stopping Parbati’s marriage. Devdas goes back to the city, and drowns his sorrows in drink and the company of a singing girl Chandramukhi who gets attached to him. To serve and look after him, she even quits her profession but Devdas’ condition deteriorates.

On hearing about his miserable plight, Parbati comes to plead with him to stop drinking but in vain. Rather than follow her advice, he promises Parbati that he would come to see her before he dies. He has consumption, and his decline continues in spite of the devoted care and attention paid to him by Chandramukhi.

In his fragile state of health, and realizing that his end was fast approaching, he embarks on a journey to keep his promise. He travels all night to get to Parbati’s village, only to die in front of her home. And Parbati, within the high walls of her home, hears that her Devdas is dead.

Barua’s adaptation of the novel in Devdas reflected his own tragic view of a life starved of joy and laughter. His creative passion and technical innovations are revealed in his expert editing for dramatic effect, close-up shots for image construction, and use of sound to suggest telepathic communication between the characters. Equally striking are the emotional patterns built through skilful handling of the visuals like conveying a sentiment or reaction through halting speech and using the intervening pauses during a dialogue for a more telling effect than the spoken word.

Excerpted from KL Saigal: The Definitive Biography by Pran Nevile, Penguin Books India, with the publisher’s permission, Rs 299.

Image: The Devdas poster