July 5, 2002 
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'I did not approve of Vyjayanthimala as Chandramukhi'
Nabendhu Ghosh, scriptwriter of Bimal Roy's Devdas reminisces.

He was part of filmmaker Bimal Roy's trusted team. That Nabendhu Ghosh wrote the script for Roy's Devdas (1955) is no surprise -- Ghosh adores great Bengali writers.

Devdas, after all, was Bengali novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's 1917 outing. He was a mere 19 years old then.

Ghosh also liaised with Chattopadhyay in films like Parineeta, Biraj Bahu and Majhli Didi, for which he won the Filmfare Award for Best Screenplay. The film was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Nabendhu Ghosh will tell you that he belongs to two cities: Kolkata, home of Bengali literature, and Mumbai, home of the largest number of films in India.

Here, he steps back in time to the making of Bimal Roy's Devdas, which starred Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala and Suchita Sen:

We [Bimal Roy and Ghosh] were very fond of literature, so we always looked at literature [as inspiration] for our films. We chose Sarat Chandra because Devdas because people had liked and accepted it --- all the earlier versions of the novel on film had done well.

    All about Devdas
Vyjayanthimala Bali
    on Devdas
Dilip Kumar on Devdas
Devdas in NY
Bhansali at Cannes
Devdas at Cannes
Ash steals the spotlight
Shades from Devdas' saga
Good tidings for Bhansali
An eternal love story
On the sets of Devdas
Madhuri Dixit on Devdas
Jackie Shroff on Devdas
The music review

The Devdas narrative was first adapted into a silent film in 1928. Pramatesh Barua [filmmaker P C Barua] had made two versions in 1935: one in Bengali, in which he acted and directed, and the other in Hindi, which he directed. Kundan Lal Saigal played Devdas. He did not have a pretty face, but he made up [for the lack of it] with the magic of his voice. His voice conveyed great emotion.

I liked both of them [as Devdas]: Pramatesh Barua and K L Saigal.

Bimalda was cameraman for the Saigal film. That tickled him [Roy]. So we took it up [in Hindi, again]. I hear there was a South Indian version, too. So Bimalda's Devdas was the fourth one.

We did not want it said that we copied the great director P C Barua. So we thought it safe to follow Sarat Chandra. His greatest quality, apart from telling a story beautifully, was his sense of drama. Do you know, he wrote many dramatic versions of his own novels. They were immensely successful on stage. He is also, I can safely claim, the only novelist in the world who has had 22 out of his 30 books successfully picturised.

Aishwarya and Shah Rukh in Devdas Coming back to Devdas, we wanted Meena Kumari as Paro, and Nargis as Chandramukhi. Meena Kumari would have been the ideal Paro --- she had Paro's quietness. Unfortunately, she could not do the role because [husband] Kamal Amrohi laid down certain conditions, which Bimalda did not agree with. I remember Meena Kumari broke down --- she was that keen to do the role.

Nargis refused --- she wanted the lead role of Paro. Then we approached Bina Rai. She refused, too. Suraiya, too, wanted Paro's role.

We then had to go for Suchitra Sen. She was very happy. It being her first Hindi film, we had to dub certain portions. She is a legend, yes. But her face was more cultured and sophisticated than required for Parvati. That is why I say Meena Kumari would have been ideal --- she had the simplicity of a middle class young girl who is not very educated.

But ideal things do not happen...

I did not approve of Vyjayanthimala [as Chandramukhi], but we had no option --- no one wanted to play Chandramukhi, and we were committed to our distributors. We were in dire straits, and Bimalda's unit was big. He never compromised in the making [of his film]. That meant expenses. And we needed money.

Actually, Vyjayantimala came to our rescue. She came to Bimalda and said, "I am ready if you think I can do it." She was, of course, a very good actress, but she was too young for Chandramukhi, as envisioned by Saratbabu.

Dilip Kumar lived upto the expectations one would have of Devdas, apart from Pramatesh Barua. I have yet to see [filmmaker] Shakti Samanta's version [in Bengali, starring Prasenjit] and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's version.

I once asked Dilip Kumar: "What do you think of Sarat Chandra's Devdas?"

He said, "Sarat Chandra is a divine writer."

In two words, he paid a wonderful compliment to the novelist, which many would have take pages to describe.

I remember, one day, we had a tea break. We found Dilip wandering alone, agitated. He seemed to be in deep thought and would not come near us.

Aishwarya in Devdas I went to him and asked, "Yusufbhai, aap bahut pareshan lag rahe hain [You seem very troubled]?"

He said, "Nabhendubabu, woh teeno mere kaandhe pe baithe hue hain [Those three are weighing me down]."

I asked, "Kaun teen [Which three]?"

He said, "Saratbabu, Pramatesh Barua aur [and] Kundan Lal Saigal."

He wanted to do justice to the role like Barua and Saigal. Also, he had to measure up to Sarat Chandra, the creator of Devdas.

I cannot forget how serious Dilip was. What a responsible actor he was. He made a good Devdas.

I would have been happy if Meena Kumari and Nargis had played the other two parts. It would have been outstanding.

You see, Saratbabu placed Devdas on a pedestal. He is a unique character. People are attracted to Devdas because of his intensity of love. The language, the dialogues he utters --- they are wonderful.

He could have done wonderful things if he had won Paro. He did not. He lost everything, but he did not mind. And he did it convincingly.

Today, people cry, ruminate, grieve. Then they forget. But Devdas was all about sadhana, tapasya [devotion, penance].

I do not like the idea [of Paro and Chandramukhi meeting in Bhansali's Devdas, of Devdas going to Oxford, London]. But I must see the film before I comment. Else it would not be ethical to talk about it.

Nabendhu Ghosh spoke with Lata Khubchandani


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