Women in Roy’s movies have different identities, and while some represent ideal lovers (in films such as Parineeta and Madhumati), some are defiant of a normal social setup, representing different ideas and attitudes in traditional society. Two such women are Parbati and Chandramukhi from Devdas (1955).These women not only question societal norms by their defiance, but also embrace their difference in society. While Paro indulges in spiritual love, though bound by her worldly marriage, Chandramukhi renounces the material world in search of devotional love.
Devdas, based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay‟s novel of the same, was remade by Roy in 1955, close to twenty years after he had worked as a cameraman for P. C. Barua‟s 1936 version of the film, as the story was close to his heart. Devdas(1955) shows Bimal Roy’s “Cinematic fidelity to the earlier text [P. C. Barua’s Devdas, for which Roy himself was cameraman] verges on adulation: after all the film is dedicated to both P. C. Barua and K. L. Saigal.” In Roy’s Devdas, as in the original story, Devdas, the protagonist is unable to marry Parbati against his parents‟ wishes and societal pressures. While Parbati accepts marriage to an old man, Devdas withers away in alcohol, his only company being the courtesan Chandramukhi. Chandramukhi falls in love with Devdas, who cannot love her in return.
Bimal Roy makes several references to the devotional love Parbati and Chandramukhi have for Devdas. Parbati, having known Devdas for all her life cannot think of anyone else as her husband. But as fate would have it, Devdas’s inability to stand up for himself results in her marriage to someone else. However, that does not stop Paro‟s love for Devdas. On the other hand, Chandramukhi, who has constantly caught the attention of so many men, cannot see past her love for Devdas. Knowing that he can never be hers, she changes her life altogether for spiritual attainment.
Roy uses many symbols to show the devotional aspect in both Paro and Chandramukhi‟s love. Though most love stories deal with worldly love, which culminates in marriage and union, Devdas is a doomed love story and its female characters are spiritually attached to their lover. Their devotional attachment to the man they love results in their removal from ordinary society. In a way, both women in Devdas transcend boundaries to embrace their love in a spiritual manner. They renounce their material possessions and adornments in the pursuit of platonic love. This is very much like some female saints in Hinduism, who said that “worldly marriages represent both the lure and the bondage of the world, while their relationship with God (sometimes spoken of as a spiritual marriage) represents a renunciation of the world and traditional roles.
Bimal Roy asks important questions through his characters, often highlighting the dichotomy of traditional societal norms. Through Paro and Chandramukhi, Roy explores the concept of spiritual love, where the Radha-Meera
metaphor is used. Though both women love Devdas, their love can never materialise. Instead they pine for him in a spiritual manner, revering him and holding him in the highest regard. Their love for him is unfaltering. Though Paro is bound by a worldly marriage, her heart belongs to Devdas, at whose service she would like to live her life. Chandramukhi rejects the material world and a profession that earns her money to „cleanse‟ herself and return her chastity and innocence. From a courtesan surrounded by unknown men, she completely rejects other male companionship and devotes herself to the worship of the lord and the service of less fortunate people. She also waits for Devdas to return and expresses her spiritual and devotional love for him.
Dilip Kumar reportedly read the novel a few times before coming to terms with the character and is said to have taken a while to come out of the role, so stunningly enacted that it fetched him the Filmfare Award for best actor. Vyjayanthimala went on record to say that this was the role that actually launched her film career, transforming her from an acknowledged classical dancer into a respected actor.It was Suchitra Sen’s debut in a Hindi movie and she left a lasting impression with her controlled performance, her beauty leaving the audience in a trance. The three main actors were so sincere to their job and given Bimal Roy’s abilities as a director of rare quality, they were bound to give memorable performances. This was a film that also features the great Pran in his tiniest role – a ten-second appearance at Chandramukhi’s kotha.
The movie fared reasonably at the box office even as it earned Bimal Roy the Filmfare Award for best direction, apart from supporting role honours for Motilal and Vyjayanthimala. It was essentially Bimal Roy’s exceptional direction that earned the movie its rave reviews.
There are some unforgettable landmark scenes that only Bimal Roy and Dilip Kumar could have produced. “Kaun kambakht hai jo bardaasht karne ke liya peeta hai, mai to peeta hoon ki bas saans le sakoon,” Dilip Kumar captures the drunken stupor of Devdas like none could have. And then towards a depressing climax when he mumbles to the cart driver on way to Manikpur, “Arre bhai ye raasta kya kabhi khatam nahi hoga,” desperate to meet Paro before his last breath, Dilip Kumar leaves the audience in tears. You may silently find yourself praying the cart flies to Manikpur.
The spellbinding cinematic effort is heightened by S.D. Burman’s music and a young Sahir Ludhianvi’s enduring poetry, a rich variety so beautifully documented in the Manna Dey-Geeta Dutt bhajan “Aan milo aan milo shyaam sanvare … aan milo”, a Lata Mangeshkar solo “Jise tu kabu kar le vo sadaa kahaan se laun” and the unforgettable Mubarak Begum number, “Woh na aayenge palat kar unhen laakh hum bulaayen.”
“Devdas”, the one by Bimal Roy, alone brings alive the Saratchandra Chatterjee story, thanks to a combination of artistes who signify the essence of pure cinema. This film was Bimal Roy’s tribute to a story seeped in sorrow, a most sensitive narration of a man who drinks himself into oblivion. Having worked as cameraman for the K.L. Saigal starrer “Devdas” in 1935, Bimal Roy waited 20 years to stamp his class on one of the most mournful stories ever. You feel it when Talat Mahmood renders the soulful “Mitwaa laagi re ye kaisi anbujh aag” and “Kis ko khabar thi kis ko yaqin tha aise bhi din aayenge.”