'I believe Bhansali has deviated from the classic'
Bimal Roy's Chandramukhi speaks out
When I was offered the role of Chandramukhi in Bimal Roy's Devdas, it was the first time I was being given a role that recognised my acting talent and not just my dancing skills.
Bimalda [director Bimal Roy] explained the role to me and I was thrilled about it.
Chandramukhi, in my opinion, was a great woman. I thought her love was pure, noble and what I loved about the character was her humility. That was her best facet. Her transformation from a courtesan to the simple, pious woman who loved Devdas so selflessly that she wanted nothing in return, intrigued me.
The turning point in the film is also very beautiful.
It was the role of a lifetime, it gave me tremendous scope. And I was geared up to portray it to the best of my ability. I poured my heart and soul into Chandramukhi.
In my opinion, Chandramukhi's was the greater character. Towards the end of the film, she manages to gain Devdas' confidence. He tells her this when they say their final goodbye. She touches his feet and asks when she will see him again. And he says that she will always be in his mind and that if they cannot meet again this birth, they will in the next. It was a very poignant leave-taking.
Devdas had such a great impression of Chandramukhi. He admits as much to her when he mentions her nobility and humility as compared Paro's arrogance and pride. The wonderful thing about the film was its realistic approach. Everything was so believable, that is why the role could be identified with. That sort of realism lingers on even till today.
Of course, working with Dilip was a wonderful experience. I think he made a fantastic Devdas; only he could have portrayed Devdas.
And, with Bimalda's assistance, it was not difficult essaying Chandramukhi. The director was very able; he never was very demanding. He was very gentle, he knew exactly what he wanted. He would explain the scenes very minutely to me and I soon became engrossed with the role. He would explain a scene and I would rehearse it in different ways, ask him if he liked it and he would say "nahin... theek... acchhe [bad... ok... good]."
Sometimes, he would even explain the scenes to me in Bengali. I had worked with Amiya Chakravarty before so I knew a little of the language, but I picked up a lot more when working on Devdas. The next film I did with Bimal Roy was Madhumati in 1958.
The whole atmosphere, the set-up, was lovely. There was no unnecessary hype, it was all underplayed. Nothing was overdone... a look, a movement, a nod, a gesture, it was so simple yet ever-so-natural.
The current production has, I believe, deviated from the classic. I cannot comment on Sanjay Leela Bhansali's version as I have not seen it. But from what I have read, the film appears to have taken on a very wide canvas. The director has brought in a lot of lavishness. And, apparently, he also has brought both the girls together.
There was no meeting between Suchitra Sen, who played Paro, and myself in the 1955 version. There was only a passing shot with Chandramukhi, on the road to Devdas' village in search of her love, and Paro walking in the opposite direction. The women cross each other and then turn to look at each other. But these were taken as separate shots. There was no meeting.
In the new film, I believe that both the girls are even shown dancing together. Not only that, they have been made to look ultra-glamourous. Perhaps it is a dream sequence... a dream sequence will always fit in anywhere.
But these doings are dependent on the perception of the filmmaker, dependent on his individual thinking and how he wants to flesh out his characters.
I have always considered Devdas to be classic. The character of Devdas has become a legend.
My personal opinion is that classics should not be tampered with. They are, after all, classics. You cannot change Gone With The Wind. Books which have come so far become history and this is like changing history.
In my own way I am a classical dancer and a purist, a traditionalist. I have never encouraged this kind of modernisation and fusion in my art forms. What is traditional should be adhered to. They have been tampering with the Vande Mataram in music nowadays. I would never have even thought of such a thing.
I suppose this new trend of adapting classics is an effort to make today's audiences identify with it or understand it better.
Devdas worked wonders for me. Offers for good roles came pouring in and the critical acclaim did my career a world of good. It helped me earn the reputation of being a good actress and not just a good dancer. I did have to prove myself but I was accepted. And I still am remembered best as Chandramukhi.
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