February 3, 2010

Filmi-ish Essay - Devdas a useless lafunga or heartbroken lover?

Bechaara Devdas, the self destructive anti-hero

I know I have been a really annoying twitter person whenever I have an essay due, but its because of my laziness that i put everything off to the last minute! I hope the teacher likes this because I like it and I hope you enjoy it too. This essay is more about the novel Devdas than the movies but it goes in depth and wonders why Devdas is a inactive lazy bum! Sorry i have to say I love how i used the word ISHHH in the title after that silly sound Aishwariya makes in the rubbish 2002 version of the film! Hope you like it!

Devdas: A Byronic Bollywood Hero

“Devdas” by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is one of the classics of Indian literature, subject to many film adaptations in Indian cinema, including a recent psychedelic version of the story. Devdas deserves to be placed in the Norton Anthology alongside other great writers, due to its tragic eponymous hero and the insights into Bengali life.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay was one of the leading literary deities of Bengal, he published several books earlier Nishkriti, Charitraheen, Parineeta, and Srikanta, but his most famous novel is Devdas. Sarat Chandra was born on September 15th, 1876 in Devanandapur, a village in West Bengal. He spent his childhood in poverty and was constantly shifting from town to town in Bengal, and received little formal education. In his adulthood, he moved to Burma in 1903, and it was here that Sarat Chandra started sending his novels and short stories to Calcutta journals. The reigning author during this time was Rabindranath Tagore, who had a rumoured rivalry with Sarat Chandra, whose novels were much more understandable and realistic for the reading masses of Bengal. It would be fitting to include Sarat Chandra to the canon of literature due to his indelible mark on Indian literature with his unforgettable character Devdas.

His crowning achievement Devdas was written in 1901, and later published after some revisions in 1917, which included the more tragic ending to the novel. The novel tells the tragic love story of Devdas and Paro, childhood sweethearts torn apart when Devdas leaves for school in Calcutta, and when he returns Paro proposes they get married. Devdas, unable to stand up to his parents, rejects her, and Paro is married off to a wealthy widower. Devdas, heartbroken after another rejection from Paro, returns to Calcutta and along with his friend Chunilal he seeks solace in alcohol and a courtesan Chandramukhi who falls for him. Devdas continues on his self-destructive path until on his deathbed, when he travels to Paro’s home only to die alone at her doorstep.

This tragic tale has stayed in the minds of readers because of its seminal hero that can immediately be identified in the subsequent films and novels featuring a self-destructive hero. Devdas is not a typical romantic hero, because he is unable to proclaim his love for Paro despite loving her dearly. In one scene in the novel, Paro boldly goes to Devdas in the night to propose their marriage, but Devdas is preoccupied with protecting her honour rather than facing up to the real reason she came to him, and answers with:

“You must know that my parents are dead against this?
Parvati nodded – she knew.
She didn’t say a word more. After what seemed like an eternity, Devdas heaved a sigh
and said, “So then, why?” (Pg36)

This exchange highlights Devdas’ anti-hero like status, as he is unable to accept his love and rejects Paro, because of parental opposition. Even through earlier passages in the novel, we can tell Devdas loves Paro, but he cannot upset societal norms of marrying from another caste. After this scene, Devdas is chastised by his parents and he escapes to Calcutta, where he writes a letter of rejection to Paro claiming, “Another thing: I had never felt that I loved you tremendously – even today. I cannot feel any deep well of sorrow in my heart for you … Try to forget me, I pray that you succeed,” (Pg39). This rash action by Devdas reveals his indecisive nature as soon as he posts the letter he realizes he is actually in love with Paro. He then feels guilty for sending the letter, and muses, “How would this arrow he had dispatched go and hit her?”(Pg40), he later realizes his folly of upholding the narrow-minded views of the caste system, which an educated man like Devdas can see is wrong.

Devdas is a tragic character worth studying in literature because he is so inactive and indecisive in his love story, which sets forth his downward spiral. The reason he is indecisive is that the love of Paro and Chandramukhi is what drives the narrative, the situations when they confront Devdas is what develops him as a character. Devdas turns to drink when Paro rejects his proposal that they elope before her wedding, in anger he strikes her brow, “For shame Paro, I have merely left a mark for you to remember our last meeting,”(Pg46), this moment solidifies their relationship as the blood resembles the sindoor in the hair parting of a married Hindu woman. With this rejection, Devdas is dejected and he willingly goes to the courtesan harem and drinks his sorrows away. Devdas begins to hate women and spurns Chandramukhi, who finds him charming; “There isn’t a woman on earth who wouldn’t deny herself this heaven,” (Pg92) she muses of his company. Later Devdas begins to care for Chandramukhi but he cannot love her as he is still in love with Paro. He acknowledges his indecisiveness when he visits Chandramukhi, who has settled down and given up her sinful life, saying, “Perhaps Bou, you will suffer like Paro because of me,”(Pg116), the use of Bou, which means wife, highlights it is Chandramukhi who Devdas provides money and pleasure as a husband would. Devdas is one of the most complex characters of Indian literature, because the choices he makes are detrimental for all involved in the love triangle, as he pines for Paro whom he rejected, and Chandramukhi whom he also grows to like is denied by him because her low status. Devdas’ self-destructive tendencies occur because he feels like a victim of the situations that he has created for himself. Sarat Chandra does not describe characters but puts them in difficult situations to which the reader has to infer into the character, as Devdas has become an identifiable figure in the many movie adaptations or of characters that pine for unfulfilled love. Devdas is a novel to be studied in a literature class because of the strong women that shape his character.

Devdas is an important novel to be included in a Norton Anthology book, because of the social conventions of Indian life affect the narrative. Devdas belongs to zamindari/landlord family and Paro’s family live and work on their land. When Paro’s grandmother broaches the subject of Paro and Devdas’ marriage to his mother, she rejects this notion, “The Chakravaty’s was a trading household. And they lived next door. Oh shame!”(Pg24) the class differences are ironically the aspect, which separates the two lovers as opposed to caste differences as both families are Brahmins. Sarat Chandra uses the differences to aid in separating the lovers, as Devdas is unable to face opposition from his parents and rejects Paro.
Class differences also tear apart the burgeoning relationship between Chandramukhi and Devdas, as she is a fallen woman who Devdas cannot possibly break social norms to live with. Chandramukhi nurses Devdas back to health, when she spots him during a drinking binge; once Devdas is healed, she asks to be his nurse, but he will not allow his name to be disrespected as Chandramukhi realizes, “She could help Devdas regain his health, she could give him pleasure, but she could never give him respectability,” (Pg116). The novel set in colonialist India, makes no mention of British rule other than the Devdas who is dressed smartly and smokes a pipe when he returns from Calcutta after his studies.

Sarat Chandra used his novels to highlight social problems of Bengali life, and in “Devdas,” he makes light of the issue of dowry. Paro, who is of age to be married at 13, and born into a poorer household, her father, rejects the social practise, “But Nilkantha-babu abhorred this practise. He had no intention of selling Parvati and making money on the transaction,” (Pg23) Sarat Chandra here reveals that daughters should not be sold as if making a business deal for marriage. Devdas is one of the only novels where Sarat Chandra does not make an explicit social point to educate his readers, as he leaves the novel as an open text where readers may form their own opinions on the predicament of the eponymous hero.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s “Devdas” would be a suitable addition to a literature book like the Norton Anthology, because he created the classic self-destructive hero for Indian cinema and, the original source would be a good companion to the films. Devdas is a thoughtful novel that allows readers to make their own judgement of the hero, and gain insights into Bengali culture during the 1900’s.

Let me know your thoughts about Devdas and his annoyingness!


ajnabi said...

Devdas = Major Annoyingness, but so's Romeo and no one's arguing Romeo and Juliet isn't a classic. I think it would be great for it to be represented in world literature textbooks, but I also think that other, more user-friendly classics (I'm thinking "Tale of Two Cities" vs. all the depressing stuff we were forced to read) would be good to include.

Filmi Girl said...

@ajnabi UGH! I loathed "A Tale of Two Cities" hard core.

I've been pondering doing a Devdas v. Dev. D along the lines of the Don v. Don I did.

Devdas reminds me more of Hamlet, actually...

And lovely job, Rum!

Rum said...

Ajnabi - I kinda liked a Tale Of Two Cities, just the movie versions of it! I love Dickens so much but that was hard to get through!

Filmi Girl - Thanks! I would definitely choose a DevD over the 2002 Devdas any day because Aishwariya made Paro seem really dim and not bold at all!

Bollyviewer said...

Beautifully written, Rum. I must admit to finding Devdas VERY annoying - its not enough that he is indecisive, self-centered and selfish, he also has to be loathesomely self-pitying! HOW could any woman find him attractive? And yet two interesting and attractive women do - makes me want to get their head examined. But then, Saratchandra's heroes were always man-children, with absolutely no growth arcs AT ALL!

Rum said...

Bollyviewer - thanks! Its verry true that Devdas is a wallower in the shite circumstances that he himself created and was too dumb and emo to fix! And perhaps thats why i SRK's version of him seemed to be apt and over the top, because he really is that annoying, but alas i love him in a deep corner of my dil!

bollywooddeewana said...

Wowwhat a great dissection of the devdas novel, wasn't too keen on both films on first viewing but your posts makes me wanna revisit them, although flawed as you've pointed out in your post. I consider The novel even though i've never read it a classic and well thought out the psychological twists and multiple layers of the characters is mindblowing

By the way i read your Raj Post and i had no idea his work borrowed heavily from Charlie Chaplin's films, i thought it was just the comical act. And regarding what you said about him in his personal life i avoid reading about my favourite celebs biographies, i am usually just content with interviews from magazines, i tend to stay away from too many details about their private life as in some cases it takes away from the pleasure of enjoying their work

Rum said...

Bollywooddeewana - thanks for checking both filmi essays out, despite the long RK one! I try not to read so much about celebs personal lives, but I'm a sucker for vintage gossip, especially the spicy Meena Kumari book i read recently.
Devdas is such a small novella but it packs so many layers in there that directors can always experiment with some good or bad results!