The unique quality of classics is that they continue to engage generation after generation of creative people, be it theatre or cinema. Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s (1876-1936) novella, Devdas, published on 30th June, 1917, carries that quality in abundance. This novella was adopted for cinema so many times and in so many languages.
It began in 1928 when a silent movie was made on this piece of literature. In 1936 came the first Hindi version directed by Prathamesh Barua in which the eponymous role was played by the legendary K.L. Sehgal. Then in 1955 came the second Hindi version of Devdas directed by Bimal Roy, in which Devdas was played by Dilip Kumar. In the year 2002, Sanjay Leela Bhansali presented his version in which the lead role was essayed by Shah Rukh Khan. Then there was Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D, released in February 2009, which was a novel interpretation of Devdas, followed by Sudhir Mishra’s Daas Dev released in April 2018.
What needs to be noted about these versions is that they are all movies. Not many could imagine staging Devdas, a multiple-locations story. But then AGP World has always been an ambitious entertainment company. This time AGP World decided to offer a theatrical rendition of Devdas that has been narrated through the eyes of Chandramukhi, a glamorous courtesan, and a principal character in the play. AGP World commissioned Saif Hyder Hasan, senior theatre person, who in turn put together a team of extremely talented people to essay various roles. The stage version has been adapted by Saif Hyder Hasan, who has made a few drastic changes in the original story. For example, there is no character of a police officer in the novella, yet, this character plays an important role in the stage adaptation.
This Devdas opens up when Chunni Lal notices Chandramukhi on the outskirts of Calcutta, leading a life of a hermit. As they go down memory lane, Chunni Lal realises that Chandramukhi, who once was the most famous and wealthy courtesan of Calcutta, has truly given up that life, and now is totally immersed in her love for Devdas. And yet she does not even know the whereabouts of Devdas, but feels confident that someday her Devbaboo will come to her.
A unique interpretation
This is a completely different and thought-provoking interpretation of Devdas. Saif Hyder Hasan’s Devdas is also a lover of art, and a dancer himself. And hence he very well under- stands the art of Chandramukhi, the courtesan. This is another change Hasan has introduced in the theme of Devdas. A dancer–son is a big no-no in a zamindar’s family, and Devdas has to leave this palace as his autocratic father tells him that his son should either be a zamindar, or a barrister. Devdas wants to be neither, and has to leave to wander in the lanes of Calcutta, and takes to the bottle. Soon he becomes an incorrigible drunkard, with deteriorating health.
This is his phase of life when Chandramukhi looks after him without expecting anything in return. Devdas continues to pine for Paro, who in the meanwhile has been married off to a wealthy widower and a big zamindar of Hatipota, Bhuvan Choudhary, who has three sons from his first marriage. Devdas realises that he is in the last leg of his life and decides to go to Paro as was promised to her some time back. Though he manages to reach Hatipota, he does not get to meet her as he dies at her doorstep. On hearing of his death, Paro runs outside to see Devdas, but is prevented by other family members. Thus ends the tragic story of Devdas.
Saif Hyder Hasan felt that the story has always been presented from Devdas’s perspective and does not tell readers about what happened to Paro and Chandramukhi? This play is a serious and ambitious attempt to look at the same story from Chandramukhi’s perspective.
An awesome spectacle
The stage version of Devdas is a spectacle that takes your breath away. The light designs, the chore- ography, the music and the singing, all are simply mind-blowing. Never before has such a gigantic production been attempted on the Indian stage. Shampa Sonthalia, daughter of the acclaimed Kathak maestro Padmashree Gopi Krishna (choreog- raphy), has given life to the music score of Devdas with a fusion of contemporary and classical dance forms; original music is composed by Parivesh Singh, and is sung by Bollywood’s acclaimed singers like Alka Yagnik, Antra Mitra, Suresh Wadkar, and Bhoomi Trivedi; sets are designed by the national award winning art and cinematic director Omang Kumar (Mary Kom, Sarbjith and Saawariya), is the team anybody would envy. Saif Hyder Hasan has taken big risk by casting a relatively lesser known face Sukhada Khanderkar as Paro, who takes the character of Paro to new heights. Gaurav Chopra acts as Devdas, and Manjire Fadnis as Chandramukhi – all of them have done a competent job. This is a ‘not-to-be- missed’ play.