Everyone knows that Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas is one of the most adapted novels in the history of Indian cinema. But other works of this Bengalis novelist have been adapted as well by our filmmakers. More often than not they told a simple tale about the complexities of the heart. Here’s presenting a list of some of the best Bollywood adaptations of his seminal works down the ages. Hope it adds to your viewing pleasure this quarantine.
Director: Bimal Roy
Cast: Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Vyjayanthimala
Bimal Roy was the cameraman for PC Barua directed Devdas (1936) and was itching to make his own version. He chose Dilip Kumar as the tragic lover and such was Kumar’s dedication to the role that it’s said he had to consult shrinks to get out of the character. It’s also said that Vyjayanthimala, who was renowned as a dancer, was taken seriously as a dramatic actor after the release of this film. Roy took cinematic liberties from both the original and Sharat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel. There is no scene where Paro and Chandramukhi meet both in the novel and the original film but here they fleetingly see each other and guess each other’s identity. Bengali actress Suchitra Sen, known for her natural ease in front of the camera was introduced to Hindi film audiences through this film as Parvati, while Vyjayanthimala played the nautch girl with a heart of gold, Chandramukhi.
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Shah Rukh Khan plays Devdas, a wealthy law graduate who returns from London and finds himself in love with his next-door neighbour Paro (Aishwarya). However, because of the class difference between them, his family doesn’t consent to their marriage. Devdas becomes heartbroken and becomes an alcoholic because of the pain of separation from his childhood sweetheart. Paro’s mother marries her into a family which is richer than Devdas’ family. She marries a widower with children who has no interest in her. Devdas finds succour in the arms of a courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit). He just can’t reconcile himself with the separation and his health deteriorates. In the end, he takes his last breath at the gate of Paro’s new home. She can only watch helplessly from afar as he dies. Bhansali took several liberties with the original source material while making this film. The chief among them being the song Dola re dola, where Parvati and Chandramukhi were seen dancing together.
Director: Bimal Roy
Cast: Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, Manorama
Based on Saratbabu’s 1914 novel of the same name Parineeta takes you to a world where a glance was enough to convey a thousand words. Lalita (Meena Kumari) is an orphaned niece of an impoverished clerk named Gurucharan (Nazir Hussain). Shekhar (Ashok Kumar), is the son of their rich landlord neighbour. Lalita has always liked Shekhar. She likes to tend to his room, keeps his cupboard tidy and likes to keep his mom company. One day, on a moonlit night, the two even exchange garlands. For Lalita, that’s enough. She begins to think of herself as Shekhar’s wife. Gurucharan is indebted to Shekhar’s father, who is after their property. When a stranger Girin (Asit Baran) pays off the loan out of the goodness of his heart, it gets implied that Gurucharan has sold his daughter to Girin. To save Lalita’s reputation, she’s to be married off to Girin. An angry Shekhar too agrees to get married. This emotional storm gets weathered by some quick thinking on the part of Girin.
Director: Pradeep Sarkar
Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Vidya Balan, Saif Ali Khan
Sarkar, who himself was making his directorial debut with the film, took a risk casting newbie Vidya Balan in a love triangle where she was pitted against established stars like Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan. Belying all expectations, she made this period romance her own. She became the reason people watched the film. She looked like a heroine from the ’60s in the film and justified Sarkar’s confidence in her. Being a Vidu Vinod Chopra production, this version of Parineeta was more lavish than the Bimal Roy version. It was more melodramatic as well, though the spirit of the novel was maintained in the film.
Biraj Bahu (1954)
Director: Bimal Roy
Cast: Kamini Kaushal, Abhi Bhattacharya, Pran
It’s based on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel Biraj Bou. Biraj (Kamini Kaushal) is married off to Nilambar Chakraborty (Abhi Bhattacharya) when she was a little girl. The couple is childless. Nilambar is a good-natured unemployed man who likes to spend his time doing kirtans and helping people during funerals. His brother is a cunning man and creates a partition between them and even buys off their joint property by false means. Biraj makes toys out of clay and sells them to make ends meet. Even at this stage, Nilamber doesn’t get worldly-wise. He’s still up to his old pursuits and doesn’t get employed. Their situation worsens. At this juncture, she’s abducted by a local contractor who is enamoured of her beauty. However, she’s able to run away from her captor. The end is pretty melodramatic as she dies at her husband’s feet. Looking back, the film may look like a huge tearjerker but at the time of its release, the film was largely appreciated. Kamini Kaushal even won a Filmfare for her portrayal.
Majhli Didi (1967)
Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Cast: Meena Kumari, Dharmendra
It’s based on the Bengali language story, Mejdidi (Middle Sister) by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Hemangini is the chhoti bahu, the wife of Bipin (Dharmendra), the younger of two wealthy brothers who own a large village shop. Bipin’s elder brother Naveen (Bipin Gupta) and Bipin’s shrewish wife Kadambari (Lalita Pawar) don’t much like her because she’s an educated, modern girl who speaks her mind. Their relations get further soured when Hem bears witness against her brother-in-law in a court case. In such a scenario, comes Kishan (Sachin), Kadambari’s stepbrother. His mother has died and he has nowhere to go. Kadambari treats him just like a servant but it’s Hem who takes care of him. A bond develops between the little boy and her. He begins to see her as a foster mother. Both Sachin and Meena Kumari were heads and shoulders above everyone else in the film. They came across as real people and not caricatures and some of their scenes together did bring tears to your eyes.
Chhoti Bahu (1971)
Director: KB Tilak
Cast: Sharmila Tagore, Rajesh Khanna, Nirupa Roy
It’s based on the novel Bindur Chhele written by Saratchandra Chatterjee. Radha (Sharmila Tagore) is the only daughter of a rich merchant. She has epilepsy. Her marriage is fixed to a doctor, Madhu (Rajesh Khanna) who accepts her even after knowing her condition. When it’s seen that her condition goes away when she plays with the newborn son of Madhu’s elder brother Shriram (Tarun Bose), he and his wife Sita (Nirupa Roy), let her bring the kid up. Trouble starts when Madhu and Ram’s sister Paro (Shashikala) comes to live with them. She cannot tolerate the harmony between Radha and Sita and wants to end it. She keeps filling Sita’s mind against Radha and even tries to turn the child away from his foster mother. Finally, she tells the child that Radha would die if he goes near her. Radha falls ill, but thankfully, her health comes back when Gopi (Sarika) comes back to her.
Cast: Jeetendra, Hema Malini, Sharmila Tagore
The film was based on the novel Panditmashai by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Kusum (Hema Malini) and Vrindavan (Jeetendra) are two children living in a small village. They are married off as children. But later on, a misunderstanding occurs between their families and Kusum isn’t accepted as the daughter-in-law. Vrindavan grows up to be a doctor and marries a child widow Lakhi (Sharmila Tagore). They have a son Charan (Master Raju). Lakhi dies and Vrindavan co-incidentally comes to look after a patient in Kusum’s village. She recognises him but he doesn’t. They invariably come close and she even becomes fond of his young son. But she hasn’t forgotten the humiliation bestowed on her and because of that misunderstandings occur between them. How Vrindavan wins her back forms the crux of the story.
Director: Basu Chatterjee
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Vikram, Girish Karnad, Utpal Dutt
The film was adapted from a Sarat Chandra novel of the same name. Saudamini “Mini” (Shabana Azmi) has grown up idolising her forward-thinking uncle (Utpal Dutt). Like him, she loves to read Western literature, likes Western philosophers and is an atheist at heart. Her god-fearing mother doesn’t like her growing intimacy with the neighbourhood boy Naren (Vikram), who is smitten by her beauty as well as her intellect but takes a tremendously long time to make his intentions clear. Mini gets married off to a wealthy wheat trader Ghanshyam (Girish Karnad). He’s the epitome of patience and doesn’t react to her tantrums and mood swings. In her mind, she has become a prisoner in her husband’s house and wants to break free. But it’s only when she takes the actual step does she begin to realise her foolishness. She understands the largeness of heart of her husband and the last scene, where he asks her to come back home, completes her transformation from a rebellious girl to a wife. While Utpal Dutt and Girish Karnad shone in their individual ways, the film belonged to Shabana Azmi. Her quicksilver expressions carried the day.
Apne Paraye (1980)
Director: Basu Chatterjee
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Amol Palekar, Girish Karnad, Utpal Dutt
The film is based on Sarat Chandra’s novel Nishkriti. Utpal Dutt, a senior advocate based in Kolkata dotes on his younger cousin, Chander (Amol Palekar). Chander is a bit of a slacker, not interested in taking a permanent job and is only interested in music. His wife, Sheela (Shabana Azmi), practically runs the household and is considered quite strict. The advocate’s wife Siddheswari (Ashalata) too likes them both. Everything is fine till Utpal Dutt’s younger brother Haish (Girish Karnad) lands up with his wife Naintara (Bharti Achrekar). Naintara’s gets jealous of Sheela’s hold on the household and plots against her. She gets Sheela and Chander thrown out of the house with her husband’s help. Harish also files a suit against them. Suddenly, life is on a downward spiral for them. It’s only on the intervention of the elder brother that things smooth up once more. The rivalries and politics of a joint family are amply brought out in the film.