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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Devdas

by
Saratchandra Chattopadhyay


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Devdas



Title: Devdas
Author: Saratchandra Chattopadhyay
Genre: Novel
Written: 1917 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: Bengali
Availability: Devdas - US
Devdas - UK
Devdas - Canada
Devdas - India
দেবদাস - India
Devdas - France
DVD: Devdas - US
Devdas - UK
  • Bengali title: দেবদাস
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Sreejata Guha
  • Also translated by V.S.Naravane (1996), Amitava Bhattacharya (2006), and Mahbubar Rahman (2013)
  • Devdas has been filmed numerous times, including in 1955 (directed by Bimal Roy and starring Dilip Kumar and Suchitra Sen) and 2002 (directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and starring Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a bit simple and sentimental, but quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Hindu . 2/3/2003 Meenakshi Mukherjee


  From the Reviews:
  • "It is in fact a stark narrative, with an understated beginning and a ruthless end. (...) Devdas is marked by an unevenness that may be attributed to the fact that it was an apprentice work. Terseness alternates with verbiage, objectivity with sentiment. The racy childhood chapters are delightful; but after that the novel begins to get bogged down by maudlin attempts to evoke sympathy for a weak-willed and self-obsessed hero." - Meenakshi Mukherjee, The HIndu

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Devdas begins with its two star-crossed lovers still children. The bratty, mischievous, and obstinate Devdas Mukherjee, son of the wealthy local zamindar in their town of Talshonapur, is barely a teen, while the daughter of the neighboring family Parvati (also called Paro) Chakravarty is just eight. They enjoy childish games -- especially when they manage to escape going to school, which Parvati escapes by getting her schoolmaster blamed for Devdas' cruel actions; her mother wants her to continue to get an education, but her grandmother won't send her back to school, arguing:

     What's the point ? If she can write a few letters and read a few pages of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, it is more than enough. Your Paro is hardly likely to study law or become a barrister.
       It's fine for a while -- they spend the next year playing happily -- but eventually the zamindar's wife points out to her husband that: "Devdas is growing into an unlettered bumpkin", and he is shipped off to Calcutta to complete his studies. Meanwhile, young Parvati suddenly finds her days empty, and pines only for her lost friend; regrettably, her family does not send her back to further her education .....
       When she reaches thirteen, Parvati is of marriageable age -- and beautiful enough that she would be a good match, even though family is not particularly well-off. Parvati's mother has some hopes that she might marry Devdas, but the Mukherjees can't entertain that possibility, her family background disqualifying her: "Oh no, that's not possible. They are lower in status, a trading family and our immediate neighbours to boot -- shame".
       Instead, a zamindar from a nearby village is selected as her future husband, the widower Bhuvanmohan Chowdhury -- a nice enough man, but also: "well above forty, plump and stodgily built with a salt-and-pepper moustache and a rapidly receding hairline", with three children, including an already married daughter who is actually older than Parvati. In other word's: he is no one's romantic ideal.
       Parvati is certain, however, that she and Devdas are meant to be together; shockingly, she even ventures into the Mukherjee house and Devdas room one night. Even Devdas is taken aback by the audacity of the young girl's actions:
     Devdas shuddered with apprehension. 'Weren't you scared ?'
     Parvati smiled shortly and replied, 'I have never really been afraid of ghosts.'
     'Maybe not ghosts, but you should certainly fear people. Why are you here ?'
     'Right now, I don't fear people either,' Parvati thought to herself.
       The shame, if it were ever discovered what she had done, would be overwhelming in this still very strict society, making her actions even more daring; her coming to Devdas' room is an almost unfathomable expression of placing love above all. Unfortunately, Devdas is not man enough to embrace the opportunity -- "Paro, should I go against my parents ?" he asks rhetorically, making clear that he is too weak to go against the forces and structures that be, even for love. Unable to seize the moment, he doubles down upon reflection, fleeing to Calcutta and writing Parvati off with a letter in which he notes: "Another thing: I had never ever felt that I love you tremendously -- even today I cannot feel any deep well of sorrow in my heart for you". The almost instant pang of regret that seizes him doesn't help -- though it becomes a wound that festers for the remainder of his life.
       A last-ditch effort by Devdas shortly before Parvati's wedding reverses the positions: it is Devdas that implores and Parvati that turns him away. As she wisely notes: "I have no faith you".
       Parvati settles in in her new household, her husband grateful that the house that has been so dreary since the death of his wife two years earlier -- "devoid of a woman's touch ... the spark was gone" -- now has a feminine presence again. Parvati proves herself devoted and wise, winning over his children, and generous in the community (though then also adapting as necessary when her daughter-in-law suggests she is being a bit too generous).
       Meanwhile, Devdas becomes a miserable idler and alcoholic. Yet even in this state another woman falls for him, the prostitute Chandramukhi -- but once again, being loved is too much for him: "I don't want it", he laments in one of his drunken stupors, as lost Parvati becomes a crushing fixation, leaving him with:
No hopes, no faith, no joy and no desires ... brilliant.
       The years pass, and Devdas spirals out of control. Chandramukhi and also Parvati try to help when they can, but Devdas is irredeemable; the tragedy unfolds to its inevitable conclusion.
       Both Chandramukhi and Parvati impress with their determination, leading exemplary lives even as they are unable to completely move past their deep feelings for Devdas. Both have shown themselves willing to do anything for love, and the only man either truly love is Devdas. As Chandramukhi observes:
I have traded in love many times in my life, but only once have I truly loved. It is a very precious thing. I have learnt a lot from it.
       For all the sappy melodrama to Devdas, it is surprisingly effective. The characters are particularly well presented and drawn -- especially the two women who love Devdas, but also much of the supporting cast, such as Parvati's schoolfriend Manorama. Interestingly, the romantic anti-hero is the one character who is presented as, essentially, unsympathetic. Devdas is, in many ways, flawed -- indeed, the one aspect of the story that is underdeveloped is why these women are so devoted to this rather unpleasant boy and then man-child (he never really grows up). The main characters all take extreme actions, but Chandramukhi and Parvati's actions impress, while Devdas repeatedly disappoints -- and even a final gesture, an attempt that he makes on his final journey, ends only in failure.
       Devdas is an unusual romance, its two female leads both taking actions that are outside what is considered acceptable in this society. Fallen woman Chandramukhi's past is only arguably the more shocking, as Parvati's sneaking into Devdas' room would, if word ever got out, be just as damaging to her reputation; indeed, the possibility that what she did will be revealed hangs threateningly over her ever afterwards. Devdas is an improbable romantic hero -- and ultimately a failed one, unable to embrace either of the women who are ready to do anything for him. Society's strictures are part of the problem, but really it is personal weakness that is at the root of his failure(s) -- a daring and interesting choice for Chattopadhyay to have made.
       Devdas is a bit simple and fast in its presentation, and falls a bit short in making the relationship between Devdas and Parvati come to life beyond their early childish games (and hence blossom into a convincing would-be romance), but manages the story well enough to make for an engaging and quite moving read. Arguably Parvati and Chandramukhi are almost too good to be true, but their clear-minded determination contrasts nicely with Devdas' dissolute inability to focus or get ahead with practically anything. (All three characters are also generous, of heart and beyond, which makes them sympathetic; even if Devdas is unable to accept being loved, his underlying easy generosity is at least one redeeming feature.)
       The short novel is well-paced and presented, its dialogue and scenes effective. If literarily somewhat rough in parts, it's nevertheless easy to understand its enduring popularity -- and why so many attempts have been made to film it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2020

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Links:

Devdas: Reviews: Devdas - the films: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Popular Bengali author Saratchandra Chattopadhyay (Sarat Chandra Chatterjee; শরৎ চন্দ্র চট্টোপাধ্যায়) lived 1876 to 1938.

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