Devdas may well be summarised by these three screen captures:)
Saratchandra was 17 when he wrote Devdas, it is likely the author himself thought the novel an immature work in later age. Despite it being a “youth novel” and despite the success of the 2002 film version, it is unlikely that any modern young person identifies with any of the principal protagonists of the novel. Yet the fact that nearly a century after his creation Devdas lives on as one kind of an archetypal Indian hero is surely a testimony to the enduring power of this teenage work that is also strange and singular. It is also a novel that taps into the Indian imagination – it is not surprising that of all translations, it was the English version that was a latecomer. For this and many other reasons I like Devdas.
And of all the film versions, it is the 1936 version that I most enjoyed – the Hindi version i.e.. Coming as it did about 20 years after the publication of the novel, it is probably also closer to the mores of the society of the novel. And yet it is also very much of its time, its costumes in particular are very much of the 1930s. That it, it does not aim to authentically recreate an earlier milieu but a glamourised version of it for the audience of the 1930s.
Though Paro (played by Jamuna) gets to wear a few fancy 1930s saris post her marriage, for the most part she wears the filmi version of village simplicity. Unlike in later versions it is not the Bengal style sari but the six yard drape that was modern in this decade. The last screen grab is of Paro in her wedding attire, this is a Benares sari worn in the seedha pallu style.
The dichotomy of pure and indigenous i.e. Indian and imitative and questionable i.e. Western that we sometimes see with women’s clothing even today was applied to male clothing perhaps up until the 1950s. It is kind of specific to the colonial experience, crossing over to the other side indicated both social status and loss of cultural identity
The ‘citification” of Devdas (played by K.L. Saigal) is brief. For awhile in Calcutta embarrassed by his country cousin status he wears a suit. But once he returns and sets in motion the plot by rejecting Parvati the city fades away, except for the kotha milieu, and Devdas resumes his Indian attire. In keeping with the Bengali setting Devdas is often in a dhoti but Northern influences like the achkan and topi are also seen.
In the 1930s, men often wore a shirt-kameez with a dhoti or paijama or salwar which was often wide at the bottom. This could be worn with a jacket and if required headgear. Similarly footwear could be shoes or mojris.
Chandramukhi (played by Rajkumari in this version) by virtue of her profession is usually the most splendidly clad character in Devdas. 1930s glamour with its sequinned and zari borders and the incorporation of modern motifs can be seen in a lot of the saris that Chandramukhi wears. These are worn with the blouses of the time, neither body fitting like the 1950s or loose like the previous decades but more like gently contouring the upper part of the body. I can’s say if it is Art Deco but screen grabs 2 and 3 have interesting geometric patterns – I really like the sari of pic 2. She also wears a lot of Chandelier earrings which were very popular in the 1930s.
I am not adding too many notes on the hair and makeup but the sleek hairstyles and the strong, stylised make up are very much of the decade.
One of the ways in which Devdas (1936) differs from versions that came later is in scenes that capture the ambience and camaraderie of the kotha in which Chandramukhi works. Rather than the set pieces of later films, the kotha here is more like a living space. There is a brief dance sequence but this is not performed by Chandramukhi and there is a good deal of emphasis on the accompanists.
For the short dance sequence (mistakenly labeled as Chandramukhi’s dance) you can see that the costume is a ghagra and a diaphanous dupatta. This is quite different from courtesan representations, both in costume and dance, in subsequent films like the 1955 version*.
For the men, the costume of the singer is colourful and rakish (pic 3) while men who seem to be long time customers are in an achkan or dhoti-kurta.
This is part of a series that looks at costumes in films.
*This fitted Anarkali version is the standard courtesan dress in many films and probably dates from the late 19th century.