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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Two misleading letters (Devar)

The cast is as perfect as Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anupama. The story is believable, the songs are in place, the performances commendable. Then why is it that Mohan Sehgal's Devar left me with a niggling feeling in my heart. The movie starts off so well and as the script is penned, it should have thrown up plenty of firecrackling histrionics. But somewhere down the line, even the talented actors lose steam, or find the going rather tedious. Adapted from Tarashankar Bandopadhyay's short story, Naa, Devar  is a tale that could have been one of the best dramas of 1966. Could have been for sure...

The tale starts with the bonding of two children, a girl and a boy, who we can make out are almost sweethearts. The boy Bhola, loves hunting birds and teasing Bhawariya, the girl (who looks very much like a young boy!). Bhanwariya sings Bhola a song, Duniya mein aisa, which will later become a leitmotif of their childhood love and bonding. But owing to Bhawariya's father's intervention, the two separate, with Bhawariya promising Bhola that she will come back to him next year in the holidays.
The scene forwards to years later when Bhola is now Shankar (Dharmendra), a dashing young man, who is fond of singing and hunting. He is the only son of the village Diwan (Sapru). His elder cousin, Suresh (Deven Verma), lives in the same house and is treated like the son of the family. He is extremely fond of reading and writing while Shankar has no love for the letters. A matchfixer (Dhumal), gets two alliances for the two youngsters. After much discussion it is ascertained that Shankar would go to meet Shanta (Shashikala), the girl in question for Suresh. And Suresh would go to meet Madhumati (Sharmila Tagore), the girl for Shankar. While Shankar does his duties and comes back to Suresh saying that Shanta is a lovely girl apt for Suresh, Suresh does a volteface. He is so smitten by Madhumati's beauty and charm that he deviously decides to malign himself before Shanta's parents and caste aspersions against Shankar before Madhumati's brother, Gopinath (Tarun Bose). He writes two misleading letters and sends them to the two concerned parties and the alliances get botched up. Suresh also convinces Shankar that Madhumati is not fit enough for Shankar. So, Shanta's father (Raj Mehra), on receiving the letter, asks for Shankar's hand from the Diwan for his daughter.
Suresh on the other hand plays a dirty trick and agrees to marry Madhumati, lest she becomes maligned in the marriage market. His family see him as a noble soul and do not read into his ploy. So, Shankar is married to Shanta (Interestingly Dharmendra and Shashikala make quite a nice pair) and Suresh ties his knot with Madhumati.
While all should have been well, fate does not agree with the matches made. Shanta is devastated when she finds out that Shankar is not as erudite as he was presented. She hurls abuses at him  on their wedding night and leaves for her father's home. While her mother is the sane woman who asks her to be happy with her lot, her father sides with her and instigates her to never accept Shankar. Shanta behaves rudely with Shankar at all times and goes to the extent of calling him a cheat and a beast. At one point while you can understand that she is very hurt by the falsity of her situation, you feel like shaking her up and asking her to move on with life and be happy with it. After all, Shankar is not a bad life partner. In fact, he is sensitive, loving, caring, rich and gorgeous to look at. How can Shanta not be happy with that? She blackmails Shankar emotionally, to the extent that in a drunken stupor, he whiplashes her. Things spiral out of control, despite Madhumati trying to rub some balm on the frayed condition of Shankar, as well as Shanta.
Even while all this drama is playing, Shankar discovers that Madhumati is his long-lost childhood sweetheart, but keeps mum about it. It's cruel how fate (using Suresh) plays such a nasty trick on Shankar. He loved Bhawariya but could not get her. Now he loves Shanta, but she is not willing to accept him. Shankar's state is despondent. And Suresh is not looking like he is going to speak up the truth very soon...
The other day I watched a documentary on the music director Roshan. It threw up a bouquet of fantastic numbers that the talented musician had composed. I'm afraid, Devar's tracks are not some of those. The only two worthy-of-mention songs I guess are Duniya mein aisa and Roothe saiyyan, a mujra number. Mukesh's voice does not suit Dharmendra and the songs sung by him are quite nondescript.
Dharmendra and Shashikala, I've said before, look good together. The man is breathtakingly handsome, and the woman, surprisingly does not look wicked. Even in all her rudeness, she has an elegant air about her. Here she is not the conniving woman, she is just a polished lady extremely hurt because she feels she was duped to marry Shankar. I love the hairdos of Shanta and a certain poised charm envelop her. Just that she should have been a bit more soft towards her husband, who was willing to shower her will all the love he had in his heart. In fact, owing to her sorrow, the actions that her father hurl towards Shankar is too OTT. Such drama could definitely have been avoided if Shanta would have been more rational. But in Shanta's shoes, Shashikala dis do a good job.
Despite Madhumati being the epitome of goodness, I find her quite boring. She resorts to too much pontification. She is too much of a goody-two-shoes, lacking the spunk that Shanta has. The biggest disappointment is that Sharmila Tagore does not look the best here. She tries to, but there is something lacking. And I'm yet to figure out the problem...
The biggest disappointment is the utter lack of chemistry between Deven Verma and Sharmila Tagore. Considering that Suresh (Deven Verma was quite a looker) felt the pangs of desire the moment he set his eyes on Madhumati, there should have been a tangible physical connect between the couple. In the film, the two talk as if they are siblings and never really are shown to share romantic words! My guess is that it never occurred to Sehgal that he should take care to establish the chemistry between his leading lady and her plotting husband...


  1. I saw this film quite some time ago.
    I remember not being bowled over by it yet not really minding it either.
    Dharmender does look attractive.
    The young girl (who looks like a boy), wasn't she sarika?

  2. I remember seeing this in bits, and finding it a little boring. Though you are right, it could have been a fantastic story.

  3. @Pacifist: Noooooo... not Sarika definitely! Sarika was really cute as a little child. And yes, Dharmendra looks good enough to eat. What I couldn't tolerate was that considering Suresh twisted the truth to get Madhu, how come he was so dispassionate towards her?!?!? So lame!

  4. @Banno: Yes, it could have been so much better. Indeed I kept waiting for Madhumati to discover who Shankar really was. Would have loved to see her reactions to that truth. BUt alas, never happened and Sharmila kept smiling away no matter what!!

  5. I remember watching this shortly after I'd seen Anupama, and thinking that a film with more or less the same cast as the earlier one (which I love) would probably be close to as good... but I found Devar pretty disappointing. :-(

  6. @Dustedoff: Ya me too. And I kept waiting for tthe good things to start. Even Sharmila was so tepid :(

  7. Sharmi Ghosh Dastidar: that was another nice review. Incidentally, I think the tamil version came first - "Padithaal mattum Poduma"(1962). It had great actors with Sivaji, Savithiri in the main roles, some fantastic tunes which were all-time hits and directed by Bhim Singh. Somehow Devar did not create the magic of the tamil version.....not that I want to boast of being a Madrasi!

  8. @Ram: Hmmmm... I guess the Bengali version was good too. But I don't remember the actors in them :(

  9. well,i have read the original story in bengali and i found none of three versions i.e. bengali,tamil and hindi could do justice to it.The bong version naa was the best in my opinion followed by the tamil one and devar was the last one of them all.Although i do not like any of the songs of devar that you mentioned in this review ,i do like Aaye hain mujhe phir yaad woh zaalim.I think dharmendra,sharmila and deven varma were all too young and immature to handle this sensitive film.Well,the bong version starred bikash roy and nirmal kumar as far as i can remember.

  10. @Madmusic: I think I have seen the Bong version, but I don't quite recall it!

  11. Movies do bring back memories. I had first watched this film when I was in the first year of my graduation. We were not allowed to watch tv much in hostel (Rangoli, Chitrahaar, Shaktimaan and the 4 o'clock movie on Sunday afternoons). We had only Doordarshan and half the time programs would be in regional language. Our half-yearly exams had just got over and everybody had already left for Christmas holidays. My train was on the following night, so I was all alone in hostel and had the tv to myself. So, I tuned the antenna and finally managed to get DD Metro. And this movie started. I loved the way the story began and I was completely bowled over by Kajal wale nain. And Dharmendra...oh god, he looked so breath-takingly handsome in it!
    But as the story progressed, I somehow lost interest. Then thought maybe I couldn't interpret and comprehend the movie fully at that age. So, about a decade later, I rented it's dvd and watched it again. Because, I couldn't take the fact that a movie with such a great star-caste and a great story was not very successful.
    But alas, even this time around, I didn't like it much except for Dharmendra. I would have loved it if Sharmila could have realized who Dharmendra was. At times, I really thought Shashikala deserved one tight slap. And found Sharmila's reaction totally OTT when Deven Verma dies, irritatingly so. Main reason was because there never was that chemistry or passion between them. And all of a sudden she gets so hyper with her accusations.
    This is among those few hindi movies I've watched in hostel, and that too without having to steal the keys to the tv room.

  12. @Sunheriyaadein: Yes Archana, I was so disappointed with this film. Thought it could have been so much more!!

  13. I saw this everlasting movie in the year Feb''1982 in our Jabalpur's Renowned theatre of late Premnath - EMPIRE which fell down in a fine evening of 2012 due to heavy rains and non maintenance.

    When i saw this movie at the young age of 22, the young man Dharmendra was also like me - even after 31 years now at my completing more 50, and I feel to be the same young worthy - Dharmendra and the great singer late Mukesh......................... Baharon ney meraa chaman todakar and all other lovely ever songs which makes one always a young.

    Hope people of today will definitely once again come forward and remember this talkies and the lovely songs being the anniversary of singer Mukesh on 27th august. Regards- Iyer.

  14. Strangely, a Tamil movie had been made BEFORE 'Devar' with the same theme. Turns out the producer of that movie had approached the Bengali writer who had given permission.