Devdas is an epic semi-autobiographical Bengali novella written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The novel was written in 1901, though was not published until 1917 due to Chattopadhyay’s embarrassment over his story1. He published several novels such as Nishkriti, Parineeta and Srikanta, but Devdas remains his most popular novel. 

Devdas is a tragic love story of Devdas and Parvati (known as Paro). Both from Brahmin families, Devdas and Paro are neighbours, but also childhood sweethearts. Devdas is a spoilt, mischievous, grumpy child who shows little interest in learning. He is more of a class clown with Paro encouraging his tricks. Due to his behaviour, Devdas’ father sends Devdas to Calcutta to study.

As time passes and both turn into young adults, Paro’s grandmother suggests arranging their marriage. However, Devdas’ mother, Kaushalya rejects their match due to the disparity in the economic status between their families. Paro’s father in turn arranges a match between Paro and a wealthy widower. When Paro hears of the arrangement, she secretly meets with Devdas, hoping that he will propose to her despite his parents’ opposition. He attempts to ask his parents about their match, but they refuse. A spineless Devdas flees to Calcutta from where he writes a letter to Paro, denying his love for her. He immediately posts the letter and rushes back to the village, realising that he has made a mistake. Devdas tries to reassure her of his love, but Paro’s marriage plans have progressed. Paro declines Devdas’ offer, calling him a coward. In a reflection of childhood temperament, Devdas strikes Paro on the forehead with a stick, causing her to bleed. This mark becomes a sign of their relationship where Devdas marks Paro as his.

Devdas returns to Calcutta and stays with a friend, Chunni Babu, who introduces Devdas to a courtesan, Chandramukhi. Devdas insults her, believing that sex-workers have no values. Devdas broods over Paro and begins to drink his days away. Simultaneously, Devdas’ father dies, his mother leaves to spend her remaining days at a holy place, and his brother divides up their family wealth between the two.

Despite Devdas’ rejection of Chandramukhi, she falls in love with Devdas. She gives up her life as a courtesan and moves to a neighbouring village to start a new life. She hears about Devdas’ poor health and immediately returns to Calcutta, selling her bangles in search for him. She finds him on the street, unconscious and drunk. Chandramukhi brings him back to her rented room to look after him. When Devdas awakens, he is confused as to whom he loves. As his health worsens, Devdas sets forth to see Paro, fulfilling his wish to see Paro before he dies. Devdas dies at Paro’s doorstep. Upon hearing about the dying Devdas, Paro runs towards the door, but is prevented from leaving the house by family members.

Throughout the history of Indian cinema, directors have always gravitated to the story, starting with the 1928 silent version by Naresh Mitra. Corey K. Creekmur states that “In India, and in the transmission of popular culture through the South Asian diaspora, Devdas has been the vehicle of a continuous process of collective ‘remembering, repeating, and working through.’” 2 P.C. Barua adapted three variants of the novel between 1935 and 1937 in Bengali, Hindi and Assemese and it has been adapted in many different languages. This article will focus on three Hindi adaptations of Devdas, analysing the directorial styles of Bimal Roy, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and Anurag Kashyap. Each section will deconstruct each director’s interpretation of Devdas and how each film adapts to modernity and places itself within Bollywood cinema.

Devdas (1955)
Bimal Roy

Bimal Roy was an Indian film director and producer. He started his career in Calcutta with the Indian film studio New Theatre Ltd as a cinematographer and early filmmaker. Roy was associated with the Bombay Talkies before launching his own production company, Bimal Roy Productions with Do Bigha Zamin (1953).3 Roy continued his career adapting the works of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, starting with Parineeta in 1953, Biraj Bahu in 1954, and Devdas in 1955. Bimal Roy must have had a particular bond with the story of Devdas as he had previously worked as a cameraman on P.C. Barua’s adaptation of Devdas (1935). Roy’s adaptation of the novel was not an instant box office hit, but the film was well received by critics. The screenplay was written by Nabendu Ghosh and dialogue was written by Rajinder Singh Bedi, taking the source material as gospel, and only adding a few changes to the original dialogue. The film stars the critically acclaimed Bollywood star, Dilip Kumar (Devdas), Suchitra Sen (Parvati/Paro) in her first Hindi film, and South Indian actress, Vyjayanthimala (Chandramukhi). Shoma A. Chatterji states that Devdas (1955) was “the first film within mainstream cinema in Bombay to place on celluloid the social ramifications of a man of high birth who makes away from his feudal, upper-class roots in rural Bengal to the colonial city of Calcutta during pre-World War II years.”4 Devdas (1955) is considered one of the best-directed Bollywood films of the 20th century.


Devdas (1955)

Set in rural Bengal in the early 1900s and filmed in black and white, Bimal Roy’s Devdas begins with Paro and Devdas as children. Devdas is hot-headed and mischievous, while Paro is brave and loyal. Due to his behaviour, Devdas is sent away to Calcutta, leaving Paro heartbroken. She pays two musicians to sing to her, who sing about the deities Radha and Krishna, which emphasises their love as eternal. However, the world in which Paro and Devdas live in is cruel towards their love and their time together is fleeting. Roy is the only director to date who has chosen to explore Devdas’ and Paro’s childhood friendship in great length. 

With a beautiful transitional dissolve of a lotus in the river, Roy conveys the passage of time. Paro has now bloomed into a beautiful, young woman and Devdas has returned from Calcutta. The two meet after many years of being apart, but their reunion is short-lived. Devdas’ father firmly disapproves of their match as Paro is the daughter of a poor, lower caste Brahmin. In a fleeting rage, Devdas goes back to Calcutta, writes a letter to Paro and denies his love for her. His inner thoughts are expressed through a voiceover, which Roy uses sparingly in the film. Regretting his decision, Devdas rushes back to his home to retrieve the letter and to profess his love for Paro. However, Paro’s family has arranged for her to get married to a wealthy widowed landowner. Devdas violently strikes Paro on the forehead, symbolising the vermillion that is placed upon a woman’s forehead when she is married and implies that although they cannot marry, they are metaphorically married to one another. Devdas goes back to Calcutta and is introduced to the courtesan, Chandramukhi. Simultaneously, Paro’s wedding takes place. Roy cuts between the three characters, allowing his three main characters to take centre stage and drive the narrative.

Devdas (1955)

Chandramukhi is smitten by Devdas, though, he rejects her immediately. Devdas starts drinking heavily, pining over Paro in Chandramukhi’s company. Chandramukhi gives up her profession and moves away from Calcutta. She starts dressing and wearing jewellery like a married woman in an attempt to win over Devdas. By contrast, in her married home, Paro devotes her time to serving her stepchildren. She strips away her identity as a rich wife, wearing plain clothes and no jewellery, almost as a form of protest. Roy uses dialogue from the novel when Paro is talking to her sister, saying, “you’re married, yet you don’t know what a husband means,”5 suggesting that to have a husband is to serve the person you love. In the original text, Paro and Chandramukhi never meet, though, most film adaptations subtly play with the idea that they have to cross paths. Roy’s version suggests this prospect through a sensitive and powerful approach. Despite their loyalty towards Devdas, both are women who have been polarised by social class and caste and Roy draws attention to their inner strengths as women in common. Bimal Roy retains the essence of the novel’s characters while also adapting the narrative to suit post-independence domestic impediments. Paro fulfils her household duties as a wife and Chandramukhi chooses faith and domesticity over profession.

Devdas (1955

More importantly, Bimal Roy gives empathy to a character that is fundamentally unlikeable. Devdas is a deeply flawed, tragic character – he is an antihero, a coward. The subtle performance given by Dilip Kumar emphasises this and humanises Devdas, delivering a realistic portrayal of a man drowning his grief in alcoholism. As the story progresses, Devdas’ health becomes worse and he vows to see Paro before he dies. Roy uses a series of crosscuts to show Devdas’ and Paro’s supernatural bond. Devdas starts coughing up blood and falls, the apprehensive Paro also falls. The whistle of the train intensifies between these shots, heightening the melodrama and Devdas’ impending death. Roy uses superimpositions to show Devdas’ drifting consciousness and having flashbacks of his family and Paro. Devdas eventually winds up at Paro’s doorstep but dies before seeing her. Paro overhears the servants talking about the dying Devdas. Rushing out to see him, Paro hits her head on the gates closing in on her, implying that Paro has died.

The lifelong attachment Devdas and Paro have with each other is richly grounded in Bimal Roy’s adaptation of the novel. Roy’s version is the closest adaptation to the source material, using simple camera techniques to convey the complexities of love, passion, and grief. The cinematography is simple, using shadows and minimal lighting to highlight the doomed passion between the three characters. Through simple camera techniques, Roy manages to retain the essence of the story in the simplest of forms and upholds the Bengali culture and societal pressures enforced in the novel.

Devdas (2002)
Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Sanjay Leela Bhansali is one of the most acclaimed film directors currently working in Bollywood. Bhansali started his career as an associate of Vidhu Vinod Chopra and was credited in the production of the latter’s films such as Parinda (1989), 1942 A Love Story (1994) and Kareeb (1998). He later made his directorial debut with Khamoshi – The Musical (1996), a film that failed at the box office, but gained some critical acclaim. His second film, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) gave him the ability to establish his visual style and gain a reputation as a director. His third film, Devdas (2002) became the highest grossing Bollywood film of 2002. In an interview with Times of India, Bhansali stated that he wanted his version to be “bigger, better and more spectacular than any classical movie made in Indian cinema.”6 The film was the most expensive film made in India at the time. The screenplay was written by the director himself and Prakash Ranjit Kapadia. The cast consists of Bollywood superstars, Shah Rukh Khan (Devdas), Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Parvati/Paro) and Madhuri Dixit (Chandramukhi). Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hindi reworking of Chattopadhyay’s novel is epic and grandiose, incorporating lavish set designs, costumes, and breath-taking dance sequences. 


The second Hindi adaptation of Devdas begins with Devdas and Paro’s family preparing for Devdas to return home after studying in London for ten years. The rise of diaspora-centred films in the 1990s such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Aditya Chopra, 1995) could have influenced this change. Aspects of Devdas and Paro’s childhood are told through dialogue and a short series of flashbacks through Sumitra, Paro’s mother. Bhansali displays the class difference between Devdas and Paro’s family with houses, using omniscient bird’s-eye views and tracking shots of characters running in their mansions. Devdas’ house is old and huge, signifying old wealth and status, whereas Paro’s house is newer, more colourful, and garish.

Devdas (2002)

The first musical number, “Silsila ye chahat ka”7 symbolises Paro’s love for and devotion to Devdas. She has figuratively and metaphorically kept a lamp burning for him. The song is followed by their meeting, in which the chemistry between the two leads is immediately striking. Bhansali indulges the viewer with dreamy, sensual scenes between Paro and Devdas. The lighting accentuates both of their figures, glowing with passion and love. 

Within the sequence, Bhansali introduces the subplot between Devdas and Paro’s mothers. A party is hosted by the Devdas family and Sumitra (Paro’s mother) strongly believes that at the party, Paro and Devdas’ marriage will be arranged. Sumitra dances, singing about the love between Radha and Krishna, though she is humiliated by the Devdas family for being from a lower caste and her family accused of selling off their daughters. She then prophesises Devdas’ downfall, vowing to have Paro married to a richer family within the week and that Devdas will be ruined. Family drama is brought to the foreground of this adaptation and the melodrama heightened to the extreme for the viewer’s interest. 

Devdas (2002)

When Sumitra hastily plans Paro’s wedding to another man, Paro naively believes Devdas will come to her rescue. She is caught sneaking into Devdas’ house, which solidifies his parents’ decision to reject Paro. Devdas avoids confrontation with his father, knowing he will be rejected again. He seeks refuge with his college friend, Chunnilal, who introduces him to Chandramukhi.  She immediately falls in love with him. A heartbroken Paro agrees to the match arranged by her mother and on the day of her wedding, Devdas returns home. Devdas plays an active part in her wedding, essentially ‘giving her away’ to her new husband. Shah Rukh Khan’s portrayal of Devdas treads a thin line of being an angry man and a coward, though, he is nonchalant and retains an element of defiance.

Devdas (2002)

After losing Paro, Devdas’ descent into alcoholism occurs quickly and becomes side-lined in his own narrative in favour of trivial subplots. Devdas severs all ties with his family after his father’s funeral and spends his days at Chandramukhi’s mansion. Chandramukhi attempts to win his affections and dances for him. “Maar Daala” demonstrates Bhansali’s love for the spectacle and classical dance forms, taking inspiration from films such as Mughal-E-Azam (K. Asif, 1960) and Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1972). In post-modern fashion, Bhansali communicates his characters’ feelings through intricate choreography and song. 

Despite Chandramukhi’s fondness for Devdas, she is independent, mature, and sophisticated. She does not give-up her profession for him, rather she takes pride in it. This is further reinforced within the subplot between Paro, her stepson-in-law Kalibabu, and Chandramukhi. Kalibabu reveals Paro’s relationship with Chandamukhi and Paro’s devoutness towards Devda. Kalibabu insults Paro for bringing a courtesan into their home. Chandramukhi defends the honour of courtesans, claiming that it is the aristocrat who brings cheer to the brothels and that aristocracy runs in their veins.8 Bhansali gives more agency to his female characters, bringing them together and bounding them in the space of female desire and devotion. 

Devdas (2002)

In the meantime, Devdas’ condition worsens, as shown in the song, “Chalak Chalak”. The song begins with a joyful Devdas, Chunnilal and later Chandramukhi, though becomes more unsettled and frenzied. Devdas is advised to stop drinking. He admits that he may have fallen in love with Chandramukhi but she must let him go. She supports his decision and Devdas decides to travel. Chunnilal meets Devdas on the train and urges him to drink in the name of friendship. Knowing that this could be fatal, he drinks anyway. Verging on death, Devdas honours his promise and tries to see Paro before he dies. Devdas collapses under a tree outside Paro’s mansion. Paro finds out about Devdas and runs towards him. The servants try to hold her down, yet her determination to see Devdas endures. The camera cuts between Paro running towards him in her mansion and Devdas drifting out of consciousness. He sees a blurred Paro running towards him, but the gates close on her. Paro’s lamp goes out, signifying Devdas’ death.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s adaptation of Devdas is a glamourous, mythical affair. He aims for the sublime, attempting to capture emotions through song and dance. The film is a feast for the eyes and Bhansali uses the crux of the story to master his visual style and craft, but the compassion and the simplicity of the original text is often lost in the melodrama and several subplots. 

Dev.D (2009)
Anurag Kashyap

Anurag Kashyap is an Indian film director and screenwriter. He started his film career as a co-writer on Ram Gopal Verma’s crime drama, Satya (1998). After writing several screenplays, Kashyap began directing films, though this proved to be difficult as Kashyap ran into censorship issues and controversy due to his unapologetic depiction of sex and drugs. He made his official directorial debut with Black Friday (2007). In 2009, Kashyap wrote and directed two films, Dev.D9 and Gulaal, in which he began to establish himself as an unconventional Bollywood director.  Dev.D is a modern adaptation of Devdas that completely steers away from the previous adaptations that were set in the 1900s and places the characters in contemporary India. The adaptation explores the difficulty of modern youth, westernisation, metropolitan lifestyles and urban consumption. The film stars Abhay Deol (Dev/Devdas) and introduces audiences to Mahie Gill (Parminder/Paro) and Kalki Koechlin (Leni/Chanda/Chrandramukhi). Kashyap is now often regarded as the face of an emerging new wave in Indian cinema for producing numerous independent films with early filmmakers. 


Anurag Kashyap’s version of the Devdas story is divided into four parts: ‘Childhood’, ‘Paro’, ‘Chanda’ and ‘Dev’. The chapters allow for broader interpretations of the three main characters, fleshing them out and giving them all a developed narrative arc. In the first section, Dev and Paro are briefly shown as children, and the incident that forces Dev’s parents to send him away to London.

Dev.D (2009)

Part 1 focuses on Paro as an independent, modern woman in India. She communicates with Dev online and over the phone, sending him naked pictures upon request and masturbates when Dev asks her if she ever touches herself. With these small nuances, Paro is shown to be something of a femme fatale in the eyes of Dev. He returns to Punjab with a narcissistic attitude and a sense of entitlement over Paro. When he overhears someone talking about Paro’s sexual activity, his masculine ego is bruised and rejects Paro’s sexual advances towards him, calling her a ‘slut’. Kashyap overtly points out the double standards of being sexually liberated as a woman versus a man. Consequently, Dev’s loss of Paro is due to his own insecurities as opposed to societal class structures that bounded the character of Devdas before. 

Dev.D (2009)

Kashyap offers a refreshing interpretation of Chandramukhi’s character, providing a backstory of how she becomes Chanda. She is introduced as Leni, a high school girl who finds herself caught in an MMS scandal in which her boyfriend records her performing oral sex. Her parents are distraught by the video and are unable to cope with their daughter’s behaviour. This leads to her father committing suicide and her mother abandoning her. Eventually, she runs away to Delhi and lands herself at a sex hostel ran by Chunni (Chunnilal) where she is allowed to complete her education and make money through sex work. She starts her new life and names herself ‘Chanda’ after watching Chandramukhi in Bhansali’s Devdas. Chanda’s chapter ends with a drunken Dev arriving at the hostel. 

Dev.D (2009)

The final chapter focuses on the angst and existentialism of Devdas from the original text, though Kashyap demonstrates this in a dark and experimental manner. After Paro’s wedding, Dev travels to Delhi and starts heavily drinking and taking drugs. Kashyap uses rotating shots and a blue hue to highlight Dev’s intoxicated state. Dev tries to spy on Paro from afar, further emphasising his ego and sense of masculine superiority. He wants to see Paro unhappy in her marriage to satisfy his ego. Paro meets Dev at the hostel and is disgusted by the way he is living. She states that she made the right decision getting married as Dev does not truly love her. Dev liked the idealised version of Paro rather than her true self. 

Dev is teased and consoled by Chanda. Her room is bright pink, signifying her growing love for Dev. The two spend more time together and get to know each other on a deeper, more intimate level. He tells her he loves Paro, but also loves Chanda. In a confused, drunken state, Dev finds himself in hospital and involved in a hit-and-run case. He goes back to Punjab to seek help from his family, only to find out his father has passed away.  Kashyap uses washed-out colours to highlight Dev’s state of mind. Dev is lost and unable to escape his self-destructive behaviour.

Dev returns to the hostel in Delhi and hears that Chanda has left. He comes to terms with his ego and finds Chanda and confesses that he did not love Paro, lets her go and begs a life with Chanda, whom he truly loves. Kashyap gives Dev a redemptive ending where he accepts his mistakes and moves on with his life. As R.C. Paunknis and Š. Paunknis point out, “In a differently oriented world where women seem to be in charge of their own affairs, masculinity has to redefine itself for justifying its survival.”10 The ending is more realist and suits the younger audience Kashyap is catering to.

Overall, Dev.D is an ambitious reworking of the Devdas tale, placing the world and the characters in a contemporary setting. Kashyap reflects on modern-day anxieties and equality between men and women in India. He develops the characters of Paro and Chanda, allowing them agency. His adaptation is akin to ‘90s and early 2000s adaptations of Jane Austen novels and Shakespeare plays such as Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995), Ten Things I Hate About You (Gil Junger, 1999), and O (Tim Blake Nelson, 2001), using classic literature to re-evaluate and mock the archetypal characters in the novel and previous adaptations as well as catering to a younger audience.

To conclude, Devdas is a tale well-known within Indian cinema that has been remade and recreated into different styles and aesthetics. Bimal Roy’s 1955 black and white adaptation brings the individual tragedy of each main character to the foreground, remaining faithful to Chattopadhyay’s original text. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2002 version brought glamour and melodrama to Indian and western audiences, while Anurag Kashyap offers a new perspective on the themes of Devdas, placing its characters in contemporary India and exploring patriarchy, sexuality, and individuality.


  1. Films
    1. Dev.D. Directed by Anurag Kashyap. Performed by Abhay Deol, Mahie Gill and Kalki Koechlin.
    2. Devdas. Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Performed by Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit.
    3. Devdas. Directed by Bimal Roy. Performed by Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen and Vyjaynthimala.

    The character of Parvati was based on a real-life woman who married a landowner.

  2. Corey K. Creekmur, “Remembering, repeating, and working through Devdas” in Indian Literature And Popular Cinema: Recasting Classics,  2007), Heidi R.M. Pauwels, ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 175.
  3. Madhuja Mukherjee, “Arriving at Bombay: Bimal Roy, Transits, Transitions, and Cinema of Intersection”, in Industrial Networks and Cinemas of India: Shooting Stars, Shifting Geographies and Multiplying Media, Monika Mehta and Madhuja Mukherjee, eds. (New Dehli: Routledge India, 2020), p. 108.
  4. Shoma A. Chatterji, The Cinema of Bimal Roy: An ‘Outsider’ Within (New York: Sage, 2017), p. 118.
  5. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Devdas, (GCS, 2013), p. 30.  The translation is: “Mono, your

    wedding band is wasted on you!  You know nothing of marriage.  Before my husband, I have no shame.”

  6. Quoted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devdas_(2002_Hindi_film).
  7. I haven’t let it (the lamp) extinguish.
  8. Aristocratic men having illegitimate children with courtesans.
  9. Co-written by Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane.
  10. Šarūnas Paunksnis and Runa Chakraborty Paunksnis, “Masculine anxiety and ‘new Indian woman’ in the films of Anurag Kashyap”, South Asian Popular Culture, Volume 18 Issue 2 (2020), p. 8.