Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay: Ordinary man, extraordinary storyteller

Filmmakers drawing inspiration from literature is as old as the history of films in India. In the last 100 years of Indian cinema, filmmakers have time and again adapted novels, novellas and short stories and dished out films that have been visual treats. Some among them have even gone on to become classics. From William Shakespeare to O. Henry to Rabindranath Tagore to Munshi Premchand, Indian filmmakers owe a lot to both English and Indian litterateurs. 

That said, one of the most celebrated pieces of Indian literature on celluloid is Devdas, the timeless classic by Bengali author Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay that has been attempted on screen on 16 occasions, with four being made in Hindi alone. And for the uninitiated, the novel was also made into a film in Pakistan in 1965.

As we celebrate Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 143rd birth anniversary, here’ a look at a few Hindi films that have been adapted from the author’s works.   

Biraj Bahu (1954)

A year after introducing India to neo-realist films with Do Bigha Zameen, master filmmaker Bimal Roy adapted Chattopadhyay’s famous short story of the same name with Kamini Kaushal and Abhi Bhattacharjee in the lead. Although considered overtly melodramatic even in the 1950s, Biraj Bahu today is counted among one of the best celluloid interpretations of Chattopadhyay’s works in terms of cinematic expression and retaining the original flavour of the story.

Trivia: The film’s dialogues were co-written by producer, director and screenwriter Nasir Hussain

Majhli Didi (1967)

Once Bimal Roy’s editor and one of the torchbearers of parallel cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, Hrishikesh Mukherjee roped in Meena Kumari to play the titular role in this tearjerker. Cast opposite Dharmendra, Meena Kumari’s performance in the film is considered one of her best.

Trivia: The film was India’s entry to the 41st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film 

Chhoti Bahu (1971)

Based on one of Chattopadhyay’s most popular short stories Bindur Chele, the film rode on the shoulders of Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore, one of the most successful on-screen jodis of the early 1970s.

Trivia: This film is counted among one of the 17 consecutive hits that Rajesh Khanna delivered between 1969 and 1971.

Khushboo (1975)

While not too many films could stand the storm created by Sholay at the box office, maverick filmmaker Gulzar churned out a little gem in the form of Khushboo. Gulzar, who has time and again admitted his weakness for Bengali literature, this time choose Chattopadhyay’s famous novel Panditmashai. Starring Jeetendra, Hema Malini and Sharmila Tagore, the film went on to become a surprise hit.

Trivia: Gulzar directed as many as five films in 1975 — Aandhi, Faraar, Chupke Chupke, Mausam and Khushboo.

Swami (1977)

Based on Chattopadhyay’s critically acclaimed short story Swami, filmmaker Basu Chatterjee roped in Shabana Azmi, Girish Karnad and Utpal Dutt to tell this poignant story on celluloid.

Trivia: The Filmfare Best Story award went to Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay that year. However, the author had already died 39 years back.

Apne Paraye (1980)

Basu Chatterjee this time choose yet another celebrated work of Chattopadhyay, Nishkriti to tell a touching story that revolved around a joint family. He repeated the cast of Swami once again along with one of his most trusted lieutenants Amol Palekar.

Trivia: A very unlikely combination but the filmmaker chose Bappi Lahiri to compose the film’s music. And Bappi da definitely lived up to the filmmaker’s expectations

Parineeta (1953 and 2005)

Who else but only Bimal Roy could have braved the idea of experimenting with such a bold plotline that was written by Chattopadhyay way back in 1914. The casting was perfect with Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar leading from the front. More than half a century later, Vidhu Vinod Chopra attempted a rather sleek and glossy version of the novel with Vidya Balan, Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt in the lead. Although both the films were hits, Roy’s version stayed more faithful to the novel.

Trivia: The 1953 version was produced by Ashok Kumar, with playback singer Manna Dey composing four songs for the film. For the 2005 version, Chopra had initially planned to cast Aishwarya Rai opposite Abhishek Bachchan and Aamir Khan.

Devdas (1936, 1955 and 2002)

One of the then most celebrated filmmakers Pramathesh Barua cast the legendary KL Saigal opposite Jamuna Barua and Rajkumari in this classic. Two decades later, Bimal Roy roped in Tragedy King Dilip Kumar to play the titular role alongside Suchitra Sen and Vyjayanthimala. Almost half a century later, Sanjay Leela Bhansali cast Shah Rukh Khan in the eponymous role of Devdas opposite Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit. However, it’s Roy’s version that stays true to the original that makes the film a classic.

Trivia: Roy had originally planned to cast Meena Kumar as Paro and Nargis as Chandramukhi. For the 2002 version, Ismail Darbar took two and a half years to compose the film’s music.

Dev.D (2009)

No you can’t ignore this one. Anurag Kashyap’s modern-day take on Devdas starring Abhay Deol in the lead was both a visual treat and a great tutorial for students of filmmaking on how to readapt a century-old novel into a fresh film.   

Trivia: The two actors in the song Emotional Atyachaar are Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nitin Chainpuri

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