The first silent version was directed by Naresh Chandra Mitra, who had already directed three silent films of that era, including Andhare Alo (1922) and Chandranath (1924). Phani Burman played the lead role, while Tarakbala played Paro and Niharbala (also known as Miss Parul) played Chandramukhi.
P.C. Barua’s version, where singer K.L. Saigal acted as Devdas, was an almost exact remake of the silent film, but with dialogues and songs. Jamuna acted as Paro and Chandrabati Devi played Chandramukhi.
The song, Dukh de din ab beetat nahin, sung by Saigal, became a hit song of the 1930s. Before this, Barua also made a Bengali version where he played the title role himself; and in 1937, he made the same film for a third time in Assamese with Phani Sarma as Devdas, Zubeida as Paro, and Mohini as Chandramukhi.
Flashback: (from top) Roy’s 1955 film; Bhansali’s Devdas (2002); Barua’s Hindi version (1935).
Devadasu, made in Tamil and Telugu, with Akkineni Nageswara Rao as Devdas and Savitri as Paro, by Telugu actor-director Vedantam Raghavaiah, was a superhit in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The director shot most of the sequences at night so that he could realistically capture the character’s nocturnal stupors. Another version was made in Telugu in 1979, with famous actor Krishna in the lead, which ran for 50 days. They re-released Devadasu simultaneously and it ran for 200 days.
This is the only easily available black-and-white version of Devdas . Directed by Bimal Roy in Hindi, and starring Dilip Kumar (Devdas), Suchitra Sen (Paro) and Vyjayanthimala (Chandramukhi), this was the first time the story was filmed using modern cinematic techniques. It also offers a historical and social backdrop to the story that was so far focused entirely on one man’s tragic journey. In that sense, this version is more true to Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel set in early 20th century Bengal, divided by class and caste barriers, and ruled by zamindars.
Debdas, in Bengali, was directed by Dilip Roy, and had Soumitra Chatterjee in the lead role. Sumitra Mukherjee acted as Paro and Supriya Choudhury as Chandramukhi.
Yet another Bengali version, this one was directed by Shakti Samanta, starring Prasenjit Chatterjee, Arpita Pal and Indrani Halder as Chandramukhi. It was a commercial and critical failure.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali took more than two years preparing and making this version with Shah Rukh Khan as Devdas, Aishwarya Rai as Paro and Madhuri Dixit as Chandramukhi. Bhansali’s visually extravagant style and Khan’s acting received bouquets as well as brickbats around the world. It was also the most expensive version, and a commercial success.