South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Cinema, Devdas and the Melodramatic Field

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

Based on a massively popular novella written by Saratchandra Chatterjee (1917), Devdas (P.C. Barua, 1935) popularized a hero who ran clearly against the type of the well-mannered, urbane educated Indian male. Unlike the doctor, priest, lawyer, engineer or college graduate of the popular cinema of the thirties, the eponymous Devdas is a wealthy, upper-class, upper-caste alcoholic who fails to rise professionally and wastes his family inheritance by clinging obsessively to the memory of his childhood sweetheart, Paro. Historians have generally understood Devdas as an extension of the colonial stereotype of the effeminate, weak colonial man who fails to act or resist.


Revising this position, I approach Devdas’ enduring relevance as a material sign of social, economic and aesthetic transgressions that have been repeatedly mobilized from the early sound era to the present. Its key characters subvert class, caste and gender mobility by electing to stay within those systems, transforming them into sites of melodramatic scrutiny and cinematic re-inscription. Cinema’s transformation of the novel constituted a melodramatic field for imagining drink, prohibition, and romance as forceful markers of an intensified psychic expressivity that jostled uneasily with nationalist narratives. Drawing on unseen sources from star biographies, newspapers, film booklets and regional, “vernacular” remakes, I examine Devdas’ refusal of the late colonial imperative of progress; its privileging of desire over overt social or political action, and finally, its formal and political significance as a melodramatic text that jettisons the nationalist agenda by remobilizing it in the realm of the personal and the affective.

Anupama Kapse

Loyola Marymount University, United States


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2 - Cinema, Devdas and the Melodramatic Field

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