‘I drink so that I can breathe’

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Dilip Kumar in and as ‘Devdas’ by Bimal Roy (1955) *

Talent needs no reason to be celebrated. Its existence is reason enough.

Speaking of talent, the great actor Dilip Kumar’s first autobiography ‘The Substance And The Shadow’ has just been released. At 91, the time is more than opportune for the book.  As arguably India’s greatest mainstream actor Yusuf Khan (his real name), it is hard to choose a specific scene from his long career that lights up his essential genius in all its glory. However, a particular scene from ‘Devdas’, the 1955 masterpiece by Bimal Roy is as good an example as any to illustrate Yusufsaab’s extraordinary command over different parts of the craft.

Dear friend, great writer, fellow journalist and probably Dilip Kumar’s greatest admirer Shireesh Kanekar and I have frequently talked about this scene from the film. In fact, there have been many occasions when Shireesh has broken into the opening lines rather unprovoked simply because of the way Dilip Kumar has intoned it.

Everything comes together in this film and this scene. ‘Devdas’ is a director’s film in as much as it is actors’ films. (What does this observation mean, Mayank?) In particular, Dilip Kumar as an alcoholic in the grip of debilitating melancholy just shines. In the scene, Vyjayanthimala as Chandramukhi tells him to go slow on his drinking since she is worried about his natural tolerance for alcohol. The film’s dialogue was written brilliantly by the literary giant Rajinder Singh Bedi.

Right from the time Devdas asks Chandramukhi “Kyon?” (Why?) when being advised by her to exercise restraint on his drinking to the point when finishes the scene, Dilip Kumar offers a master class in performance. The clarity of diction, the modulation of voice, the deliberate pacing of and emphasis on words, the economy of facial expressions and above all being immersed completely in the psyche of the character, Kumar owns it all. I wrote in my Facebook update that I defy any other Indian actor to capture the debilitating melancholy of an alcoholic as captured and articulated by Dilip Kumar. Notice the change of register from "Kaun kumbakht" to "Bas saans le sakun" to "Kuchh hosh reh hi jata hai."

When Chandramukhi tells a drunk Devdas, “Itni zyada bardasht na kar sakoge” (You will not be able to tolerate/withstand so much), I think his response is telling. “Kaun kumbakht hai to bardasht karne ke liye peeta hai. Main to peeta hoon ke bas saans le sakun,” (Who drinks to tolerate/withstand? I drink so that I can breathe),” he replies. The first line seems to suggest Devdas does not care what happens to him. “ Who drinks to tolerate/withstand?” appears to imply that. But then Bedi turns it around and gives the character’s conflicted state an interesting escape route when he says, “I drink so that I can breathe.” Let me not spoil the scene by injecting in it my own worthless analysis. For those of you who understand Hindi/Urdu in their brilliance, I guarantee one of cinema’s great scenes.

* I continue to have the problem of embedding YouTube videos on my damn blog. I have linked the picture to it.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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