A well-researched but uncritical portrait of Bollywood’s ‘first lady’

Partha Chaterjee

Kishwar Desai’s biography of Devika Rani, typically known as the First Woman of Indian cinema, is apparently titled, The Longest Kiss. The reimagined illustration on the quilt replicating a publicity nonetheless from her first movie, Karma (1933), directed by J.L. Freer Hunt, with Himanshu Rai, her husband, and of her kissing him most freely units the tone for the e-book. It’s a totally researched, rigorously written biography. It’s clear from the beginning that Desai is batting most vigorously for Devika Rani.


Himanshu Rai in Hindi movies, just like the prince from Gouripore, Assam, P.C. Barua did in Bengali productions, tried to wed social points along with his personal understanding of movie craft that might someday result in artwork. Each had been from the Indian elite and received serious about cinema when overseas. It was in England that he met Devika. She was educated there as a result of her father Manmathanath Chaudhuri, a Bengali aristocrat by start and a physician by occupation, had the imaginative and prescient to have his three youngsters Nikhil, Devika and Mahim educated overseas, that means England. Devika’s mom got here from the Tagore clan, extremely educated Bengali landowners who reached their zenith via Rabindranath, nice litterateur, artist and social thinker and founding father of Santiniketan, a  seemingly Utopian rural college.


Desai’s meticulous analysis into Devika Rani’s life from her start to loss of life is commendable. Her studying of DR’s persona on the entire is correct regardless of the scarcely hid admiration of a gushing fan however the uncritical appreciation of the movies made at Bombay Talkies owned by Himanshu Rai, produced by him and starring his spouse within the lead till 1943, immediately appears lazy, although of their time virtually each movie produced by Bombay Talkies was critically hailed and financially profitable. The best box-office success attained by a Bombay Talkie movie was Kismet directed by Gyan Mukherjee which held the file for being the most important hit within the annals of Hindi cinema till Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay got here alongside within the mid-Seventies.


The e-book offers fairly brazenly together with her fraught relationship together with her husband. Himanshu Rai within the eyes of the world was Svengali to her Trilby, albeit a spoilt and delightful one. It was believed, that like within the legend, Trilby loses her soul -stirring singing voice when Svengali goes away, Devika too would lose all her inventive expertise following Himanshu’s premature loss of life.

Devika, nonetheless, proved her critics mistaken. She took over Bombay Talkies as owner-producer and made a grand success of it. The corporate did plenty of movies that had been financially sound and critically appreciated. Amongst them had been productions like Kangan, Jhoola ((dir: Gyan Mukherjee), her protégé, Amiya Chakravarty’s Basant, that includes a profitable efficiency from Child Mumtaz who would develop into Hindi cinema’s most sought-after star-actress, the gorgeous Madhubala.


She, a western educated liberal girl, was typically compelled for causes of prevailing sense of propriety and enterprise constraints as properly her stake in Bombay Talkies which was as nice as that of her husband, to behave disingenuously. However her ingrained honesty invariably made her reply to the decision of her personal morality and the longings of her coronary heart ultimately. Himanshu Rai, it seems to the lay reader, was scared of his a lot youthful spouse’s magnificence, subtle sexual attract and innate expertise. Regardless of making her work relentlessly in working Bombay Talkies, act in its main productions and take an energetic curiosity in virtually all facets of manufacturing, he turned deeply distressed in any respect the general public consideration his spouse was getting. He would typically beat and berate her. The online outcome was his fixed want for what handed for psychiatric care in these days. Devika Rani, manufactured from sterner stuff, not solely survived his sudden loss of life, however got here out a a lot stronger particular person.


Devika discovered emotional, and dare one recommend, sexual, satisfaction when she met Svetoslav Roerich, the very proficient painter son of the Russian grasp Nicholas Roerich, who painted the Himalayas with elegant grace. Devika was threatened with dire penalties by the hypocritical male inhabitants, presumably primarily from Bombay. Someone went to the extent of calling Svetoslav, the good love of her life and her soon-to-be husband a ‘Russian Roast’!

She survived all of the calumny to seek out happiness for a very long time with Svetoslav; for some time in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, after which for a very long time, maybe a lot too lengthy a time, in Bangalore. She obtained the Padma Shri and the Dada Saheb Phalke Award for her contribution to Indian cinema and Svetoslav the Padma Bhushan. In outdated age, having misplaced the power of their legs and grow to be motionless, they had been held to ransom by the very individuals who had been supposedly taking good care of them. It was a tragic, futile ending to a wealthy, eventful life.


Partha Chatterjee writes on cinema, music, literature and associated cultural issues. He’s additionally a filmmaker.

The Longest Kiss: The Life and Instances Of Devika Rani

Kishwar Desai

Westland Books

Rs 599/-

pp. 442


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