Blast from the past Friday Review

Devata (1978)

29dfr devata1

29dfr devata1

Can you steal the moon for your love and set a date in the backyard of a church? How romantic! You pull her to the roof of the house and then disappear behind the church, lost in each other’s arm, assuming their act has gone unnoticed, only to discover later they were being watched.

How romantic to express their love through a song – even if an outrageous one – but then Sanjeev Kumar and Shabana Azmi could pass off as a swooning couple. Only they could. Never mind Sanjeev’s girth and Shabana a clear misfit as his lover. The frivolous song apart the subsequent journey gives glimpses of their well-acknowledged acting prowess.

The ’70s were drawing to a close when “Devata” hit the screens. Hindi cinema was beginning to experience a drought in terms of class. Off beat cinema had its intrinsic appeal with a select audience but quality music and lyrics were on the wane. The diminishing appeal of romance was prominent and was set to give way to a surge of mediocre cinema with violence as the theme. “Sholay” had set the trend of gory depiction with technical excellence with outdoor shots in vogue. But then “Sholay” was subtle and unique in every department. Not an award to boast of but a timeless classic it was.

“Devata” catered to the audience that had grown up on melody and some memorable performances by a horde of actors but there were shades of desperation among filmmakers. Box office was the target and not those who valued decent cinema. It had its share of mediocrity despite the presence of some fine actors.

This was not Shabana at her best. Neither was Sanjeev Kumar. In comparison, Danny Denzongpa stood out as a police officer. Shreeram Lagoo was by then a stereotyped elderly with a quivering voice and predictable presence on the screen. We had Rakesh Roshan (George) and Sarika (Lily) as the glamour quotient and the talented Benjamin Gilani in a forgettable cameo.

The story spills over to the next generation with little scope of a surprise. Yet, credit to Sanjeev Kumar and Shabana for managing to come up with a convincing show. Music was average and that was the weakest point. For a lively “Gulmohar Gar Tumhara Naam Hota” there was a “Chand Churake Laya Hoon”, both duets by Kishore and Lata, but what a contrast!

Even Sanjeev Kumar was such a contrast – a below-par act as Tony, an orphan who loves Lily (Shabana), and than a sterling performance as Tarun Gupta. As Tony, his life revolves around ringing the church bell, looking after Father Fernandez (Lagoo), and prancing around with Lily. He earns his living by making coffin before fate conspires to give a new twist to Tony’s life. Lily dies in childbirth and he raises the child, Mary, a Lily look-a-like.

Mary is lured by a playboy and when the latter refuses to marry her Tony, in a fit of rage, causes his death. Inspector Lawrence, played immaculately by Danny, enters the scene. He has a story too, saved from drowning in his childhood by Tony. Their friendship is rekindled only to separate them following the murder committed by Tony. Unable to reconcile to spending the life in prison, Tony escapes from the custody of the Inspector.

Time flies. Tony assumes a new character – Tarun – a philanthropist. The Inspector has not given up. Mary, now living in modest conditions and running the home by stitching clothes, providentially runs into her father. But she is compelled to hide Tony’s identity for fear of the Inspector taking him into custody. But Tony is not able to fool his old friend. For the sake of Mary and granddaughter Lily, he must shed the garb of Tarun and become Tony. It would mean imprisonment but also freedom from leading a life of a criminal.

At the appropriate time, he reveals the truth to the world in the church where George weds Lily. Tony is back to ringing the church bell for a while before departing with the Inspector friend to spend his remaining time in prison.

“Devata” may not appeal today but it was the last flicker of the glorious ’70s when Hindi cinema, diverse and meaningful, was probably at its best. Sanjeev Kumar and Shabana, especially when grey in hair, delivered with grace. If only the movie had music to complement the excellent work of these two artists.

Genre: Social drama

Director: S. Ramanathan

Cast: Sanjeev Kumar, Shabana Azmi, Rakesh Roshan, Sarika, Shreeram Lagoo, Danny Denzongpa, Asit Sen, Shobha Khote

Story: Vietnam Veedu Sundaram

Written by: Gulzar

Lyrics: Gulzar

Music: R. D. Burman

Box office status: Hit


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Printable version | May 16, 2022 10:44:24 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Devata-1978/article14024723.ece