Revisiting Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas on its 19th anniversary
It has been 19 years since Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Devdas was released on July 12, 2002. With an ensemble cast featuring Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rao Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit in lead roles, the film also had Kiron Kher and Jackie Shroff in pivotal roles. The film turned out to be a massive box office hit and left critics awe-struck as this was yet another projection of Bhansali’s grand vision on celluloid. Even after about two decades of its release, the film continues to be remembered for its production values, extravagant sets and unforgettable music.
The film led Aishwarya Rai to walk the Cannes Film Festival red carpet to represent Devdas in 2002. This was Aishwarya’s debut at Cannes and since then she continues to walk the red carpet every year at Cannes as the face of L'Oréal Paris. The film was also India’s first entry into the Oscars. In addition, Devdas was included in Time Magazine’s top 10 movies of the millennium worldwide.
The film is based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel of the same name from the early 1900s. It was the first time that Bhansali spent a whopping Rs. 50 crore for overall production. Back then it was considered one of the most expensive Hindi films ever made with Rs. 20 crore spent on six different sets.
To maintain the sets 700 light men and 42 generators were used during the shoot. Interestingly, real weddings faced problems since most light and décor were used for the grand and lavish sets. And the cost of Chandramukhi’s kotha (brothel) in the film cost Rs. 12 crore and the lake outside would dry out many times.
The song SIlsila Yeh Chahat Ka featuring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was used as a sample by musical duo Chase and Status for their song ‘Eastern Jam’. Snoop Dogg also sampled the same song for his song ‘Snoop Dogg Millionaire’.
In addition, the beautiful glass used in the song was made out of 1.22 lakh stained glass pieces which had to be retouched with paint every time it rained. Talk about the level of Bhansali’s perfection.
The entire music was prepared in two and a half years by music director Ismail Darbar. This was totally worth it.
When it came to the jewellery adorned by the leading ladies, there's a backstory here as well. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s earrings from Dola Re Dola caused her a lot of trouble. Reportedly, her ears started to bleed during the shoot, which nobody knew about till the shoot ended.
Every actor in the film pushed their limits. While Shah Rukh Khan despite being non-alcoholic reportedly consumed a few pegs of alcohol to add authenticity to his character, Madhuri Dixit wore the first heaviest costume that weighed 30 kg, while dancing to Kahe Ched Ched Mode.
The role of Paro played by Aishwarya was first offered to Kareena Kapoor Khan but her mother Babita declined the role because Bebo was too young. And the role of Chunnilal, an alcoholic friend of Shah Rukh, played by Jackie Shroff, was initially offered to Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpayee and Govinda. While in India the movie is still considered a classic. International media and critics had other things to say after watching it at Cannes. The late American film critic Richard Corliss had apparently commented, "Another Cannes first: a Bollywood musical, was part of the official selection, luring Indian mega-muffin Shah Rukh Khan to this dappled Riviera town... Devdas, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay's 1917 novel, has been filmed at least three times before, but surely never with such opulence as director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has lavished on the new version. Reportedly the most expensive production in Indian history, it could well be the most visually ravishing movie ever... Khan, a total, tragic charmer in the title role, is bookended by two beauties (Madhuri Dixit and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai) with a sad wisdom to match their screen charisma. The dialogue is ripe enough to provide song cues for nine fabulous dance numbers. But the fervid emotion and visual chic are what make the thing sing. In just his third feature, Bhansali seems a young master of the medium."