Pramathesh Chandra Barua or P.C. Barua as he was known, was an enigma through his life. Born into a royal family, this prince-turned-actor-director changed the theatrical manner of stylised acting into the conversational manner of real-life situations. His rise as an actor- director was matched with tragic failures in his personal life. Strangely, the last stage of his life resembled that of the hero he made famous - Devdas. Alcohol became his nemesis, he was consumed by tuberculosis, and died an untimely death. This book traces the life and towering achievements of one of the legends of Indian cinema.
Shoma A. Chatterji, journalist and author, won the National Award (1991) for best film critic and the
Best Film Critic Award from the Bengal Film Journalists' Association (1998). She won a research fellowship from the National Film Archives, Pune in 2004-2005 and is currently Senior Research Fellow of PSBT (Public Service Broadcasting Trust), Delhi. She won the second prize from the Sahitya Akademi for its Golden Short Story Translation Contest in 2007. She has been a jury at several International Film Festivals. She has authored sixteen books on cinema, gender issues, short fiction and urban history. She has been writing for thirty years and her Parama and Other Outsiders - The Cinema of Aparna Sen. won the National Award for the best book on cinema in 2003.
The story of Pramathesh Barua has all the makings of a fairy tale - the prince who became an actor and a filmmaker - dashing, flamboyant, handsome, talented and rich, transforming the cinema of his time.
But he was a prince steeped in melancholy who looked for solace in the arms of women, who found relief in alcohol, then died of tuberculosis when he was just 48. But not before he had made an indelible mark on Indian cinema. He introduced a daringly new style of acting - low-key, restrained, understated - in films that have stood the test of time. It was he who first brought on to the screen the doomed hero of Saratchandra Chatterjee's Devdas, the figure who clearly echoed Barua's own introverted, melancholy character. Devdas, the film and the character, reverberated through the country in the decades that followed. The romantic lover whose tragic flaw is the inability to be decisive and who dies yearning for his lost love. If one can pick a single character that shaped not only Indian cinema but Indian youth through decades, it was Devdas. Barua directed both the Bengali and Hindi versions, playing the protagonist himself in Bengali before directing K. L. Saigal in the Hindi version that followed. Both versions made Devdas into a cult figure.
In Mukti he also created the doomed figure, prepared to sacrifice himself. In Zindagi, with K. L. Saigal, the lovers are again forced to part. Death was the ending of many of his films - death by choice, or death or separation imposed by a cruel, unfeeling fate. Perhaps he himself was always haunted by the thought of his premature mortality. These were only four of the many films that Barua created, from the silent era through the challenging years of the thirties when he was with
the legendary New Theatres.
Barua not only personified the characters he portrayed in his films as writer, director and often actor but his impact on Indian cinema when it was evolving in the early years is far- reaching. His influence extended far beyond his time. Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy (who was the cameraman of Barua's Devdas before making his own version 20 years later) were his fervent admirers.
Like many of the great innovators and stylists of an early era, today they are hardly remembered. This book is part of a series to recall them with a sense of pride and acknowledge their immense contribution to the history of Indian cinema.
Shoma A. Chatterji is among the few today who writes of the legendary figures of the past with dedication and passion. In this book she brings alive one of Indian cinema's most charismatic figures.
Pramathesh Chandra Barua, a real-life prince, was born in the royal family of Gauripur, Assam, in October 1903. Some accounts mention the date as October 10 while others say it was October 24. Such biographical confusions dot Barua whose life-story offers stuff more exciting than the scripts of the films he made. But they do not disturb the essence of the story. Rather, they add to the intrigue and the mystique of a man who changed the face of Indian cinema for all time to come-with his choice of stories from classical Bengali literature, with his personalised style of natural acting, with his technical innovations, some of them being turning points in Indian cinematic technique and last but not the least, with Devdas, the eternal lover, who continues to haunt young and old alike, well into the 21st century.
"He was a living legend in Bengali cinema. He was the heart-throb of millions, the idol of my adolescence," wrote the late Mukul Roy, who had a brief association with Barua in 1939 when he worked as a child-actor in a Barua film. "He was not only a great director and actor, but was also a brilliant photographer. He wasn't over five feet tall and did not weigh more than 130 lbs - but then, some of the finest things in the world come in small packages, like diamonds," wrote Roy.
Pramathesh Barua entered films at a crucial period. Cinema was still uncertain about its status and identity, finding itself trapped between culture and entertainment. It did not have its role clearly etched out, or even a definite identity supported either by the social system within which it functioned or as an important form and language of artistic, creative expression. When Barua entered the cinema, many stalwarts were pioneers in different fields of cinema in their own right. Among them were technicians, actors, directors and writers who tried to give a distinct Indian identity to the cinema by shaping it to suit the taste of an essentially Indian audience. They included Dhirendranath Ganguly, Debaki Kumar Bose and Dinesh Ranjan Das. The cinema began to grow in importance as a form of creative expression among these pioneers. Some ordinary people, reckless enough to venture into hitherto uncharted territory, began to accept the different areas of films as a vocation. Yet, people involved with cinema remained on the margins of social acceptance and respect. These contradictory elements must have touched a chord somewhere in the mind of Barua, who gave recklessness a new definition and who had already had a taste of what cultural marginality was all about. This kind of uncertain yet open environment, conducive to experimentation and exploration in creativity, must have inspired Barua with the confidence to sustain his faith in creative freedom of expression through the cinema.
He entered the film world during the pre-Second World War phase. He represented the archetypal mix of the feudal and the melancholic. Audiences today do not enjoy seeing him so much as a painted face, or a defeated lover, but identify him completely with the Devdas image that keeps haunting the jilted lover-boy everywhere in India.
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