Frontlist | How Zoravar lost out on the role of Devdas to Dilip Kumar
Edited excerpts from a novel that uses a fictional character to explore the Hindi film industry.
On the heels of the film awards came an announcement from the Government of India regarding The National Awards for cinema. The ceremony had been conceived by the government to honour films made across India, on a national scale, to further the cause of Indian art and culture. The Ministry of Information and Broadcast would directly send invites to winners to attend the ceremony that would take place at the Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi, and President Rajendra Prasad was to present the awards. It separated itself from the Clare Awards by considering films made in all languages, not just Hindi. Zoravar was certain he would receive an invite. As the date came closer, and he did not receive one, he began to abuse the institutions of awards itself.
“Let my Devdas release,” he would stay in a drunken stupor, “then these fuckers will award me.” He had begun to drink in the mornings too. Zoravar’s defence was that he was preparing to play the greatest alcoholic Indian art had ever produced. On the day the national awards were to be announced, Zoravar had woken up earlier than usual, mostly because he had barely slept the previous night.
When the newspaper came, he turned quickly to the movies section and saw that a talkie in Marathi language, one he had never heard of, called Shyamchi Aai had won the President’s Gold medal for the best feature film. As he read further, the article stated that Bimal Roy had won an All India Certificate of Merit for Do Bigha Zameen. He was secretly elated that no other Hindi picture had won the top award.
Zoravar had returned signing amounts to half a dozen producers and opted out of films to make way for Devdas and clear his schedule. He wanted to ensure that this would be to be the performance of a lifetime.
One morning, on a visit to Basu’s office, hungover from the previous night, he was given the news he had been waiting for.
“We are ready to announce the picture. I am ready to begin filming from this week as my sets are ready. In fact, we will release the picture within a few months itself to qualify for the awards next year,” Basu said, and Zoravar smiled broadly.
On his way back from the office, he saw a huge poster of Azaad, Dilip Kumar’s new film. He slowed down the car, and as he was studying the poster, he heard the blaring sound of a horn. An oncoming bus was racing towards his car, and collided with it head-on. Zoravar felt himself thrown against the windshield, which shattered on impact. Just as he felt a searing pain shoot through his body, for the third time in his life, everything went black.
‘My husband would like to hear bad news immediately’
When Zoravar regained consciousness, he couldn’t move and felt like something really heavy was pinning down his legs. His left eye was swollen shut, and he was in excruciating pain. He realized as the fog of pain cleared a little that he was trapped inside his car, which had turtled, and he could smell rubber burning. He could see feet outside the window of the car, but no one was doing anything, being more interested in watching the spectacle rather than helping.
He first thought was that he was probably going to burn to death. Then, he tried to get a hold of himself, but before he could try to force himself to crawl out through the broken windshield, a loud explosion rang through the air. He assumed that a tyre had burst. Then, a sharp burst of pain shot through him, and he shouted, just as the face of a stranger swam into view. The man was young, and he had finally managed to break open the door of the car. He pulled Zoravar out, and just as they were a few metres away from the car, it exploded.
The stranger wheeled Zoravar into the nearest government hospital. A team of doctors began to examine the injured star as he slipped in and out of consciousness. He felt the world around him grow dark and realised that he had no idea who his rescuer was.
When Zoravar awoke a few days later, he found Santosh sitting beside him and his father on the chair a little further away. The old man was chanting from the holy book. As Zoravar looked around the room, he saw that it was crowded with cards and bouquets. Santosh had also meticulously cut out all the news articles and press coverage around his accident from as many newspapers as she had managed to get her hands on at the public relations office at Natraj Studios. He looked at her, and before he could ask her anything, she held his hand tenderly.
“Your legs are broken, your right shoulder is fractured, and you may lose your vision temporarily in one eye, but it will return in good time,” she said, answering his unspoken questions.
“The shooting of Devdas begins this week. I can request Kaushik da to…” Zoravar said, his voice trembling. He paused when he saw the expression on Santosh’s face. “Mr Basu had come to enquire about your health. Unfortunately, he had to shelve the film,” she said gently.
Zoravar tried to get up when he heard his father’s booming voice, “Is there a need to discuss this right now? My son has barely gained consciousness, and you are talking about work?” he said to Santosh. “Papa ji, forgive me, but I know my husband would like to hear bad news immediately,” Santosh said firmly
She went on to give Zoravar an article from a prominent film magazine that had a picture of a familiar face on the front page. Along with the photograph, there was a headline in big, bold letters – Bimal Roy to make Devdas, Dilip Kumar to play the leading man.
Excerpted with permission from Zoravar, Maharsh Shah, HarperCollins India.
Source: Scroll India