Principal photography had ended and veteran director Iqbal Kashmiri’s chant of “Pack up!” hinted towards a heavy sigh of relief. Kashmiri had just got done with one of his finest films and he had every reason to look forward to a massive opening.
This was the year 2010. Five years on, Devdas lies in shackles somewhere in the dungeons of Evernew Studio in Lahore.
Shot at a shoestring budget, the adaptation of the 1917 Bengali novella’s post-production pay cheque shook the living daylight out of Kashmiri. A hefty Rs1.3 million is the ransom fixed by the studio for the release. Their official Yousaf Malik assures the film is good to go. “The movie is safe with us. They can collect it from our office once the dues are cleared,” he adds.
It all started when Karachi-based producer Nadeem Shah wooed Kashmiri into agreeing upon the project. The deal was simple. Let me play Devdas. I will inject money and make this film happen. While Kashmiri seems to have been tricked into the project, Shah plausibly changed his mind once shooting was complete. He not only refused to pay up the dues but even attempted to get the tapes stolen from Evernew and release the film in Karachi only.
Read: Devdas to release in Pakistan for the first time
Kashmiri had handpicked Zara Sheikh and Meera to essay the roles of Paro and Chandermukhi. Shot entirely in Lahore, the film has long been the subject of discussion within the city’s film circles. Sympathising with Kashmiri, over the years many fellow directors tried tooth and nail to cut a deal with Evernew and let the film see the light of day but to no avail.
On the flipside, the 65-year-old refuses to let go of hope. “I worked extremely hard on the project. I have every reason to believe Devdas will prove be to a tent-pole movie for the crumbling old Lollywood.” Kashmiri is the man behind numerous hits like Aliya, Mukhra, Taxi Driver, Babul, Bhabhi Diyan Chooriyan and several others. During his prolonged career he directed around 110 Urdu, Punjabi and Pashto movies. The veteran’s face lightens up as he recollects the details of his adaptation. “I ensured the story’s essence remains intact. Singers like Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghosal and Kavita Krishnamurthy lent their voices for its music.”
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Devdas is one of the most popular tragic romances of the subcontinent that have appeared in film and on TV numerous times and have helped shape the dominant popular culture. Across the border, Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh Khan delivered critically-acclaimed performances in its respective adaptations while in Pakistan, actor Habib played Devdas and Shamim Ara and Nayyar Sultana essayed the roles of Paro and Chandermukhi in the 1965 film of the same name. A more recent adaptation of the storyline was presented by Indian director Anurag Kashyap in his 2009 film Dev.D.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2015.
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