Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam: From Real Life to Reel Life
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam came out in 1999. Wow that was 13 years ago, seems unreal. It was such a massive hit. The whole nation fell head over hills in love with Aish. She looked out of this world. Although I am not a fan of her acting skills, she did act surprisingly well in that movie. The second half when her husband takes her back to her BF was kind of unreal and Salman over acted big time at the ending, but all in all a great movie. I never gave it a thought if it was a story SLB came out with all by himself or he had some creative writers. Turns out neither.
Few days ago I was watching an appallingly bad movie on Netflix called 'The Bengali Night' or 'La Nuit Bengali' starring a young, lanky, fresh Hugh Grant (it was his first starring role) and a sweet and chirpy Supriya Pathak. The movie came out in 1988. Half way through I started to feel like I have heard this story before, the big palatial mansion the girl's family had, though much less ostentatious than SLB's sets, and the split level library...I instantly thought about Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. A quick search later it all fell into place. SLB borrowed freely and heavily from one of the most under rated yet greatest love stories of the 20th century, a true life event and never gave credit to anyone.
The love story happened in early 1930's in Bengal between a remarkably smart and sweet 16 year old girl named 'Maitreyi Devi' and a young Romanian writer and philosopher named Mircea Eliade. He came to study Philosophy with Maitreiyi's dad Surendranath Dasgupta, a renowned philosopher himself. These two young people fell deeply in love and carried on their secret affair behind the back of everyone. When found out, Eliade was thrown out of Devi's home. He went back to Europe and wrote a gut wrenching, semi-erotic love story named 'Maitreyi' or 'La Nuit Bengali' in French, a very thinly veiled account of their romance in 1933.
What happened next was much more interesting than the movie Hum Dil..., in the movie Ajay Devgan's character tries to return his bride to her lover. In reality, after her heartbreak, Maitreyi picked herself up, grew up, got top notch education and became one of the most respected writer in Bengali literature. She also got married, no, not to Eliade. In fact they did not meet for more than 40 years. All this time, Devi was not aware of the existence of the book 'Maitreyi' or 'La Nuit Bengali'. It had not been translated to English yet. When she found out, she was kind of hurt by all the description of sexual intimacy between the lead characters in the book. So, she went ahead and wrote her own version of the book called 'Na Hanyate' or 'It does not Die' in the early 70's. In 1974, she went to University of Chicago as a visiting scholar where Eliade was a professor at that time. She went to his office and confronted him on this matter. He promised not to release his book in English in her life time, a promise which he kept.
Now University of Chicago press offers these two books as a bundle, kind of a 'He said, she said' story so one gets the full picture. Both books are fascinating, available on amazon.com, or if you live in NYC, walk into Strand and get an english copy of 'La Nuit Bengali'. Shame on you SLB for borrowing and butchering a great love story with your cheesy ending and never giving credit where credit was definitely due.