Warning: I have never written a movie review before, so this may not be too inspiring a masterpiece. Also, this is not expected to be a literary marvel, nor an idealistic viewpoint and definitely not humorous. Basically, I am not that gifted.
So why did I choose Dev D for this rite of initiation? Well – while critical reviews of this film tended to border on either extreme – the Indian movie-going public seems to have agreed with me finally, giving Bollywood its second hit of the year and reinstating some hope in me as to the maturity of the audience. The hope, which I had lost, when movies like Parzania, Amir, A Wednesday, Mumbai Meri Jaan floated into oblivion without any public recognition. Of course, the movie I’m going to talk about is not in the same league as the above movies but I had not expected even this dose of realism to work. Especially when it was contending with history. Considering that Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Devdas remains possibly one of the greatest tales of unrequited love ever told in Indian cinema and remade well over 10 times in various languages, it takes some courage to pull it off again. And I salute that bravado.
After director Anurag Kashyap’s last attempt “No Smoking” – a dark, ponderous and seemingly unfathomable disaster – my expectation meter was set rather low when I walked into the theatre. But all for the better. What Kashyap excels in here is the characterization of the lead (and even not-so-lead) players. All of them evolve from the unidimensionality etched in our memories – here there is nothing in black or white. Kashyap shows us varying shades of grey and darkness - even in the humble Sikh cab driver. Lest the audience feels good about themselves, Chanda (Chandramukhi, played by newcomer Kalki Koechlin) reminds us that when people labeled her a whore (reference to the DPS RKPuram MMS scandal), they forgot that those who watched and shared the MMS were probably more perverted than those who made them. Indeed, towards the end – when Kashyap’s filmmaking threatens to paint a world so real and so black that no light seems to filter in – I tell my friend sitting beside me that Kashyap would’ve wasted a brilliant effort if he ended it there. But he didn’t. Thankfully.
I assume everyone is familiar with the basic story so I won’t waste any time on that. I’ll just dwell on what struck me as interesting and brave filmmaking. Apart from the clever camerawork and the three guitar playing–tap dancing-drink-induced dream sequence over-lookers, that is.
What impressed me most was how the contradictions in the main characters are superbly brought out. So while rich spoilt kid Dev amuses himself by asking for compromising photos of his childhood sweetheart Paro (played by Mahi Gill – isn’t there an award for best casting director or something?) over the Internet, he has difficulty in coming to terms with her obvious sexuality when she comes onto him and accuses her of infidelity. Paro, unlike her predecessors, doesn’t grovel or plead with Dev, either. Though she may know that Dev has some inherent goodness, she obviously knows that he doesn’t really care for her either. No lighting of the eternal lamps here. And while the married Paro will still wash Dev’s clothes and give him a bath and even let him touch her, she desists from taking off her clothes or kissing him. And she doesn’t look back when Dev, in a fit of misguided machismo, pushes her out. Well done, Paro. And take that, all ye fluffy birds. And go kill yourself, Chanda’s altruistic father, for not supporting your little girl when she most needed you.
Diehard romantics and followers of Devdas’ eternal love theory should definitely give this movie a miss – as Kashyap threatens to shatter that myth. For even Dev here realizes in a final frenzy of introspection that all those fluffy notions of “love” were nothing more than probably a physical attraction. Just the concept of realizing your one true eternal love shouldn’t be that important at all, in the greater scheme of things. If it were so important, then he probably shouldn’t have let Paro get married. Or pine afterwards. Or justify that utterly irresponsible drink- smoke pot- drink- sleep on foreign whore’s bed- drink- screw up- call Paro- drink- call home for money- drink some more routine. This is where previous renditions of the story have fallen short. For they have tended to glorify the “losing your love, drinking to forget” part by casting superstars like Shahrukh in the part of Devdas, and chosen to overlook many of the evident shortcomings in the male protagonist.
Some of the dialogues and situations are worth a mention as well– a far cry from Shahrukh’s hammy “babuji ne kaha paro ko chod do, paro ne kaha sharaab chod do, maa ne kaha haveli chod do…” types. So we have Dev’s father telling him that his stay in London has changed his Punjabi taste – from whisky to vodka, chicken to fish and well-nourished women to stick-thin apparitions. Or Chanda telling Dev that calling her a randy is more appropriate than a “commercial sex worker”. Or Chunni wickedly asking Dev relay chalta hai na before embarking on a vodka-whisky-white rum-black rum- no gin spree. All priceless moments.
Overall, I guess the heady dose of realism that Anurag Kashyap injects into this movie is why it ticks for me. And the non-tacky dialogue. And the clever use of songs and innovative background scores. And Abhay Deol. The actor seems to turn whatever he touches into gold. I had long decided to watch any and every movie that features him and the rewards have been good – from Socha Na Tha to Ahista Ahista, Honeymoon Travels, Manorama 6 Feet Under, Ek Chalis ki Last Local, and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye – not one movie has disappointed me. Maybe it’s his choice and maybe it’s his luck. But the charm seems to be working for now. Go see Dev D, if you have not.