Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dev.D :: a review

Documenting B- grade sleaze with A-grade class

There is an insanity in Anurag Kashyap’s eyes that craves to experiment with raw human emotions. The reason this yearning of his appeals to me is because it attempts to break the cliché that Bollywood is so infamous for. Be it the overrated Chopras, Bharjatyas or Johars, everyone invariably uses glitz and glam to cook up just another love story. Sure, the variable component is always how many karods of ruppaiyyah they spent in putting up ridiculously unrealistic sets. Whatever the premise, the bottom line is always the same – a simple love story. But then isn’t there more to it than looking at life through rainbow colored glasses? Is there not a strand of our existence that sits up, yawns, scratches the bum carelessly and says – ‘Was that really worth the success it got?’ I have asked myself this question umpteen times and 90% of the responses were always an uncertainty. The tragic reality of aam Indian’s taste in movies is that the wrong movies are heralded as super hits. The consequential effect this has is that year after year we continue being subjected to the same old familiar BS we adore with such reverence. Maybe it was that uncontrollable reek that made me watch ‘Dev.D’ in the first place even if it meant having to re-visit a story already told.

The first thing I had heard from here and there about ‘Dev.D’ was that it was a ‘modern take’ on Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s famous novella ‘Devdaas’. It was only after seeing it that I realized as to how it was much more than that. ‘Devdaas’ is a script that has been visited twice in B-Town’s history. Once by the legendary sobbing superstar Dileep Kumar sa’ab and the second time by the stammering success story Shah Rukh Khan. I have seen both of them and found that both of them stuck to the basic premise. Arrogant rich boy Dev finds his fancies in childhood sweetheart Paro. Being of different economic backgrounds there is serious resistance to this blossoming romance and so Paro is married off to someone else while Dev drinks himself to death while finding comfort in nautch girl Chandramukhi’s court. Dev eventually dies a heart broken lover without the shadow of Paro’s love. As much as I had expected ‘Dev.D’ to be similar to this plot what I ended up seeing was superlatively refreshing to say the least.

From what I could fathom the only similarities between the third version of the novel and the former two were the names of the main characters. Apart from that everything else has been blown to smithereens in Kashyap’s take. In ‘Dev.D’, Devdaas goes from being a character in a novel to a metaphor of any cocky young man. Our Dev isn’t afraid to ask his Paro if she touches herself. He isn’t scared to ask her if she could send him a topless photograph of herself via the Internet and he doesn’t flinch calling his father by his first name. And Paro? Well she is not the timid and submissive damsel as seen in the previous versions either. This one actually ties a mattress to her cycle and heads to the farms for a session of mad monkey lovemaking with her Dev. She photographs herself topless, gets the film developed, scans the photograph and emails it to Dev in London. She isn’t afraid to grab his arms and smother him with kisses at the first opportunity. The list of such brazenly relevant modifications to Chattopadhyay’s original work goes on. The Dev in this feature is not so much ‘in love’ with his Paro as much as he is obsessed by the idea of loving her. He yearns for sex – plain and simple. No expensive duets to be designed for this emotion to come through. No colorful dancers gyrating in unison in the middle of a sarson ka khet. No sir. It is this direct no frills approach to human attraction that I found the most refreshing. He is a clueless loser who is a victim of his own self. Period. What is more? The ‘friendly’ Chunnilal in the original is a cheap pimp in this one who ends up being a close liaison with Dev in his visits to Chanda’s brothel.

Kashyap goes on breaking more clichés with the introduction of Chanda – the seductress. If Bhansali’s Chanda was an artist who sang melodious sonnets and referred to Devdaas as ‘aap’, Kashyap’s Chanda is a high school drop out with a notorious MMS sex scandal behind her. She then becomes a prostitute who indulges in all kinds of carnal pleasures including raunchy phone sex with those who are willing to pay. Even here, Kashyap keeps the character realistic and straight as an arrow. No emotional upheavals to put up with. No sensuous and humanitarian dialogs with a drunken Dev. Nope. This Chanda cares for Dev in a way only one heart broken soul can do with another – with silence. Kashyap breaks further moulds with Dev’s character too. Unlike his previous avatars, Dev isn’t hooked only to alcohol. The new Dev.D is into all kinds of highs. Everything that can be swallowed, sniffed in, sucked in and guzzled is on Dev’s list of ways to ‘forget Paro’ who he refers to as a ‘slut’ at one point. Could it get rawer than this? Unlikely I feel.

One can easily argue that Dev.D is nothing more than garish sleaze dished out in a format that is similar to the original Devdaas but I would have to respectfully disagree. It takes a bold film maker to get his female protagonist to say she has to use the potty when the male protagonist wants to undress her during a bout of ‘pity sex’. A feat, I am sure, no ‘established actress’ can mouth even if her life depended on it. It is in things like this that the movie goes from being a B-class dish out to an A-class path breaker. If not anything, what Kashyap has managed to do is show Bollywood his middle finger when it comes to documenting romance. I can safely say no one will ever dare to make another remake of ‘Devdaas’ after watching ‘Dev.D’ since it’s a benchmark too high to surpass.

That said, ‘Dev.D’ too has its share of flaws. I did feel that the climactic portion of the movie could have been handled with a lot more grit than what was eventually executed. Dev’s penultimate decision seems too quick and abrupt given his trail of poor decision making up to that point.

Music is an absolute delight. Out of the 18(!) numbers in the album each one is a masterpiece. Composer Amit Trivedi sure has a bright future ahead of him if he keeps creating such compositions. My personal favorites include ‘Dhol Yaara Dhol’, ‘Nayan Tarse’, ‘Yeh Duniya Badi Gol Hai’, ‘Pardesi’ and of course, the mass favorite ‘Emosanal Atyaachar’. Grade-A music that only makes the goings on all the more delightful.

Performances belong primarily to Abhay. This young man is making excellent decisions in his role selections and is quickly becoming a metaphor for ‘hatke’ cinema genre. I liked him in ‘Ek Chalis Ki Last Local’, ‘Manorama Six Feet Under’, ‘Oye Lucky Lucky Oye’ and now ‘Dev.D’. A very strong performer with a wonderful future ahead of him. Mahie Gill puts up a good performance as the hopelessly in love and clueless about Dev’s terrible attitude Paro. Her eyes speak louder than her voice and that was something which I liked the most. She captures the quintessential desi girl with apt brilliance. Newcomer Kalki Koechlin is a surprise! This French-Indian actress does a terrific job as Chanda, the misguided and abused young girl who is still coming to terms with a lost family. Her Tamil is quite eloquent and on further research I found out that she does speak it fluently.

‘Dev.D’ stands out like an eyesore of a scarecrow in the middle of a familiarly patterned sugarcane crop. A tad ugly perhaps to the unfamiliar eye but definitely unique. And for just that, Kashyap’s unique take on the timeless novel has my vote.


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