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Dev. D – ***

Posted by chakrabarti on April 13, 2010

Alert!! Spoilers included in thoughts below:

Boredom on Saturday led to Netflix browsing. Spent the afternoon watching Dev. D. The instant streaming version has really taken off, especially with respect to Bollywood, er, I mean, Hindi flicks. For the lazy ones among us, it saves us a trip to the local Indian store to get it on DVD (of course, the more ingenious ones among us still download it for free using some BitTorrent black magic).

Back to the movie, Dev D is an updated take on Sarat Chandra’s classic novel Devdas, recounted a half dozen times on the silver screen by now, portrayed over the years by actors as varied as P.C. Barua in the 1930s, Dilip Kumar in the mid-50s and most famously, Shah Rukh in the 2002-vintage caper/magnum opus. Devdas, shortened here to “Dev”, is played by Abhay Deol, who has been making a name for himself in the Hindi/English crossover genre in recent years. “Paro” is played by the gorgeous Mahie Gill, while “Chandramukhi” in this case happens to be the rather exotic Kalki Koechlin.  The backdrop to the story is not colonial Calcutta, but present-day Punjab and Delhi.

First, the good news: Dev D is miles, if not light years, ahead of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s clunker of a film, which basically had a bunch of hummable songs, extreme SRK-style hamming, and the pretty faces of Aishwarya and Madhuri somehow strung together in a plot. The editing and transitioning between scenes here is crisp, with the background score doing an excellent job at conveying the mood to the audience at any given moment. But the flaws are also pretty evident, with the whole background story on the prostitute Chandramukhi distracting from the main plot. Though well-intentioned, the whole MMS-scandal angle does not help advance the story. Would have been better served had it been shown in a movie about how women get into the call-girl business.

Abhay Deol does a pretty decent job as Dev, the spoiled brat who missed out on love and thus embarks on a path of self-destruction filled with alcohol, narcotics and rage. Deol succeeds in making us empathize with his plight through the duration of the movie, although his petulant behavior is something  that we haven’t seen portrayed in earlier versions of Devdas. Think the director here misses out on showing the melancholy side to the character that has been such an essential feature in the novel as well as previous versions onscreen. Mahie Gill fills the screen with her radiance, and justifies the director’s casting decision. She holds her own in several exchanges with Dev. Kalki Koechlin as “Leni” and later “Chanda/Chandramukhi” is a surprise package. Though the entire background of how she got initiated in the flesh trade seems to me to be a distraction, it does help demonstrate her acting chops. However, it’s not exactly clear why she falls for Dev, apart from the fact that the story dictates such an outcome. One suspects there shall be more good performances from her in times to come, especially in this genre, given her Western appearance and demeanor.

Overall, Dev D is eminently watchable, though falls short of the “Classics” category. Director Anurag Kashyap manages to take Sarat Chandra’s novel and creates a convincing narrative tailored to contemporary times,  though he gets sidetracked at times by things like the MMS-pornography shenanigans associated with Leni, and the hit-and-run incident at the end (similar to ones that have been reported over the years). Special note for the music and background score, especially Emotional Atyachaar that has pretty much caught on fire ever since the movie first released about a year ago.

6 Responses to “Dev. D – ***”

  1. pradster said

    I ,for one, think that the movie kicked ass. With that crude endorsement out of the way let me get to your review.
    You missed out the Story of Paro, the nouveau village girl who breaks more than a handful of cliches, finds her own ground and leaves the insecure Dev for a better, hopefully happier, life.
    What makes this rendition of the classic different from the others is that Dev is not the locus of the narrative, he is only the common link between the stories of Chanda and Paro. These are in effect three stories and not just one.
    The soundtrack is splendid just as well. One of the better movies to come out of bollywood in a long while.

  2. RBT said

    It is true that Paro is shown as much more of a strong and independent woman than in previous portrayals. No longer is she the helpless lass hitched to a wealthy business in a loveless marriage, rather she can hold her own over here, especially when trading barbs with a Dev who is down in the dumps, to borrow a “Sidhuism” 🙂

    The point I was trying to make was that this version of “Devdas” deviates from the book in important ways. Dev is no longer the central character, but rather a link between the two women as you put it.

  3. shounak ray said

    Well, nice take Rana. Agreeing with what you have said, I also felt that the movie ended up being way-too pretentious, overlooking subtleness. The whole tone is highly inconsistent-there are some very spectactular moments and then there are scenes that are handled with sheer immaturity. But perhaps, the biggest letdown for me, as you rightly put it, was the role of Chanda. Despite getting ample footage, her character evokes hardly any sympathy, probably because Kalki Koechlin isn’t equipped enough to handle the complexity of the character.

  4. Siva said

    There is also a telugu adapation of the novel made in the early fifties by the same name.This is an all time classic in telugu.The Protaganist was played by A.Nageswar rao who immortalized the character.Even Dilip Kumar has acknowledged that Nageswar rao potrayed the character better than him.

  5. pradster said

    Precisely my point, the new movie is a “re-imagining” and not a re-visiting of the classic, hence the deviations from the plot line, which I must say, I quite liked.

  6. Sourav Roy said

    The story of Devdas is a ready-made platform for endless psycho-analysis and study of contemporary social framework. The original tale relied on the notions of platonic love whereas Dev D is about physical love. It relies on on-face shock value! Devdas is a coward who is defeated by the social prejudices and carries the guilt throughout his life. He drinks in order to forget his cowardice. Dev D and all the other characters of Kashyap’s tale aren’t influenced by the social norms. Both stories thereby reflecting their specific era.

    The character sketching is unique. Dev is played to near perfection by Abhay Deol, whose performance is quiet and confident. Paro (Mahie Gill) is no more the sacrificial damsel who lives physically and mentally with different men. Kashyap also maintains the audience’s distance from the characters using the brilliance in script and smooth editing. He never allows us to sympathize with the characters, thereby shifting the focus from one to the other- a rare work of imagery, indeed!

    I strongly feel Kashyap could have gone with a better actress for Chanda (Kalki Koechlin). Chanda’s part was not exploited well. The psychological impact of the whole mms incident on her which leads to the suicide of her father never showed up. It was a perfect opportunity to tell the world about the feelings of a girl, and all the hardships she goes through because of one mms!


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