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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.

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