Monday, March 2, 2009


Devdas is Bollywood’s most decorated lover. The reason for him being an inspiration for most of the directors is I guess not his loss, but his tendency for self-destruction. A story that exceeds the height of tragedy is likely to become stuff of legend. Bhansali’s larger-than-life portrayal of Devdas was aesthetic excellence, but Anurag Kashyap imagines that had Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay written Devdas in today’s time, the reason for Dev’s demise would have been libidinal drives and arrogance, and not social differences. Above all, Kashyap succeeds in capturing the isolation of Devdas.

Apart from being a bleaker version among all the previous attempts to capture Devdas on celluloid, Dev D is a wonderful movie-going experience; more so because being Indian we don’t much get to see thought provoking cinema …ok, let me leave intellectual hunger of certain cinemagoers aside… we don’t even get a new experience (and we get either feminist or cliché-ridden patriotic films in the name of serious cinema). Film-making in Bollywood is just packaging. They make products these days, and not movies. Because one love-story is just a reinvented cliché from another mind-numbing film, there are many surprises in Dev D for an Indian viewer. The relationships between the characters filled with anger, egoism, sexual drives gives a very different facet of lovers, far from the image of lovers Bollywood has created (not that all relationships are meant to be fractured, but this was believable) something which reminded me of Faith Akin’s Head-on. Screen characters in Hindi films are becoming one-dimensional, shallow, and artificial – more desperate to flaunt their well-toned bodies in designer outfits than showing genuine humanness; and when they fall in love and sing those high-budget songs, they look like they are still advertising (maybe because of corporate funding). So Dev D comes as a breath of fresh air just like Dil Chahta Hai came few years ago. We like such films for their honesty. By honest, I don’t mean that a film should portray love in all its tragic incarnations, but the situations should at least submit to the character’s becoming. For instance, there came a film called Laaga Chunari Mein Daag in which Rani Mukerji enters deeper into the gritty world of prostitution, and in the end to give a stereotypical happy ending a prince charming enters her life and tells her that he cannot live without her. It must have disappointed a real prostitute sitting in the cinema-hall watching the film because she knows to her guts that prince charming exists only in fairy tales.

Anyways, the structure of Dev D explains the transformation of the three leads in episodes. Among many funny sequences of the film, the trumpet band that received Dev on his return to India and followed him behind his car akin to Emir Kusturica’s Once Upon A Time There Was A Country was amusing to watch. Dev’s crude relationship with his father showed in initial scenes opened a window to his psyche for the viewer to later understand his fall. Going by previous films of Kashyap who is known for dark films devoid of any melodrama, I don’t think he wants the viewer to sympathize for Devdas like Bhansali did. I think he is just observing Dev’s demise and expects the viewer to do the same. After being in the world of drug-induced hallucination, when Dev experiences a near-death experience: that is the first time we see him awake – an epiphany, maybe! It is through Chanda that the torn-apart Dev learns to come to terms with reality; not because she is an angel, but because he starts showing readiness (off course, she is always there whenever Dev needs her despite having her own demons to mend). In fact, Dev D is the most positive version of Devdas ever filmed as it allows Dev to resurrect. And finally, the best moment in the film was “Emotional Atyachar”! The song is performed in such an unrehearsed, matter-of-fact manner that it made everyone laugh out loud in the cinema hall, and it was meant to show the departure of Dev from his known reality.

Though a little uneven at some places, Dev D is finely made, and it is his first script since Satya and Kaun? that I liked. I didn’t like No smoking. It was a nice try to capture the disorientation of the protagonist through surrealism, something which very few have done before in Hindi films. Some scenes were really inventive and amusing, but it still had something missing. I don’t know what because I am not a film student. I guess you have to be David Lynch at the height of your powers to capture the essence of Kafka. I am not comparing them; I am just suggesting that it was Kashyap’s first attempt at something which Lynch has mastered so well in decades of surrealist filmmaking (best example being Mulholland Dr.).

Maybe in time we will see Kashyap giving us a breath-taking kafkaesque mindbender...

5 comments:

Madhuri said...

I would have liked to watch Dev D, but I will have to wait to get back to Mumbai before doing that. It certainly looks interesting.I hated Bhansali's rendition of Devdas, but the idea of a man rotting after love is interesting from so many angles.

It is not only bollywood cinema that suffers from the lack of realism. I suppose most popular cinema is about escaping reality into a dream world. In India, a lot of dreaming is still about fastness, opulence and cinema fulfills that need. But it is obvious that there is a generation that is beginning to get tired of it - that is why these movies generate very little excitement at home, and get far more revenues in the west where they are seen as a change from the pseudo-intellectualism which is the escape route that Hollywood follows.
On your comments about Laaga Chunri mein Daag (I have not seen it yet) - have you watched Fellini's Notti Di Cabiria - it is a lovely movie on the same theme. Strangely, Rani Mukherjee reminds me of Masina.

Jigar said...

I don't have any qualms with the dream-sellers of bollywood. I remember seeing Kal Ho Na Ho more than once in theatre and have noticed how carefully the confusion and anxiety of falling in love is made simple and ready-to-serve. And how charmingly they have decorated preity zinta to keep the viewers (males probably) distracted from noticing the impossibility of the world they create. Needless to say, I enjoyed the experience.
While escapist cinema provides good entertainment, problem is that most of the films in bollywood are just that!

But the recent releases are horrifying - too confused in the points they are trying to make, filled with forced patriotism and unnecessary social issues just for the heck of it, too coarse in their humor.... In fact, I have decided to write another post on the few audience-insulting bollywood films I have had a previlidge to watch in last few months!

Haven't seen Notti Di Cabiria. Hope it will be more faithful to the theme than Laaga Chunri mein Daag (which you need'nt see if you haven't!)

chhaya said...

see, bollywood belives in escapism.
or,its far more potimistic of human nature.we always has happy ending n that too not fron the effort of the characters but through some miracle !
so,i liked ur view on 'laga chunari me daag'

'no smoking'--i didnt u.stand what the director wana say ( there r some symolic scenes though) but i heard that there are such schools of psycology who treat persons to this extream.

yet to see Dev-d,,,here many Gujarati columanists overwhelmed by it.

rakesh patel said...

Wow,
Jigar,
Really nice work to talk about the movies in such a true feeling manner...
still not agree with you about No smoking..
I feel it is the film which it self gives feelings that confuse...as in film the John feels...so Let's do not be harsh on Anurag's Effort...
This post inspired me to watch DevD..
Thanks again..

Jigar said...

@chhaya

being indian, we want things to conclude happily, and that is good too....but as you pointed out: it should be from "the effort of the characters"
so i think, this sums it up.

@Rakesh

Hello and welcome,
thanks for your comments on the write-ups. I am not being harsh on Kashyap...why should I? (I am just a blogger expressing my views and he is a working director) :)
I enjoyed No Smoking in certain scenes, but I felt it was a bit confused "in itself" (maybe becasue of the daring theme) which, I guess, came across as the confusion of john!
Anyways, Dev D succeds in what it wants to convey.