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Dev D
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by Abhishek Bandekar

"Neither Shaken…Nor Stirred"
3 stars

What is it about Devdas, Saratchandra’s titular tragic loser of a hero, which has appealed Indian filmmakers time and again to merit over ten filmed adaptations? Our continued obsession with the moping coward drinking his way to self-destruction, finds yet another avatar in enfant terrible Anurag Kashyap’s cool-titled Dev.D. Kashyap’s version is not only a contemporary take on the novel(to be frank, the film seems to be a take on Bhansali’s film than the actual literary text), but is more importantly Kashyap’s own ‘reading’ of the story and its characters. That ‘reading’ has fairly interesting results, but the film overall doesn’t add up to a compelling watch.

Kashyap’s Devdas is more pathetic than he has ever been before. Abhay Deol’s Dev(played with an effortlessness that is becoming his signature), the son of a Chandigarh based industrial tycoon, traverses the checkpoints of egocentrism, chauvinism and sexism before he begins his drug-fueled(liquor not being the vice of the day) sadomasochist downward spiral. This Dev doesn’t mind having a romp in a chicken-coop with a boobs-in-a-blouse he’s just met, but has the audacity of a prude to question the chastity of a sexually assertive Paro.

Kashyap’s Paro(Mahie Gill in an impressive debut) is an unbridled bundle of earthy feminism, like she’s never been presented before. This Paro doesn’t mind ‘touching herself’ as she talks to Dev over the phone or taking the lead in orchestrating a daybreak ‘quickie’ in the open fields. This is the problem in Kashyap’s reading- in his world of Devdas, which is unidimensionally seen only through the prism of sex, the tragic hero has no redeeming qualities while the heroine is a strong assertive woman that you continually laud. This would’ve been fine if the narrative had given equal space to both Dev and Paro but, in what is another problem with Kashyap’s rendition, when Paro exits Dev’s life, she literally exits the film! What we’re left with instead is not a triangle of doomed lovers, but a damned couple in Dev and Chandramukhi. Kashyap re-reads Bhansali’s film and fashions a love story between Dev and Chandramukhi, who by the way owes her name to the Bhansali film as well(I guess this is also Kashyap’s way of connecting to his audience base that would be more familiar with Bhansali’s film than the Bengali text).

Kashyap’s Chandramukhi(an unexciting Kalki Koechlin) is more ‘fleshed’ out than she has ever been. This commercial-sex-worker has a back-story centered around an MMS scandal(handled sensitively, minus the sleaze that can accompany such a very Bhandarkar-ish track), before she picks herself up and becomes the multi-lingual Chanda, a ‘randi’ (slut) who doesn’t mind being one. In a narrative that projects Dev as an emotional ‘slut’, Chanda wears that tag on her sleeve and manifests it in the physical sense.

While I’ve delineated the three main characters in linear detail, they stumble onto each other in a non-linear sequence of events. So when Paro exits, Chanda enters. And it is only when Chunnilal(Dibyendu Bhattacharya lending a quiet humanity to his character) brings a drunken Devdas to Chanda that we finally meet Dev.D. In Kashyap’s reimagining, Chunnilal isn’t merely the device who brings Dev to Chanda…he becomes Chunni, Chanda’s pimp. It is this subtlety-be-damned elucidation of Kashyap’s interpretation of the text and its characters, an interpretation that seems to suggest that the supposedly timeless drunken coward lover can only find expression in the contemporary scenario as a rich and aimless manchild(yet to be weaned; forever in quest of a bosom) driven purely by lust, that make the proceedings detached.

I wanted to like the film, wanted to applaud Kashyap’s modern revisiting of the story. But Kashyap’s account seems bent on distancing the viewer from Devdas as much as possible. One could’ve justified this with the theory of the Brechtian alienation(is that what the three dancers were supposed to do?), but then the two female characters are such flag-bearers in their reserves of strength and assertive femininity. If nothing Kashyap’s version will go down as one of the most pro-feminist staging of the text, presenting in Paro and Chanda two mature women aware of the biased sexual standards of a patriarchal society and willing to move on without any regrets whatsoever. Paro, in fact, has three wonderful scenes that are really the highlights of the film. Early on, when she’s censurably humiliated by Dev for attempting to give him a handjob, Paro vents out her anger on a handpump! Later one might think that Paro’s resigned to her fate by agreeing to a marriage with an older man with children, but instead at the wedding she breaks into an impromptu jig, unleashing the uninhibited girl within who has simply…moved on. But what is the defining moment of the film comes in the second half when Paro meets Dev at a seedy hotel, and moves around doing casual chores and at the same time denying the sex that Dev hopes for. A complex Freudian scene this; Kashyap at once brings to fore that what Dev has really been looking for all his adult life- a lover who can mother him. And since he never finds ‘her’, he self-destructs.

So when Dev suddenly has a moment of clarity towards the end and instead opts for a ‘better’ life, I was left saying, “eh!” Why am I supposed to suddenly connect with a character that the film has for the last 120 minutes trying to make me disconnect from? Why must I bother whether he lives or dies? That is Dev.D’s biggest failing. We knew that Devdas will die in the previous filmed adaptations and yet we cried when the moment finally came upon him. In Kashyap’s Dev.D, Devdas lives…but we still don’t care. We never cared for Devdas all along!

Somewhere towards the climax, Devdas becomes an extension of Anurag Kashyap- a man who embraces the second chance offered to him, a man who embraces Chandramukhi instead…a man who embraces life. I’m not saying Kashyap has no right to be happy, but films are not blogs. First No Smoking(which I thought was brilliant in more ways than one) and now Dev.D. Why do I feel like I’m reading blog entries when I see Anurag Kashyap films?

Shot beautifully by Rajeev Ravi and with an amazing ranged soundtrack(Amit Trivedi), Dev.D is your quirky-movie fix at the movie hall, but nothing more. And that is a tragedy!

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originally posted: 03/17/10 18:02:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Venice International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Venice International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/20/10 Bean Dev D felt like anything but a blog entry. One of the better Hindi films I've seen in ages. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Anurag Kashyap

Written by

  Abhay Deol
  Mahie Gill
  Kalki Koechlin

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