Saturday, February 07, 2009


Cast: Abhay Deol, Mahie Gill, Kalki Koechlin
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Runtime: 160 min. (Citation needed)
Rating: **
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical

        Dear reader, I might have said it before but I wish to admit it again just for the sake of the moment – I cannot stand ghazals for their self-important tragic ramble beats me. The previous versions of Devdas I have seen (Mr. Raghavaiah’s in 1953, Mr. Roy’s in 1955 and Mr. Bhansali’s in 2002) but not enjoyed much, for they follow that same tired arc, which I either manage only to be repulsed by or end up snickering at. I never could manage to be caught up in the objective passion with which those filmmakers narrated the doom, and instead I would be left standing outside half-clueless and half-amused, not feeling for the guy but instead judging him for the pathetic and stupid loser he was. For that matter I admit, I happen to judge most of the guys inside and outside of ghazals. So for sure, I believe now I might not be the ideal kind of audience for any sort of rendition of the Devdas universe. So that is the kind of slate I would like to start our discussion on.
        What does Mr. Kashyap bring to the table? The same tired third person condescending view which I share for the character but don’t make a huge fuss about. The film does, and I choose to believe that is a problem. Devdas, in all his forms (I haven’t read the book and I hope I never do either), is a man as much blowing in the winds of his fate as he is singing to the tunes of his own self. We all do, and he does too. The difference is we take it in our stride, he doesn’t. Guess he’s too full of himself for that, and this kind of loss to fate brushes him the most wrong manner possible. So, puking on him, and making a jab at deconstructing one of Indian culture’s long-standing piece are the only things up the film’s sleeve? As a matter of fact, yes, it is. Does it trivialize him, subjectively, which I believe is the film’s main ambition? Oh yeah.
        Dev D isn’t as much about narrating a tale as it is about asking you to observe how it derides him, and in the process slide in some kind of messages for us. (The previous films were narrations). Now, why do I find myself so sure here? For that I would have no describe for you not the plot but the structure itself. It is like the hyperlink movie you see, where multiple fates meet and intertwine. It involves placards upfront mentioning whose tale it is – Paro (Ms. Gill), Chandramukhi (Ms. Koechlin) and Devdas (Mr. Deol) in that order. In Paro, we are given a glimpse of Chandramukhi even before her tale is narrated, and later we see how she arrives there for our glimpse when her tale is being narrated. So it is the kind of game filmmakers like to amuse themselves with. The game where they get to be God, or a puppeteer any which way you look at it. You would remember that Yuva was a script penned by Mr. Kashyap, and that is the basic template that is referred to here. If reader, you had watched that film you would have a very fair idea what I’m referring to here.
        So the film is intended to be artificial, to begin with. The object of focus of the initial length of the film is to somehow arrive at this intertwining. To an extent, it does provide a rather convincing portrayal of the little affair involving Paro and Devdas. But only to an extent. And the script is what fails the film here, but what saves it is a rather judicious usage of the music and imagery. The music is the soul of the film, and along with Mr. Deol the film’s biggest strengths. Paro stares into the mirror for a considerable stretch of time, and the song plays behind, and we realize she is gone from Devdas for good.
        But let us speak of Chandramukhi’s arc, which involves the usage of one of those MMS scandals that caught the imagination of the urban populace not so long ago. What happens, is for you to be discovered. Why that happens, is because the film had to get it done with so that she could end up as one of those call girls in Delhi. Why her mother does what she does, is a question I am not in the possession of an answer of, and I choose to believe it is a perfunctory development just as her entire tale is.
        The movie, here, I believe, is making a statement upon the sleazy hypocrite us. It is quite common knowledge how girls in MMS-porn are referred to, and what Mr. Kashyap is suggesting here is that it is not her but us who are the morally wrong, who cause the demand of such material, who download and enjoy it. Point taken, Mr. Kashyap, but isn’t that kinda rhetoric? I didn’t happen to follow the DPS-MMS scandal any closely other than a cursory glance at the headlines, but I believe nobody judged the girl but the boy in question. So, kind of a moot point here, it seems, Mr. Kashyap is hurling on us. Oh yeah, just in case you were wondering, he is using it all to amuse his audience too. But never mind.
        The thing is, and here I quote from whatever I have read about it over the years, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s book was drenched in social realism of those times. The latest by Mr. Bhansali was kinda hanging in between with nothing to say on that front, and what Mr. Kashyap intends to do is score there, any which way. Of course, I really didn’t learn anything, or get a single insightful opinion on any matter other than that times have changed and a woman can stick it up to a man and repay him in spades. Dear reader, the film seems to stand up for feminist issues, or any other, which I might have overlooked and if you did find any kindly let me know. I would be indebted.
        Anything else on the table? Oh yeah. But I would choose to mention the two films that kept circling in my head the whole time. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Beowulf. A major source for the humor in these films is the protagonist’s private parts playing hide-and-seek behind all sorts of objects placed in the foreground. I chuckled in the latter, when the sword obscured the part and then somebody’s arm, but I’m not exactly the biggest fan of such humor. Sex is an important part of lives, and I wouldn’t necessarily stand in line to encourage chuckling at the expense of it. Marlene Dietrich, the great German actress, once commented that In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact. I concede it to her that she never really got around to know India, because sex to us is still the thing. Not to talk about it, but to refer to it in whispers so loud they end up being more audible than actual conversations. Dev D is laced with such humor, where we are supposed to laugh when Paro is aroused during a phone conversation with Devdas. There’s exaggerated innuendo when Paro is drawing water from a pump, and the sequence has been included for no other purpose than what it alludes to. We would burst with such references in our school days, specifically in our eighth and ninth grades where we never would run out of steam. I ask, does it reflect our attitude towards sex, both male and female? Oh yeah. Is that supposed to be an insightful remark by the film? Get outta here. Mr. Kashyap is making no such thing on the topic except for being amused by it, and trying to amuse us in the process. All such moments received huge laughter from the audiences and Mr. Kashyap has used it for that very purpose. Remember No Smoking, and the fate that poor film met? This is insurance folks. The film is smart, but so were we in our eighth grade. Any other kind of humor is rare, though a special mention ought to be made of the moment when the pimp introduces himself.
        I should choose to speak about the film strictly from a formal point of view as well, for Mr. Kashyap seems to have had invested so much of his effort in that direction. Occasionally the film does explode into a fit of energy, through slam-bang background score, but any general flow the film has is only intermittent. There’re scenes quite stunning, sometimes moving, and sometimes interesting but they feel assembled, and not properly woven together. The editing, I believe, is a major sore point. The film feels as if it is running in the moment, where scenes often feel strung apart, and any fancy notion that Mr. Kashyap intended it is giving him too much credit. To me at various moments in the film, it felt like he cut a second too early from a frame, rather than soaking it. Devdas and Chandramukhi embrace each other, and as soon as they do, the film jumped elsewhere a bit too early for my liking. Such cuts left me largely underwhelmed. It is amplified even more when the thin blanket of humor under which the film conceals itself wears off, and it kinda dries up draining all the energy. Here’s where the film’s twin strengths keep it running – Mr. Deol and the music. This is an infinitely subtle actor, someone who is not readily decipherable, and whose depths of emotions always have that touch of ambiguity we feel when we come across folks in our life.
        Mr. Raja Sen of does employ a word – trippy, which I would seek to borrow. We all are individuals and we love trips of our minds, and we all love living there. It is so warm and cozy. Dev D has taken it too far, the film seems to say, and that is a problem. But we all know that, don’t we? We do strange little things with our lives, and fantasize that they would envelope everything for the rest of it. But we end up on track. The film suggests to its protagonist, at the end, Grow up you have loads of time. Is it talking to the teenagers of our country, just like Yuva? I don’t know, and I suspect I’m desperately clutching for messages where they do not exist, and if they do they elude me. I look back at my eighth grade, and I’m not sure I’m too proud of that me. Of course I have grown up. I hope for all the teenagers to whom Mr. Kashyap has directed the film towards do grow up too. And while everybody’s busy growing up, I hope Mr. Kashyap, the fine filmmaker he is, does return to making better films for films as this one here might be beneath him.
        Speaking of messages, the film ropes in the incident of the BMW mishap. That reminds of me of the poster I saw of a film titled The Stoneman Murders. It is one of the more fascinating cases in our crime history, and the tale of how the guy was nabbed courtesy serendipity is quite something. Whatever they make of such a promising premise, I hope they don’t make a bloody mess of it too.
        Oh a final thing. Mr. Kashyap ends Dev D on just about the perfect note, and I applaud.

Note: A friend of mine made a terrific observation. The first frame after the intermission is an obscure shot of a monkey walking on a bridge, and it serves no other purpose than to provide a buffer for all those viewers who’re just returning from the break, and need time to settle in their seats. I concur, and I intend to give a high-five both to the movie and my friend.


srikanth said...

Fair. I concur. I'll put up my review this evening.

The first word I could think after the credits is "engineered".

Deol is a treasure.

Gaurang said...

For me, it was an incredible/dazzling/jaw dropping experience....
All the pitfalls/drawbacks were nitpicking when I weigh them against the EXPERIENCE.... The complete 1st half had my jaw drop every second....
I was very familiar with the soundtrack... have been listening it for about 3 weeks.... and the moment every song kicks in I was on Cloud TEN :) .... THe songs are treated as setpieces... an emotional Whoa.... I just cant fuckin get over it.... I had one helluva time. Notable setpieces:
Of course the song of the year.EA..
with people in the theatre singing along it was an event boss... I too joined them after a while... The song has been shot awesomely, right from the patnaa ke presleys to Paro cutting loose on the dance floor to finally Dev boozing to the brim..vommiting and then collapsing... oh man I just cant stop gushing....
Next was that scene where Chanda gets ready for school.. she has that free spirit oozing in her.. her BF tapes her... all the school guys/gals stare/pass lewd comments and then she runs and the scene ends with her camoflaging/dissapearing in the light ...all this going on with the Yehi meri zindagi hai playing in BG.. WOW!!!
Next would be the Devs first trip with Pardesi playing in BG ..with the Three dudes dancing.. hehe.. insane stuff....
Then that sudden burst when Dev throws a glass on the wall with EA rock version blasting in the BG... I can go on and on... I will write something coherent about my take on the movie .... Right now I'm still reeling in the insane madness of DEV D ... THe most apt line about the experience would be the final line of Raja Sens review "Watch Dev D, get bombed, anf then go watch it again"
Another review I read which reffered DEV D more as a pop cutural phenomenon rather than deep study of the characters... I know u wont agree... but Wat does Tarantino do yaar.. creeate set pieces like scens where he can insert his terrific/insane/crazy dialogues ... And in Tarantino's own words "I like movies which U can go to @ friday night and have a blast" ..Phew

man in the iron mask said...

I’m not sure Tarantino was referring to films like Dev D when he mentioned a Friday night blast. What he is referring to is films vastly intelligent and films so well made at a formal level it might draw tears out of one’s eyes.
Dev D might not be anywhere remotely near to those standards. I have BIG problems with the way the film was framed, and edited, and all that neon lighting stuff in the end feels less atmospheric and more perfunctory. But then, never mind. I hope to read your discussion of this film.

- Satish Naidu

Gaurang said...

I knew you would rebuff the Tarantino analogy :-) No arguments on that. You have a much much better outlook of cinema of the West....
Anyways, I'm really bad @ analysing films, I can feel stuff, but cant find the apt words to express it.. and sometimes bad choice of sentences/words/analogies ruin it yaar!!!
Although I'll be sending you a write-up, describing my experiece.

!Teq-uila Del Zapata said...

some observation I made:
Looks like Mr kaschyap is a wannabe.
Some one told me No smoking is a remake,if its so, its a pathetic one, for original idea, it would have scored some pennies, but otherwise its worst of its kind.
He copies two sequences as is, in fact three as my brother says, one from requiem, when connelly moves out of lift, second from trainspotting the face in loo, then starting scene of chanda in same as manner from "Pi".

Why does a single picture has to include a "Tragedy: devdas" then a MMS case and then on the top of it BMW murder case. why does Mr Kashchyap want to milk everything in a single go, that looks like three movies to me, worst kind of thing indian cinema maker is doing these days.
The dancers are performing techno break dance on "haryanvi song" why why why???
Cheap humor mostly on raunchy statements? ok thats kool, even we do pass lewd comments, but that is between friends, we dont go on shoving it on everyone's face.
Why does he loved paro and why he doesn't? or does he loved nothing or does he just loved the goggles he was wearing? is that some kind of supper gimmick shit, which i fail to follow.
all i say is that this is movie I can hate very well.

Neeraj Jain said...

Pathetic Editing almost kills the movie. Director tries to pass social messages through weak sequences, be it BMW Hit and Run or DPS scandal. Some scenes are just fillers (like monkey stroll after interval or Abhay getting beaten for empty pocket, Collecting money from Coin box when car hits the concrete or complete chat joint drama where chanda visits. Scenes where servant is being bashed by paro or where drunkard dev over hears convo. between paro's father and servant (kind of conspiracy logic to break the relationship) is all but weak plots. Couldn't give more than 2 stars!

Completely agree with Review (self appraisal part) But still genre for this is different (i am still thinking of it)


The Ancient Mariner said...

I disagree. I felt like your review came out of more from your basic disliking of tragic stories than being an actual unbiased review.

I loved Dev D thoroughly. there are weakpoints in the movie. That's why its not a masterpiece. But its a good movie. Its a brilliant experiment. and the music is truly awesome! over all a great 2 hour experience for a movie goer...