Yes, so it took me a year to finally get around to watching Dev.D. I have my reasons, though, and they are as follows:
#1 Devdas isn’t exactly my favorite story and when push comes to shove, I prefer comedy over drama.
#2 A lot of the same people praising Dev.D also fell all over themselves for Kaminey, which I thought was merely ‘meh.’
#3 Anurag Kashyap has denounced No Smoking, which I thought was brilliant, so I was unsure if I would like his new direction.
#4 I really – and I mean really – hated the promotions for Dev.D, which made the film seem like soft-core porn. The official site has been taken down but you could hear “phone sex” clips from Chanda, which just struck me as extremely tacky and exploitive, not to mention it alienates half the potential audience for the film i.e. me and my fellow ladies.
Anyways, yes, it took me a year to get around to watching Dev.D but I’m glad I did because it is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Anurag Kashyap does something really interesting with the old chestnut that is “Devdas” and plays with filmi clichés while he’s at it.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story of Devdas (“Dev”) and Paro. They are childhood friends who grow a romantic attachment while he is off at university—in London in this adaptation.
Dev is kind of a spoiled little dick. His father sends him off to boarding school because he’s afraid of corrupting influences at home. He doesn’t realize that you can only corrupt the willing…
Dev grows into a big spoiled dick who gets off on the secret, long-distance relationship he has with Paro.
Paro, who grows up to be the gorgeous Mahie Gill, also gets off on their secret relationship.
Where Dev.D differs from, especially, the epic 2002 version of the story along with numerous masala films, is that the childhood romance is just that—a romance. A fantasy. They can’t sustain the reality of being together.
And some nasty stuff goes down in which Dev dredges up the old male double standard where it’s okay for him to act on sexual impulses but any woman who does so is a whore.
She moves on—he does not.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Chandramurki aka Chanda aka Leni. And here was where Dev.D really hooked me—I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chanda is actually given a backstory and personality. She isn’t just the adoring sop of the 2002 Devdas. It’s kind of like when Helen was allowed to have a love interest and tragic past… (I’m looking at you awesome 1967 film Talash.)
(I’d be really curious to know if Anurag deliberately cast a white actress as Chanda or if he saw Kalki and changed the character to be white.)
We are introduced to Chanda –still known as Leni—as she is getting ready for a day at high school.
She clearly has discovered that it can be nice when men notice you and we are shown Leni rolling up her skirt and pushing down her socks. Things that many, many high school girls do.
She has a creepy older boyfriend who enjoys getting blow jobs and we see that, too. Leni enjoys the attention and she enjoys playing at grown-up things but for all that, Anurag is careful not to actually sexualize HER for the camera. She’s just a girl.
But then her creepy older boyfriend films her giving him a bj and you can see the difference in how his camera films her.
Of course, the film gets around and Leni’s life is ruined. What I found interesting is that it’s not LENI who feels guilty, it’s the reactions from everyone around her. She’s embarrassed—mortified—but she’s not guilty. Regretful, yes, for being stupid but not full of shame. I liked that.
And we see her with the headphones and cigarette like a female version of Dev…
Everything unfolds just like you expect—Leni becomes Chanda, falls for Dev, who is still hung up on Paro, who is married to a widower—but with a fresh spirit that should keep you hooked until the end.
So, besides the smart decision to make Chanda a fully realized character instead of just a pretty, pining prostitute, what is so great about Dev.D
I will tell you!
The performances are excellent all around.
I’ll admit I’m not the biggest Abhay Deol fan. I find his acting style a little too restrained for my tastes but Anurag got a fantastic performance out of him. He manages to be both rakishly charming and a total asshole all at the same time. He never lets us forget that Dev is a horrible person but it’s not unrealistic. And the scenes with Chanda really humanize him—a lot.
In the hands of a less-skilled actor, Dev could have been a total disaster. He’s basically the male equivalent of the poor, little rich girl. He thinks all his ennui stems from his foiled relationship with Paro but we—and Abhay—know that there is more to it than that. Dev is so cut off from his surroundings. His wealth cushions him from certain realities and he literally isolates himself with headphones in a lot of scenes. It’s all an extension of the drinking and drugs that he numbs his life with.
Paro takes a back seat in this adaptation but I loved Mahie Gill. She definitely has potential and I hope directors sit up and start casting her in things. She has these gorgeous, heavy-lidded eyes…
My favorite scene of hers was during “Emotional Attachyar.” We see her totally break with her fantasy of a life with Dev and accept happiness on her own terms.
Her husband (Asim Sharma) is standing to the left and you can watch his face go through the second half of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in about 15 seconds.
I honestly don’t have room to say all the good things I want to say about Kalki Koechlin, so I’ll keep it to: FILMFARE HAD BETTER GIVE HER BEST DEBUT OR ELSE THEY ARE ON NOTICE.
She is luminous. Yes, I just used the word luminous.
And I’d like to give a shout out to Dibyendu Bhattacharya, who played the pimp/drug dealer Chunnilal.
Along with the performances, I really enjoyed the various commentaries on filmi sexuality.
Leni is a big fan of Madhuri Dixit and actually names herself Chanda from the character in the 2002 Devdas. Chanda is put into a series of progressively ridiculous costumes and we see the preparation. We see the wigs, the fake fingernails, the persona. We see Chanda on the phone, totally uninterested in the phone sex she’s having with some off-screen punter.
What we don’t see—although it is clearly insinuated—is Chanda having sex. The camera isn’t there to exploit Kalki but to show things from Chanda’s point of view. I appreciated the distinction, which was totally missing from the promotions.
The other thing I really appreciated was the inclusion of both songs and dance, even though they weren’t traditional picturizations. He used songs like Vishal Bhardwaj did in Omkara, where they were included both because people like songs and because songs can convey emotions.
We get a combination of montages with actual musicians and dancers and the song themes are cycled through, creating a nice flow. Dev.D really shows how even “realistic” films can utilize the film song in effective ways without resorting to either chiffon in Switzerland or the epically dull and pointless montages from films like Wake Up Sid.
I would like to say that Dev.D could have been a hit on the Western art house circuit but I think the filmi references are too Bollywood-specific. Not to mention the fact that one pretty much needs to know the story of “Devdas” before sitting down to watch.
What would be interesting is to sit some Bollywood virgins down and have them watch the 2002 Devdas followed by Dev.D and see what they think.
Any guinea pigs?