Dev. D: A Review

Dev.D – Dir: Anurag Kashyap; *ing: Abhay Deol, Mahie Gill, Kalki Koechlin

Self-styled avant-garde filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has been something of a pariah in Hindi movie circles, what with having mouthed off uncharitably about the Yash-Johar brand of intellect-lite cinema as being irrelevant escapist fluff. Not that the man doesn’t have a point there. But, it seems, lately he has not only softened his stance on commercial Hindi cinema, but has also made a sincere effort to up his own game. For in Dev.D, we witness the writer/director hitting his stride and putting his Arriflex where his mouth has been.

On paper, an updating of the classical tale of Devdas is mildly intriguing but hardly stuff to set your gut aflame: a decidedly sissified romance in which the wastrel of a protagonist is too weak and self-absorbed to fight the system that separates him from his love. Well, in this ‘re-imagining’, the titular loser (Deol) is still self-absorbed, but his id-infused angst is not celebrated with wide-eyed reverence as in the original but regarded with a subtly cautionary eye. Nor does Kashyap allow his hero to blame society for his ills, instead laying the blame squarely on his own shoulders, for being too weak-willed to deny his own traditional notions of honour, fidelity and machismo. An angle given further momentum by the writer’s astute decision to shift the story’s backdrop from the refined lyrical milieu of Bengal to the more earthy swagger of Punjab. This earthiness also carries over into the depiction of the relationship between Dev and his Paro (fiery Mahie Gill), about which there is a passionate urgency that the vapid SRK-Ash coupling can only dream of matching. But, in just one of a series of departures from the earlier avatars, as well as most traditional romantic texts, Dev.D, for the most part, views love (or the semblance of it, as the case may be) not as life-force but destructive entity, a point illustrated in the visual design of the film which actually has much in common with the 2002 Devdas. But where Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s palette strove for an overtly melodramatic, garish opulence, Kashyap’s has a more underbelly flavour, reflecting the giddy seediness of Dev’s descent into a drug-and-drink fuelled hell. The director’s quasi-MTV sensibility vis-à-vis montage and camerawork achieves a pleasing synergy between story and method.

The film seemingly falters somewhat where prostitute Chanda’s (Kalki Koechlin) backstory is concerned. The schoolgirl-gone-bad idea is at first annoyingly improbable, but ultimately even that works itself into its context. When Dev sets on his path to self-destruction in Delhi, the metropolis takes on an unreal colour forever steeped in night, existing seemingly in some purgatorial plane somewhere between dream and nightmare. But in many ways, the film’s most audacious move is its chucking of the traditional Devdas denouement, which might have purists kvetching but which is in fact, far braver than the original ending.

The film’s wall-of-sound style musicscape is another one of its strengths (‘Emotional Atyachaar’ is an instant curiosity classic), as is its cast of players, especially Abhay Deol, who is, rather, surprisingly, turning out to be one of the most fascinating young talents in Bollywood.

With Dev.D doing impressive business at the b.o, Anurag Kashyap can at last claim a place at the frontline of the ‘new’ Indian new wave. It promises to be an eventful ride.

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