Hindi cinema’s fascination for this Sarat Chandra novel is quite inexplicable if you have read the book (in my opinion, a painfully dragged out story of the life and destruction of a weak, sniveling man). But the umpteenth re-make of the story on celluloid leads me to believe there is something to the story that I have been missing.
So Anurag Kashyap’s version of Devdas comes as a relief. At long last, I find the story interesting. Because here is at least a fresh take on quite a done-to-death tale. He has taken the core of it and set in contemporary times – the Bengali village becomes Chandigarh and the seedy by-lanes of Calcutta become Delhi’s Paharganj.
Abhay Deol, the poster boy of the new wave of ‘multiplex cinema’ makes for a non-formulaic actor as do the two new faces playing Paro and Chanda. Chanda especially merits mention, for her very unusual beauty and the way she combines in a very Lolita way, innocence and worldliness.
As befitting the times, this is a sexed-up, drugged-up version of the tale (Paro is not the virginal martyr we come to expect but a red-blooded young Punjabi lass who is not beyond dragging a mattress to the fields - one of the most memorable scenes in the film - to consummate her love; the distance between Paro and Dev, when he is off studying in London is bridged by phone and internet sex; Chanda’s entry into whoredom is triggered by an MMS scandal in school; Dev’s substance abuse is not limited to alcohol) and this gives it a certain edginess so new to Indian cinema.
AK makes use of music beautifully to lead the story along, to set the tone, to accentuate the descent into drugged stupor. The photography and the saturated psychedelic colours too do the same. The look and sound work together to give the film a stunningly contemporary feel.
And then he goes and spoils it all for me at the end. Devdas as a character is according to me a weak and cruel man who treats the two women in his life (three, if you count his mother in the original) very badly. The only reason he gets any sympathy from a reader or a viewer is because you realize that deep at heart he knows his own shallowness and it is that knowledge that leads him to the path of self-destruction. And when he does drink himself to death, you know that there is justice in the world and you award him the epithet of the martyred lover. In Dev D, horror of horrors, there is redemption for Dev! How can such a weak stupid man live happily ever after?
Anurag Kashyap, you turn out to be a male chauvinist after all! And in the process, turn a well set story in my head upside down. That is unforgivable, however brilliant the rest of the film may be.