We felt dizzy during this song.
Words often accompany the doomed love story of Devdas and Parvati. GRAND. EPIC. REALLY BIG. DEVASTATINGLY SAD. Much like Romeo and Juliet to the Anglo-Saxon world, Devdas and Parvati are the tragic lovers of India, deeply ingrained into the pop cultural memory. Based on a 1917 Bengali novella by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, their story has been told in no less than eight films. Apparently the version with Dilip Kumar is the best, but we, still riding the highs of Paheli, wanted to see the 2002 version because of: (1) Shah Rukh Khan, (2) fresh, new Bollywood! So we rented it.
Ho hum, nothing to do but wait for the man to come back.
Well, three hours later, we sat bewildered and a little offended. Devdas is certainly one of the most overwhelmingly opulent anythings we have ever seen. The absolute, shameless decadance of it all - both in setting and in emotion - is worth a viewing. With a musical score that is relentlessly melodramatic, every scene features that solitary tear crawling down a flawless cheek. And when the protagonists aren't crying (which is rare), they're singing and dancing with such energy that suddenly we're enjoying the movie again. But let's make it clear: this is an essentially empty melodrama, and the regressive ideas of love and male-female relations can be downright offensive at times.
Devdas is the story of Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan), first of all. The woman who desperately love him, Parvati (Ashwariya Rai) and Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit), come second banana. The very first scene features Devdas' extended family in tearful fits of joy, for their beloved son is returning from his studies abroad. This sends the house next door into a tizzy as well: Devdas' childhood friend and girl-next-door, Parvati (nicknamed, Paro), has been literally burning the candle these last ten years, pining for her dear, dear Devdas to come home. Apparently a former Miss World has no other suitors, nor anything more interesting to do.
This is NOT Devdas, this is some other guy. But he was damn fine.
The happy couple. (And our favorite scene.)
Well, the demigod finally returns! Devdas and Paro spend a few coy scenes together, and we begin to notice more and more that Devdas is arrogant, violent and kind of a dick. Hmmm. Well, Paro loves him anyway, which we learn because other people tell us. Paro's mom attempts to arrange a marriage between the two lovebirds, but Devdas' mom makes it abundantly clear that she'll never let her son marry a lower caste. Damn caste system. Devdas has the option of standing up for himself, but (especially in the face of his father, whose entrances are accompanied by whip-cracks) he inevitably turns spineless. So much for love.
And if I fall into the drink, I will say your name before I sink.
Pretty. Yeah, pretty wasted!
Paro is quickly shuffled off to marry the richest man in town, a robotic and elderly widower, still mourning his first wife. "We're not sleeping together, ever," he informs Paro. Meanwhile, Devdas flees to Calcutta, where he finds a bottle and crawls inside. Two hours pass of alternating scenes where the two lovers cry over great distances. Devdas rages and breaks things, because he's a man and he can. Apparently, self-destruction is sexy, because soon the prostitute Chandramukhi falls head-over-heels for him. Meanwhile, Paro stoically takes being abandoned to Robot Man, because she's a woman and she must. Still, she maintains her dignity and makes the best of her new life, while Devdas keeps setting fire to things.
Dancing to the demon drink! Highly enjoyable.
Eventually, as is classic to stories of this kind, Devdas starts coughing up blood. With choral voices accompanying, he drags his sorry ass back to Paro's front door, and promptly dies.
Come to my bosom, Dev Babu!
Oh, don't be upset. It's expected that you know how the story ends before it begins. And did you really think Devdas would reform his self-indulgently pitiful ways, just because Chandramukhi has the patience of a saint? Or that Paro would do anything other than stand and cry?
Despite the criticisms, we cried like a baby during this song. Aur chaaha chaaha.
To be clear, the melodrama, the big acting and big dancing and big everything, was fine. We love Bollywood, as you can see from the rest of this blog. What impeded our enjoyment of the film was: (1) the two leads' inability to establish any believable connection, and (2) the irritatingly reactionary portrayal of love and women. Since when is hitting your girlfriend on the head with an amulet a sign of burning love? Devdas' violence could be explained by the abusive father, one could argue. And yet these explosions, the self-pitying and narcissistic behavior, his astoundingly rapid decline into alcoholism - all of it is glorified, painting Devdas with a golden brush as the martyr of love. Rather than presenting Devdas as a dark and flawed individual, the music informs us only that this is a tragic victim of a broken heart. The fact that Paro and Chandramukhi tolerate him could just be evidence of the culture of the times, but the fact that they still unabashadly love him? Ladies, respect yourselves!
In terms of acting, everyone is larger than life and prone to crying. Not much depth, oh well. The songs were much more enjoyable than we previously expected, but that may have been because they gave us a break from the story. The setting is dazzling, and we were thinking it'd be an interesting experiment to deny ourselves film or television for six months, perhaps, and then watch Devdas one day. Most assuredly we would be blown off our seats.
Some nice links:
1. A kinder and more informed review than ours
2. Stream the soundtrack
3. The New York Times