Wednesday 16 May 2007

Devdas (2002)

Ugghh. Spare us, Devdas.

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


Filmi Geek said...

I couldn't agree more. I can't stand this film, and were it not for the songs it would have nothing to recommend it. But I am really writing especially because you noted the main aspect of *Devdas* that disgusts me - the fact that not one but *two* tough and beautiful women lose themselves in love for the abusive, selfish, pathetic waste of skin that is Devdas.

ajnabi said...

I must beg leave to disagree with the illustrious PPCC on this one. ;-) I lurve Devdas. I think that it's to be expected that a hooker with a (to put it mildly) dysfunctional background would choose a really Giant Knobhead With No Knob (thank you, Bridget Jones) to focus all her considerable love upon. Since when do mistreated women pick healthy guys?

As far as Paro, well, her whole relationship with Deva is so completely childish and stuck in the past that it made sense to me that they acted the way they did. The visuals are gorgeous, I can't get enough of the soundtrack, and SRK plays did an adequate job, though I think a younger actor would've been more appropriate for the role of callow spineless youth. Overall I'd give it an 8 out of 10. But, sometimes I think I'm the only one. :-D

the PPCC is a big fat idiot said...

Ajnabi - Please do disagree! You make very good points, too. This is a strange film, because, as Beth and you now know re: Barsaat, the PPCC just loooves Byronic heroes. And Devdas is definitely one of those. I think the reason this movie grated so much was that I found the emotions over the top and strangely artificial - maybe it was just the overly dramatic background music? I know, I watch Bollywood, you'd think I was used to it. But I found SRK's performance as indulgent and narcissistic as Raj Kapoor's performance in Aag, for example. So I think I'd be game for other versions of Devdas (Amitabh Bachchan's version - in Muqaddar ka Sikandar - still irritates me a little, but at least in that one, I cry, which I think is the targeted audience reaction), if it was done a bit differently.

AH! OK, I think I figured out what I didn't like: I think I didn't like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's glorification of Devdas' destructive antics. I think the way it should be handled is that you come at it from a condemnatory angle, but then feel pity and ultimately sympathy for Devdas. SLB, instead, seemed to skip the condemnatory and go straight for sympathy, which I definitely could not feel.

Nonetheless, SRK's aesthetics were top notch. Studly.

And, in terms of movies that everyone else hates but only I love, have you seen Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna? GUH. SRK is Byronic again, with even a limp. How gothic and wonderful!

NidaMarie said...

This one grew on me. Didn't like it at first-for many of the reasons you've listed--but tortured myself to rewatch a few times and actually ended up liking it. A lot.

Madhuri as Chandramuki was awesome! I've tried to imitate "Maar Daala" one too many times in the mirror...and don't get me started on "Silsila Ye Chaayat Ka"...

Ok, so I need to re-do my review on KANK. Please don't even bother reading it. It was early on in my blogging days and I don't think I even reviewed the movie--I more or less tried to get into the adultery issue and the sugarcoated ending(one of Kjos faults is his endings, I always say) I recently rewatched and decided I do like this film. There's so many good things about it! You're not alone in liking this one--I'm going to repost soon!

Anonymous said...

I don't think the film requires sympathy with either Devdas or Paro. I think Shah Rukh Khan's character in Dil Se is almost like a Paro in some ways.

rPs said...

Please review Dev D !!!

Ami said...

ajnabi said it better than I ever could. I did feel uncomfortable with SLB's vision..or what I think I understand about it, anyway. But having read the director's background (yep, I love reading biographies ^^:), I think I can empathize.

I penned 6 poems after coming out of this movie. It sucked me so much into it's dark, depressing world..I was a depressed individual back then. I particularly love the last train ride Deva took. Boy o boy, how I thought that journey mirrors what life is.

Devdas was made during one of the darkest hours in SRK's life, he got hurt in that falling-of-the-stairs scene, he doesn't normally drink but for the drunken scenes in Devdas he was drunk for much so that his friends & family worried he'd turn alcoholic. Having said that, I think his best scenes in Devdas are the ones nearing the end where he can't even walk straight and verbally abusing everyone. Wish someone gives SRK a full-blown 'depressed individual' role in a commercially viable movie some day. He'd be really good at it.

JD said...

Amen, PPCC, praise the projectionist and let me outta the theater. Please, I need a shower to rinse off the ick of this film. I gotta say, this one tips the scales as washed out eye candy and boiled over melodrama.

There is something so unappealing about the "hero" that by 90 mins in, I was yelling at him on the screen and not nice things either. What a spineless sponge of a doofus. Seems the only thing he can stand up to is a fly. If I was ever going to forgive anyone in this role, it would have been Shahrukh. Sadly even his ability to project pathos left me unimpressed. Ms. Rai was, er.... decorative in the extreme. She made a momentary try at developing a tart side in the final hour but even that fell flat. There's something deflated about her character. And the actress who plays the courtesan was grating in the extreme.

Source material is probably the origin of much of this drek but I am sure as heck not inclined to read the novel to find out. To those who adore this film, and there are many, I respect your love of it and wish for you many repeats of gorgeously filmed heartbreak. You can throw your empty popcorn on my seat with my blessing. :)

Anonymous said...

A little late to the party but I highly recommend the old (possibly 1950s?) Telugu version of Devdas.
The writers and song-writers took the story to a different level, making it a philosophical and spiritual awakening from a seeker Devdas looking for a deeper meaning after being rejected in love.
The old Hindi Devdas doesnt seem to have the same spiritual-seeker flavor but is not an overblown pathetic character like SRK's.