The character of Devdas has always irritated me. You know the story. Spoilt rich brat goes to big city to study (financed by daddy of course), returns after several years to encounter his childhood pal who is now a hottie and rejects her (no version has ever made this part of the story convincing). She marries someone else; he drinks himself to death, but only after 2-3 hours of moaning “Paro! Paro!” between bottles. Oh yes, and while he’s carping, he encounters another woman who falls in love with him and cleans up his emotional mess repeatedly. End of story.
So when director Anurag Kashyap decides to redo the tale of the classic, self-pitying Indian male loser who has always lived off his parents and never learnt to take responsibility for his actions, you wonder what attracts him to Devdas.
He obviously identifies with the guy.
Kashyap has often said he went through his own self-destructive alcohol/drugs
phase—and survived. Maybe that’s why the latest version of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s whiny novel suddenly gets a happy ending. I guess Kashyap believes that everyone, even Devdas, deserves a 10th chance.
Twist in the tale: Kashyap gives Dev another shot at life—without alcohol.
Because he’s Kashyap, one of India’s trendiest and most political directors, the inspiration comes from everyday New India stories—the schoolgirl caught on camera in an MMS scandal; the drunk, BMW-driving brat who mows down several people on the street in the country’s most talked about hit-and-run. Can Devdas be an interesting story when it’s told through the psychedelic prism of today’s urban India?
Though it’s set in these times, women are tied firmly to the bottom of the power chain and the male gaze dominates. In battleground modern India, men prey on young school-going girls, the house help spends hours making up sexual fantasies about the daughters of the people they work for, the lovely Punjabi girls are ready to do it in the cowshed, everyone’s a hypocrite and men pay a premium for foreign whores. And, in case you didn’t know, these days they prefer to call them CSWs (commercial sex workers) rather than the more crass/colloquial randi.
And because Devdas, even though he is now Dev D, remains the loser alcoholic that he always was, the cycle of his daily life stays the same: wake up, drink up, screw up; wake up, drink up, screw up. All this against the loud soundtrack of modern India that never lets up, just as in real life.
Abhay Deol is great as always, though I couldn’t help being distracted by his eye-popping collection of cool T-shirts; Paro and Chanda (played by Mahie Gill and Kalki Koechlin, respectively) are a breath of fresh air, so different from your every Friday Hindi film actors; the dialogues are fun (London has impacted your taste, a relative tells Dev. You’ve replaced whisky with vodka, chicken with fish and real women with undernourished girls) and the film is shot beautifully.
But when the film ends on an upbeat note, it makes you wonder about the extent to which Indian women are willing to put up with the losers that surround them. Devdas, I believe, is better off dying.
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