Filmmakers have long been fascinated by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1917 Bengali novel, Devdas. For years they have reworked and rehashed this story. Now, Sudhir Mishra brings his brand of north Indian political frisson to a love story that pivots around the drunken Dev and the two women, Paro and Chandni, orbiting him.

I have long had a problem with the weakness of the central character of Devdas, who, at the slightest hint of adversity, escapes in a hedonistic haze of intoxicants rather than standing up for himself. Of all the versions I have seen, Dev.D is one I found most imaginative and cinematically engaging.

Mishra’s Daas Dev is a blend of Chattopadhyay’s Devdas, Shakespeare’s brooding Hamlet and his own grandfather, former politician Dwarka Prasad Mishra. The story is narrated by Chandni (Aditi Rao Hydari), a political fixer and prostitute. She’s in love with Dev (Rahul Bhat), the heir apparent to the political throne vacated by his deceased father and currently occupied by his widowed mother. Dev, though, is besotted with Paro (Richa Chadha). The love triangle plays out in a political arena populated by kingmakers, political heirs, puppets and puppeteers, and a whole lot of power-hungry, low-IQ, gun-toting supporting characters.

There are so many vested interests in this microcosm of UP politics that I wished I had a cheat sheet to keep track of who is who and why they are betraying and killing each other. The machinations, mysterious deaths, affairs and manipulations have something to do with bauxite mining and dams. The chaotic narrative is bandaged together by a fine ancillary cast, which includes Saurabh Shukla as Dev’s uncle Awdesh, Sohaila Kapur as Dev’s mother Sushila, Vipin Sharma as the political opponent Ramashray Shukla, Anil George as Paro’s father and Awdesh’s loyal supporter, and Vineet Kumar Singh as Milan, who holds a tender candle for Paro. They buttress the tepid triumvirate of Bhat, Chadha and Rao Hydari.

While the story is centred around Dev, Mishra’s most interesting interpretation is Chandni, with her network of spies and ability to make things happen with a phone call. As always, I do not see the allure of Dev. Why are two intelligent and seemingly independent women attracted to someone so weak and self-destructive? Had the intrigue and passion been delivered convincingly, one might have overlooked this question.

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