So here’s why my take on why the novel “Devdas” has endured in the imaginations of Bollywood filmmakers (Anurag Kashyap is perhaps the 4th to remake the movie). It’s not because the original story is spectacularly good. The excuse for a love story between Paro and Dev is trite and if anyone can convincingly explain to me why either one of them is supposedly in love with the other, I’ll make them a full eight-course Bengali dinner. Dev is a loser. He begins as whiny and annoying; he ends up as whiny, annoying, alcoholic and pathetic. It’s because as a society we’re still as excited as a bunch of peach-fuzzed adolescents about whoring and getting trashed that anyone bothers with “Devdas” even today. Anurag Kashyap attempts to turn Dev into Hunter S. Thomson by adding some cocaine, lots of sex, breakdancing and a murderous BMW to the mix. It isn’t entirely unsuccessful. Abhay Deol, who is also credited for the “concept” of the film, is excellent, has stellar taste in underwear and there are probably going to be secret societies worshipping his well-defined pelvic bone in addition to the ones that drool over his dimples post-“Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!”.
Anurag Kashyap’s “Dev.D” is a decent update of the original story written back in 1917. The relationship between Paro and Dev makes a lot more sense in Kashyap’s version and Dev’s addiction to cocaine is a good explanation of why Dev retreats deeper and deeper into a passive haze. And I hope someone is making the bar that Dev goes to for his coke because it looked great. The storytelling, however, feels choppy, as though he was too lazy to string the different episodes together. The screenplay loses logic in parts and the performances (minus Deol’s) range from stilted to bad. Also, as one friend observed, the movie is actually a two and a half hour long advertisement for Smirnoff. Add to this the fact that Anurag Kashyap and Taran Adarsh hate each other, and it’s easy to see why Adarsh gave the movie 1 out of 5 stars. It’s even easier to explain how “Dev.D” got 5 stars from other reviewers, like the one from the Times of India. Either they’ve got a crush the size of China on Abhay Deol and Anurag Kashyap or they were “bought” (with money? a date with Abhay or Anurag or – ooh la la! – both? flattery? promised scoops? Who can tell…).
Considering the theatre was packed when I went to see the film, I’m guessing the movie is not going to lose money. I am going to give it points, however, for reminding me why I did actually wade my way through the melodrama of the original story. Sarat Chandra didn’t just pour all of his own misery and heartbreak into the character of Dev. He also created in that character a subtle critique of the upper classes – their mulish obstinacy, their passivity, their lack of enterprise, their resistance to change, their casual acceptance of privilege, their pathetic attempts to ignore the world around them. It’s just that he couched it in enough wailing and chest-beating for us to think Dev is the hero of a doomed love story when actually he’s the personification of a rotting elite class. That’s why the scandals of today’s elite fit almost seamlessly into the story. This epiphany doesn’t change the fact that Dev is still a loser and that his passivity is simply not dramatic or cinematic. Fortunately in “Dev.D”, Kashyap tries to make him dynamic. Unfortunately, it takes so long for Dev to discover he can do more than drink, snort and lounge around in his underwear that by the time he does, most of us just don’t care.
The most amusing part of watching “Dev.D” at the posher-than-thou multiplex in Nariman Point was walking in and being faced with a large sign with a Hanuman painted on it with the slogan “Chant Mumbai, Shant Mumbai”. The second part, which translates to “peaceful Mumbai”, was written in Hindi so at first I thought the bit in English was a typo. Not so. On Feb 14, possibly to combat the evil influence of pink knickers and Valentine’s Day, peeps are going to get together and chant the Hanuman Chalisa. Hanuman being the celibate monkey god who, somewhat disturbingly and yet aptly for Valentine’s Day, is legendary for having ripped open his ribcage to reveal the image of Ram and Sita emblazoned upon his heart. Ram being the chap who repeatedly asked his wife to walk through fire to prove her fidelity to him. Later on, because rumours about her canoodling with his arch enemy Ravan wouldn’t die out, he had her abandoned in the middle of a forest while she was heavily pregnant.* Sita is the wife in question who ultimately committed suicide. At least that’s how I interpret a woman asking to be buried in the bowels of the earth. Mythology 101 aside, it seems to me that if there is any peace to be had with the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa then it’s going to be for the Hindus since this isn’t precisely a secular text, by which we can only assume that only Hindus need peace. By this we may deduce that the non-Hindus in this city are already peaceful. Which means if there is any turmoil, it’ll be committed by Hindus since they’re the ones who need to chant and be shant. Where better to place this advertisement than before a movie about a restless, cocaine-snorting, brothel-frequenting Romeo? Perhaps Anurag Kashyap should have given Dev a Hanuman Chalisa instead of a money-spitting public call booth to bring about an epiphany.
*Ram kicking out Sita suggests that he didn’t think she was pregnant with his children (she had twins, Luv and Kush) because no sensible, patriarchal ruler would have booted the wife out before securing heirs to the throne. It’s politically irresponsible, aside from everything else. Which is where Sita was a smartie. She taught her sons a song narrating the story of Ram – the first version of the Ramayana, as it were – so ensuring that the story that went into the folk and pop culture of the time was her telling of the events. We don’t know what that story was in its details any more but we do know that it gave her sons legitimacy and it guilted Ram into inviting her back to his home. Of course he had one condition: she had to prove her innocence by walking through the fire. Sita, however, wasn’t in the mood for doing party tricks so she went under.