Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Abhay Deol, Mahi Gill, Kalki Koechlin
Storyline: Modern day Devdas with sex, drugs and rock ’n roll
Bottomline: A coming of rage interpretation that demands to be watched
Whatever Anurag Kashyap’s been smoking all these years must be some stuff. What else can you say about the audacity of thought and the psychedelia of vision as presented in his Dev D.
Paro (Mahi Gill) goes down in Hindi film history, even if it’s just off-camera, as the sexually liberated lover taking her Devdas to the third base in the fields of Punjab, the sort of location where Chopras and Johars would usually orchestrate innocuously chaste love songs.
Because, Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Deol have decided that Generation Next has a new favourite four-letter word and that it certainly isn’t love. Dev D is wildly about lust, the hormonal rage of youth and sexual expression than just candy-floss sugar-coated love we’ve been shown in Hindi cinema. It’s also about the politics of sex, the volatility of modern day romance and the avenues of escape when a relationship fails.
The references to Devdas are just an excuse for the makers to explore the refuge of the modern day loser because this isn’t a story of a man who everybody shut their doors on. This is a story of a lover responsible for his alienation.
The definitive difference in Dev D is illustrated when, early on in the film, he nearly gives in to his animal instincts and stops halfway out of guilt. He seizes the first opportunity to suspect his girlfriend of infidelity and that’s more than enough for him to finish what he started out – bed the seductress.
The modern-day loser is more chauvinistic and conservative than all previously seen Devdasses. But the best part about Kashyap’s Dev D is that his women wear the pants and know their way around it too. They are all messed up and products of dysfunctional relationships. The complexity of characterisation and the non-linearity of the narrative (Kashyap uses chapters like Tarantino – Paro’s story, Chanda’s story and finally Dev’s – the cause, the effect and the journey of escape) certainly makes it the most interesting of the Devdas movies.
The actors deliver these characters and that’s half the battle won. Abhay Deol is dormantly explosive and intense, getting increasingly moody and consumed by character deeper into the film. Mahi Gill’s graph has her shift from being the hyper-emotional drama queen to portraying an unsettling amount of calm and Kalki Koechlin’s lucky to let her physicality do most of the work demanded of the role. From being a picture of innocence to a sassy sex worker who chooses her clients, Kalki acquits herself credibly in this feminist take on the tragedy.
Anurag makes this character-study richer opting for stylisation over realism, letting the camera (Rajeev Ravi) trip and music (Amit Trivedi) take control of the proceedings and the second act of the film is inventive storytelling at its best.
Where the film fumbles is right at the start. Dev D employs a tone that seems to be screaming for your attention – like Paro photographing herself naked and getting it printed (hasn’t she heard of email?) or the slutty seductress following up “Do you have a girlfriend” with a line that’s desperately trying to win the frontbenchers over with: “So have you guys done it yet?”
Half a movie later, she decides to replace ‘it’ with the actual verb while telling him that’s all that he wants to do and our Dev D shoots back: “Don’t you?” much to the excited cheers of the crowd that’s not used to such language in a Hindi film.
But for such cheap tricks (and there’s plenty of stuff to just shock the pants off the prudish in the hall), Dev D is a fairly classy film. Hell, it’s a classic and a cult one at that, if you pardon its juvenilia.
Black Friday was too academic. No Smoking tried a little too hard to trip. But with this mix of intriguing entertainment, he’s arrived. You can take a seat right next to Nagesh Kukunoor, Mr. Kashyap. It’s not everyday a filmmaker gets away changing the end of an epic tragedy and still explores the idea behind it, perhaps even more than the original.