It was quite a brave decision to watch another experimentation on Devdas that hit the screens last February in its Dev D avatar. The fear was entirely courtesy the shallow, pretentious, gaudy and doyen-of-kitsch rendition of Devdas as done by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The nauseating melodrama of the actors combined with the crass show of “big budget” has left in it’s trail a lot many ardent Saratchandra readers bruised and fuming. However 10 odd minutes into Anurag Kashyap’s creation and the feeling is one of having ditched an abusive old lover for a better life.
Though the film starts with a clear daylight frame with the young Devdas and Paro meeting beside a gurgling stream, the scene soon darkens with Paro hitting back indicating her non-acceptance of submission to her lover. This darkness stays put throughout the rest of the film both in content and form. Kashyap takes his liberties with the storyline quite generously but with the revered touch of film making mastery stays firmly in line with the ethos of the novel. It wouldn’t be to far a stretch if one saw a glimpse of Ray and his Charulata in this aspect of creative interpretation of stories; which once raised to perfection by the Master and other greats has today been mauled to cheap disgrace by many filmmakers in India. After the aforementioned sequence the film takes on a non-linear storyline and does wonders to the character sketching of the three main characters Devdas, Paro and Chandramukhi; the last having been renamed Chanda to suit the contemporary look of the film. Paro and Devdas’s characterisation remain more or less the same as penned by the novel apart from the geographical and ethnic changes brought in.
The setting is not rural Bengal and is replace by the quintessential Bollywwod favourite Punjab, and the destination of Devdas’ study has been shifted from Kolkata to London. Evidently the lure of commerce is far too tempting to go against what is considered “cool” and “acceptable” in mainstream media today even for a “different” filmmaker as Anurag Kashyap. This rejection of Bengal and Kolkata in favour of Punjab Delhi and London is understandable even if not justifiable. Coming back, the chracterisation of Chanda is vastly different from that in the novel. It blurs the reality of a schoolgirl’s MMS scandal in Delhi with the fiction of Chanda forming her new avatar as a prostitute. It is shocking in terms of its candid acceptance of brothels, pimps and prostitutes when viewed from the perspective of the Bollywood which has had a long history of hypocrisy. Even though the narration borders on proposing brothels as almost a loving and caring alternative to a “typical” family, the weaving of the story makes it a very good piece of work.
The handling and sequencing makes the job of relegating to the insignificance of detail any adverse tastes that may develop in the viewer’s mouth very easy and smooth. Having wound up the flashback, Kashyap blends it in very seamlessly with the sequential flow there on. Paro gets married to an older man with children owing to her determined non-submission to her true love Devdas. Devdas messes it up for himself and those around him owing to his unclear decisions, lack of unequivocal expression of his love for Paro and repeated adherence to live for the moment philosophy. Chanda pushed by fate into the brothel becomes the wise one amongst the trio. As sketched by Sharatchandra, Paro here too is stubbornly non-submissive. Unlike the novel’s version, Paro here expresses it more through her words if not equal to her actions. However the suggestive gyrations that the Dev D Paro breaks into at her wedding were not that necessary to suggest her determination to move-on. This a point where Kashyap becomes a subject of his own creation. A creation that places its PR on the plank of busting taboos and being “bold”. Expectedly Devdas becomes an alcoholic with the reason, or even ruse of, being heartbroken. Chunilaal, renamed to Chunni, shown as part pimp part friend here indulges Devdas in the dark joys of life. Kashyap’s work looks like an absolute insider’s job with respect to the selection of drink cannabis lights and the music.
The music of Amit Triwedi deserves a standing ovation at this point. The psychedelic work on core Indian beats and chords is mesmerising to say the least. The music with its core and tweaks does absolute justice to the darkness and the limited irreverence in the film. The actors do no less here. Abhay Deol is probably every sane filmmaker’s dream employee given his subjugation of self to the character. Taking away no credit from any of the actors in the cast, Kashyap’s completeness as a director is manifest in the clinical handling of his actors to get them to do justice to their roles. Kalki Koechlin portraying Chanda is by far the best example of that. Playing on her obviously misfit looks in the scenario, Kashyap does a marvelous job in demonstrating her transformation from a spoilt kid to a hapless child wronged by society on to the astute prostitute living in a brothel. Kashyap’s efforts are buttressed to a good extent by his team both on and off the camera. The editing job is very good with very clean sequencing when needed and overlapping when otherwise. Sound, light and cinematography however demand a little more effort. The sounds are not balanced as glass bottles crack at far louder decibels than the mouthing of dialogues that need more audibility for the sake of the film’s narration itself. Though the camera is appreciably passive in it’s takes and the narration is patient and unhurried but certain technical glitches mar such a good work, even if in small parts. The light arrangement part has overdone the darkness theme in many patches. This is accompanied by some crowded cinematographic frames with unnecessary clutter elements in them. The film-noir format however gives both these glitches a respite as they stand a good chance of going unnoticed.
The story builds up good and true to the novel’s spirit with Chanda accepting and caring for Devdas and Paro rejecting even if caring for Devdas. The two major differences with the Novel and Dev D are the film ends and the amount Devdas participates in his story. Devdas, the character, as written by Sharatchandra is characterized by passivity. The reader of the novel and Devdas are at an equal plane when they act as mere onlookers at the drama played out by destiny. This in fact is one of the greatest reasons why Devdas has lasted so many years. The engrossed reader’s emotion dies a most painful death along with Devdas, completing the tragedy of the novel. The brooding complaint of a man wronged by fate that Devdas is, becomes one with the reader owing to his passivity. However the amount Devdas talks in Kashyap’s film drives a wedge between his viewers and Dev D who may forget Dev after a week of the credits having rolled up the screen. Though not to the nauseating extent of a rabidly overacting Shah Rukh Khan shouting clownish “objection!!” dialogues as done in Bhansali’s, Kashyap’s rendition of Devdas in this aspect is certainly lesser than the Devdas of Bimal Roy who did it by the book, quite literally at that. The second mistake, if we may call it so, was to get Chanda and Dev D together in a happy ending. Trying to keep his avant garde USP of today’s-generation-moves-on alive, Kashyap largely kills the possibility of his film living beyond the next “big” release.
But then that’s what makes Sharatchandra who he is and those who “interpret” his work who they are.