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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Deconstructing Dev D

Rarely while browsing through the mundane affairs in an old, abandoned magazine does one stumble upon an engaging nude and more rarely does one accidentally discover, in the midst of such activity of harmless ogling, the human face to that enticing naked body. Dev D is such an artistic nude in the middle of the moribund routine of Bollywood which makes a complete departure from custom and ends up as one of the most remarkable films made in recent history. Only it has a more than fascinating face and an infinitely tempting body.

Cinephiles of the blogdom were having words of praise for this movie when I decided to give it a dekko, albeit a bit gingerly after my last experience with Anurag Kashyap’s ‘No Smoking’ ending up in a hair-tearing frenzy of sorts. Before I launch myself into something with a semblance of a review let me thank Providence that Sarat Chandra Chattopadyay was born a Hindu and to the best of my knowledge died that way. If he would have been buried and not burnt the Bengali novelist would have surely launched into a bout of crazy somersaults in his grave by the manner in which the re-interpretation of his tragedy was executed with “carnal sins” as its new central theme. With unabashed vocalizations of every word/sound/noise related to S-E-X, Dev D has broken rules that might never get enforced in our films again. Every character in the film makes their candor on the issue of sexuality apparent within moments of their appearance. Even the hero’s father is emphatic in his displeasure over the “sooki sooki baans ki dandiyon” that his son is busy chasing, overlooking the “real” women in his vicinity. In a one-of-it’s-kind adaptation of Devdas - superbly superimposed on present social realities - Kashyap introduces us to a Paro unafraid of communicating her sexual urges and a Chandramukhi who is too-tough-to-be-torn by a society out to make her feel a miserable victim. The three main characters in unison make for an experience which is heady to say the least. Here are the highlights from my latest multiplex experience:

Parminder/Paro - She redefines “equality of the sexes” in a revolutionary manner as she eagerly seeks physical intimacy with her lover - more for her own enjoyment than toeing the “Boys love so that they can have ‘it’, Women give ‘it’ just to have some love” rubbish. She is in total command of her life and is unafraid in her attempt to pursue things which pleasures her the most. When a malicious rumor wrecks her love-affair she makes a desperate bid to make clarifications and sort things out but male-ego and frayed nerves become telling hurdles in her way. Hurt and insulted by the love of her life, that too on the basis of a flimsy rumor, she moves away without a word of reproach or spite. Instead, she wipes her tears, gets married to a respectable suitor and in general terms “moves on” with her life. While her feeling of being wronged by her lover fades into a wise acceptance of reality she also comes around as a woman of firm convictions as she is ready to help her old friend/lover in his hour of need (even with the chores) but not ready to cheat on her husband with a limp ‘for-old-time’s-sake’ excuse. There is sweet revenge at the end of the line for her when she shows Dev his real “aukad” not in any subtle terms but with considerable venom and bite much to the cheer of the audience.

Mahi Gill is the new find for the industry with this film. I agree with people already lining her up as the rightful replacement for Tabu. And that on her maiden film is saying a lot about her abilities. 10 on 10 for her Paro. I personally cheered for her on that “aukad” note.

Devendra/Dev – The maudlin hero who never valued what he had when he had it, the weak male with an inflated ego and a weaker spine to boot, a masochistic hedonist who escaped his troubles by drowning his consciousness in a flood of spirits - Kashyap’s Dev is an epitome of the Irresponsible for us. While trying to come to terms with Paro’s conjugal bliss he is driven more by jealousy than love when he decides to ask her to come back to him. Even when he gets a chance, he is quick to ask her to “make love” to him in order to reaffirm her allegiance without risking the spread of an elaborate apology for his past blunders himself. While displaying scant regard for emotional bonding he is unashamed in his wanton urge for flesh and hardly ever makes any bones about it. Though his self-destructiveness strikes a cord with Chanda, who eventually falls in love with him, he continues to remain the undeserving scoundrel with abominable aplomb. He is more of a chauvinistic demon than a tragic hero of any appeal. Though Kashyap cooks up a picture of the resurrection of Dev at the end of the story it somehow seemed unjust that the diabolical D must end up with the beautiful damsel in Chanda. Instead, he should have ideally choked on his “coke with vodka” concoction and died in the hole he dug for himself.

Abhay Deol might never see the lights or the cameras of the Chopras and the Johars but he is one incredible actor who will continue to make ripples with his association with “different” films. Considering he was great in his last release - ‘Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye’ too one can expect a world of good from him in the future. He brings to life Dev in all his morbid glory.

Lenny/Chanda – A girl who is a victim of urban voyeurism defies desertion from her own family and friends and discovers the most tangible reality of life a la Frost “That it goes on”. And with this earthy demeanor she tames her ghosts to submission and how! Fighting a lone battle from upon a tightrope of survival she has a handy lesson or two for all and sundry in the throes of depression. She is not in the slightest bitter about the treatment she has received and remains unapologetic for morphing into the “All America Schoolgirls” “CSW” with time and necessity. Bright and lively on the outside, she too nurses feelings of pain and hurt in the deepest corner of her heart that makes her so believably human. Though it takes Dev to unearth those feelings from within her neither once does she submit to the sway of her emotions nor give in to tears – not even when Dev leaves her in a huff. The scene where Dev first meets Lenny is full of sparkling conversation, not very conducive for ears accustomed to conventions of levity or innuendo though easily making for one of the highlights of the film. Chanda comes across as the strongest of the three characters as she inspires with the poise with which she handles her ‘situation’ and ultimately ends up to be the proverbial guiding light to the reckless ways of Dev. She is bold yet mature, ravishing yet restrained though all through there is this abiding subtext that it is the sheer suffering she undergoes that eventually moulds her into a superior individual by a slow, tortuous process – a true woman in the garb of a wide-eyed girl.

Kalki Koechlin, I doff my hat to you. She is the true star of the film. Having taken the film’s flow by the scruff of the neck she makes every viewer become engrossed into the machinations of her mind right from when she emerges on the screen. She is vivacious, thoughtful, emotive and a complete natural with the camera. Her depiction of the girl with a quiet sense of assurance and control that defines Chanda is so potent that it sweeps one off his feet. Doubtlessly, she scintillates with her brilliant performance though one cannot really put his finger on that-one-thing which really worked for her in this film – My guess is it was she, herself.

Coming to Mr. Kashyap, I think as a film lover I can discount him half-a-dozen of his ‘No Smoking’ duds for this one piece of pioneering work. Dev D is a bold undertaking delivered with consummate grace and a killer style. The popularity of Dev D can truly spark off a change in the way ‘the message’ part of ‘classics’ is redone to give a look of contemporary relevance and present them with fresh perspective and insight. No doubt we have a moody maverick inMr. Kashyap; we only hope we find him in his creative best (also tangible/comprehendible best) in Gulaal.

I for one will be watching out, waiting to be impressed once more.
The teasers seem delicious enough.