Why even the most unromantic soul should watch this film
What can be more glorious than to die for love? That is why Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's tragic hero Devdas makes his widely read 1917 novel an ideal subject for filmmakers, namely P C Barua, Bimal Roy and now Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
My relationship with Devdas goes back in time. As a child, I found Kundan Lal Saigal's version of the legendary lover to be dreary, mostly thanks to its overtly dramatic style of acting, fashionable in those days.
Two years ago, I watched Bimal Roy's 1955 adaptation of Devdas. I savoured every bit, every moment, every nuance of the Dilip Kumar-Vyajanthimala-Suchitra Sen masterpiece.
July 12, 2002 saw me watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas.
Devdas Mukherjee (Shah Rukh Khan) and Parvati (Paro, Aishwarya Rai) are childhood sweethearts and neighbours. They share an intense, feeling for each other. Their dreams are shortlived --- Paro does not match the status of Devdas' family.
His conniving sister-in-law (Ananya Khare) and mother Kaushalya (Smita Jayakar) publicly humiliate Paro's mother Sumitra (Kiron Kher). In a fit of anger, Sumitra resolves to marry Paro to the prosperous Zamindar Bhuvan (Vijayendra Ghatge). Paro urges Devdas to do something about the situation, even elope.
Instead, Devdas writes a cold letter, leaving Paro to marry Bhuvan. By the time Devdas comes to his senses, it is too late.
Devdas drowns himself in sorrow and alcohol. Then he meets courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit). At first repulsed by her, Devdas slowly sees her warmth and benevolence. But his excessive drinking proves fatal.
The Visual Treat:
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's labour of love Devdas is a larger-than-life, poignant and spectacular interpretation. Clearly Devdas is a work of art and heart. His penchant for colour, grandeur, heartbreak unspools throughout the film as it did previously in Khamoshi - The Musical and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
The resplendent sets by Nitin Desai --- Paro's stained glass house before marriage, her towering mansion after marriage, Devdas' sprawling house, Chandramukhi's dazzling dance court, even the railway compartment --- are a treat to the eyes.
Ismail Darbar's rich compositions are mostly situation-based and aid the narrative. Thankfully, the music plays in the background and Devdas and Paro are not shown lip-syncing sweet nothings.
Pandit Birju Maharaj and Saroj Khan storm the screen with some sensational choreography. Madhuri Dixit's dances are breath-taking.
Binod Pradhan's eye for detail cannot be missed as he romances the camera with imaginative angles and lighting. The good thing is that before the viewer gets too caught up in admiring Aishwarya's exotic hairclip, the shot switches to the sorrow in her eyes.
A poker-faced Devdas teases Paro about not missing her during his stay in London. An emotionally charged Paro retaliates recalling how thinking about him is her sole occupation since he left.
An inebriated Devdas comes to pay respects at his father's funeral. The sarcasm in his eyes cannot be missed as he indifferently consoles his mother.
When Paro's marriage procession is at her doorstep and Devdas asks her to elope with him. The entire scene and the song (Hamesha tumko chaha) followed thereafter is truly heartbreaking.
Chandramukhi giving Bhuvan's debauched son-in-law (Milind Gunaji) a befitting reply during the Durga pooja calls for applause.
When Devdas sardonically tell his mother, "Gaonwalon ne kaha gaon chhod do, Bauji ne kaha Paro chhod do, Paro ne kaha sharab chhod do, Ma ne kaha ghar chhod do. Ek din woh kahega *pointing heavenwards* duniya chhod do" (Villagers said leave the village, Father said leave Paro, Paro said stop drinking, Mother says leave the house. One day He will say leave the world).
Paro convincing Devdas to quit drinking and his reluctance to do so.
The climax is perhaps the film's biggest triumph. Devdas is breathing his last, yet there is a flickering hope for a miracle as a hysterical Paro rushes to meet her Deva (Devdas).
The supporting cast comes up with an exceedingly over-the-top performance and disrupts the entire tempo of the film. Kiron Kher in particular goes overboard with her boisterous, dreamy-eyed mother. Her gregarious enthusiasm does not impress. Smita Jayakar and Ananya Khare are loud caricatures of the saans-bahu [mother-in-law -- daughter-in-law] types one is so used to watching on Indian television.
The entire Paro-Chandramukhi face off comes across as a purely commercial gimmick. It does nothing to the storyline. The Dola re dola song --- though beautifully picturised in hues of red, white and gold --- is a futile exercise.
Another song Chalak chalak soon after Dola re dola is totally out of place.
Underneath all the jazz, Devdas is essentially a performance-oriented film.
Unlike its predecessors, the new Devdas does not have flashbacks to establish Devdas and Paro's childhood friendship. Devdas' bitterness towards his disciplinarian father is vaguely depicted. His is a weaker characterisation compared to his two leading ladies.
Shah Rukh Khan is no Dilip Kumar. The latter is untouchable as far as portraying Devdas is concerned. But SRK does not disappoint. He plays his Devdas with the air of a spoilt brat. It is a controlled performance for most part of the film. His temptation to revert to his quivering lip theatrics is visible in the 'Devdas Mukherjee will drink to death' sequence.
Aishwarya Rai looks like poetry in motion. She does full justice to Paro bringing out the strength, integrity and compassion of her character.
In a role written specially for her, Madhuri Dixit outshines herself. Chandramukhi is unlike anything the actress has played before. The actress smoothly conveys the dual shades --- flamboyance and naοvetι ---to the role.
Jackie Shroff rocks in a brilliantly designed cameo of a lyrical drunk-Chunnilal, who believes in making merry all the time.
For all its hype, grandeur, money, blood, sweat, music, tragedy, Devdas is a must-see for even the most pragmatic and unromantic.
ALSO READ: The Devdas Special