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Upperstall Review

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Hindi, Drama, 2002, Color

If Devdas is the most expensive Indian film to date, then after viewing this 50 crore spectacle (?) all one can say that it is also perhaps the biggest wasteful extravaganza in Indian Cinema. The film is contrived, loud, melodramatic with illusions about grandeur and the epic ending up as a dreary, long winding retelling of the Sarat Chandra classic of the man who drank himself to death for love. Clearly following Khamoshi The Musical and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, the filmmaker seems to have developed thoughts of his grandness as a filmmaker much in the league of Kamal Amrohi (Pakeezah (1972) and K. Asif (Mughal-e-Azam (1960)). But the key difference seems to lie in the fact that Kamal Amrohi and K. Asif passionately made the films their hearts told them to while Devdas appears to be an effort thought out more from the head rather than the heart. True once the filmmaker decided to make this film he has spared no effort and slaved over the film to make it grand but the end result shows - Devdas is a film totally lacking in soul.

Right from the screechy loud opening scene of Devdas's mother awaiting his arrival from London after 10 years you know you are in for a difficult time. In trying to make every moment in the film big and poetic the film ends up looking terribly deliberate and fails to draw you into the world of its protagonists and you always feel you are watching it detached - from a distance. In its primal attention to collosal sets and props, bridal wear costumes and loud theatrical acting by much of the cast, the human element that forms the strength of the actual story goes for a six.

What is majorly disappointing in the film is the garishness and gaudiness and the loud treatment. Showing a fine sense of aestheticism in his earlier two efforts, Bhansali has gone way overboard with this one. The film seems to go haywire with its every colour in every frame syndrome and its exaggerated melodrama. Nothing appears real in the film at all - the characters, the period, the clothes, the locales, the havelis; Nothing. The film has but few moments - when Paro goes to Devdas to ask him to stop drinking and in the course of the scene he shows her momentos of their childhood as they laugh and cry together or the scene where Devdas shows Chandramukhi the full glass of liqour equating it to his love for Paro and tells her if you put any more it spills to the floor or a drunk Devdas making a spectacle of himself at his father's death or ....

While every artist has a right to interpret a work of art in his own individualistic style unfortunately for Bhansali the bits where he has strayed from the original story are perhaps the weakest parts of the film. The portion of the two women meeting and dancing together with the villainous angle of the kotha going son-in-law thrust in takes precious time away from the actual story and is treated in the worst Hindi filmi manner possible thus reducing to nought the intriguing premise of bringing together the two women in Devdas's life (In the original story the women never meet each other). These portions cause the film to derail faster than the train speeding with Devdas as he goes to meet Paro before he dies. The childhood portions of Devdas and Paro too are integral to the story but Bhansali's treatment of this portion in flashes and over dialogues just doesn't work. And his reinterpretation of scenes like the one where Devdas strikes out at Paro scarring her for life (Bhansali sets this on her wedding day) and her taking his blessings before leaving for her husband's house with him leading her by the hand in front of all and sundry are truly gobsmacking.

One struggles with identifying the period and geography of the film. Where is Chandramukhi's kotha? Is it an Calcutta like in the story or where? And who or what is Chunni Bhai? What exactly is his relationship to Devdas? There is no background given to him. he just flits in and out when it is convenient. Further, Jackie Shroff's poor take off on Rajesh Khanna in Amar Prem (1971) doesn't help either. All that's missing is perhaps a dialogue going "Chandramukhi, I hate tears."

The stars do what they can with the material and the three principle characters labour hard. But beyond a point are defeated by the script and treatment. Shah Rukh Khan however still rises above the script and portrays the heart ache of Devdas perfectly and is surprising restrained in his drunken sequences where he had the scope to go way over the top like rest of the film.

The music too by Ismail Durbar is dull, dreary and long winding - Bairi Piya being perhaps the best tuned song in the film. The picturizations too are nothing to write home about and the less said about Kiron Kher's dance the better. The Background score by Monty is loud and overblown having severe pretensions to the epic like the rest of the film.

Bhansali is the third filmmaker to make Devdas in Hindi after P.C. Barua and Bimal Roy. (Actually sometimes one wonders what is it that draws the story of a weak man unable to take a stand in life and then drink his life away in self pity, time and again to Indian filmmakers. Not only has the novel been filmed several times over in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and Telegu, the Devdas syndrome is extended to central characters in films like Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) as well). Unfortunately for Bhansali, his verison of the film also finishes a distant third to the other two in spite of having the best of resources and talent at his disposal.

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