Devdas



Reviewed by Anabela Voi You

If I said, “Aishwarya Rai is hideously ugly, and Madhuri Dixit is a salivating toad. Aishwarya’s eyes are disgustingly glaring at me with enough radiation that can empty Pyongyang’s tanks” – Would you still watch Devdas? No… that’s the whole essence and attraction of Devdas – magnificent visual beauty. Much financial investment was spent on the costumes, jewelry, and sets which were unbelievably ostentatious but absolutely breathtaking; Madhuri Dixit’s costumes weighed as much as 30 kg (about 66 lbs!), and yes, she danced in them. At times the whole vision looked too unreal, almost something out of a fantasy, an unattainable world. Devdas is a highly stylized love triangle of Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan), Paro (Aishwarya Rai), and Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) taking place in the turn-of-the-century colonial India.

Based on the 1917 novel by Bengali author Sarat Chandra Chattopadhye, the story has had a deep influence on Indian culture, and several classic versions of Devdas have already been made as early as the 1930s. It is about the residual prejudices of the caste system and marriage and how it breaks or makes love, and this Devdas version had high expectations to live up to. Paro’s (Aishwarya) mother used to be a dancer and came from a class of entertainers, but despite the fact that Paro’s father is from a respectable family, her mother’s “dash” of impure blood and her family’s lower status are an impediment for her to be with Devdas who hails from the landlord class. The musical theme of Devdas evokes such an epic, dramatic feel to the movie that urged me to “click on PLAY” and find out what the storm is about.
Shah Rukh, one of my favorite actors on earth, delivered a heart-breaking performance – from an English-educated, charming (typical of his roles) young man to a bereaving alcoholic who has reverted to habits of early man. SRK handled the complexity of his character well; an outwardly sophisticated, English-educated gentleman and yet with the maturity and wisdom of a 5 year-old, and Devdas certainly behaved accordingly. Devdas was impulsive and fickle, leading to disastrous decisions in love. Paro’s love was constant and faithful until Devdas’ ultimate betrayal of abandoning her. While Devdas was away in London, Paro read his very few letters 5 times a day, amounting to 18,250 times over a period of 10 years. Devdas only wrote to her a few times during his time abroad. She lit a candle for him whose flame she kept steadfastly watching and preventing from burning out for over 10 years and even after her marriage, a deeply tragic symbol throughout the film.
Ash’s performance is neutral, neither extraordinary nor awful, but I must say she is still afflicted with having a most ethereal and beautiful face that only seems to hide the void – the woman is blank-faced 70% of the movie, in a movie where people are supposed to behave like the slobbering, over-dramatic Devdas. There have been speculations that Devdas deflowered Paro prior to abandoning her, testifying to his childish, impulsive nature that has caused Paro social and psychological pain and shame. The dance by the riverbank signifies more than just innocent serenading – it seems that Devdas and Paro went all the way according to some interpretations I stumbled upon (www.bollywhat.com). In any case, whether Devdas and Paro did it or not, Paro, despite her deepest love for him, was infuriated enough at Devdas and his family’s denigration of her family that she married someone else who was even richer and belonged to a higher caste. She was now Parvati, an aristocrat and lady of a grand manor. Meanwhile, Devdas, realizing his mistake, is punishing himself full-time by drinking to drown his sorrows and longing for Paro away. He meets Chandramukhi (Madhuri), a stunning and highly desired courtesan, and hides from the world in her chambers.
This is a tragedy so Devdas doesn’t reciprocate Chandramukhi’s love, while the love of his life is married to someone else. Hence, Chandramukhi suffers from unrequited love and has quit her courtesan gig to devote herself to babysitting Devdas. Madhuri has had a reputation for being a beauty with awesome dancing talent but without substantial acting ability, but her fantastic performance overshadowed Aishwarya and SRK in my opinion - Weeks after I watched Devdas, the most recurring image I had of Devdas was Madhuri’s Krishna-Radha and Maar Dala dances. Even if you skip the entire movie, don’t miss Madhuri’s Maar Dala performance – it is a jewel of Bollywood. When Chandramukhi slapped the bad guy’s face with such attitude, composure, and dignity, I was made a permanent Madhuri Dixit fan. Madhuri’s performance was somewhat wooden and reserved in the beginning, but her character projected much strength and gained momentum towards the second half.
The songs were spectacular and so were the dance numbers and choreography. The most memorable song-dances were “Maar Dala,” performed by Madhuri and extras, and “Dola Re Dola,” performed by Aishwarya and Madhuri, whose pairing audiences and producers were dying to see. Ash may have the most perfectly symmetrical face and the elegant, long limbs typical of balletic dancers, but Madhuri has the spirit and the sensuality. I haven’t read the novel nor have I seen other versions, but from viewing this version of Devdas alone, I am not fully convinced by Chandramukhi’s love for him; Devdas says the meanest things to her and treats her shamefully at least in the beginning. She claims she worships him but you wonder what’s to worship in a desperate full-time drunk? I am intrigued with how the novel portrays Chandramukhi’s love, but since Devdas is a familiar story in India, I suppose the director didn’t have to elaborate too much on the character relations.
Shah Rukh’s dance moment came in a Hindi drinking song – definitely more entertaining, safe, and “clean” than strolling on a Northern European street of pubs on a Saturday night! Only in Bollywood can a group of drunken men sing and dance in stylish choreography without toppling over each other and regurgitation. The supporting cast was a decent anchor for the three main characters, but no notable performances in my opinion. Depending on your level of sentimentality the ending was heart-breaking. You might even cry. I didn’t because I hate plots based on romance alone, but my heart did skip quite a few beats. As dramatic as any tragedy can be, and really, it was a prototypical tragic ending. My introduction to Bollywood is still recent, but Devdas boasts of high production values and probably the quintessential soul of Bollywood: energetic dance and music, high drama, beautiful people, consuming love, and resplendent settings.
Some Bolly gossip: Kareena Kapoor was very upset that director Sanjay Leela Bhansali casted Aishwarya instead of her and complained that he didn’t know how to direct movies and broke his promise to give her the role. Sanjay denied the accusations and said that Ash had more of an aristocratic look, not exactly a compliment to Kareena.

Rating: 9

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3