A mystical experience courtesy of visually technical values and some superlative performances. That is, the tragic love story of Devdas and Paro, which has finally come to the screen in the form of Sanjay Leela Bhansali´s epic Devdas. Devdas is this year’s biggest and most awaited film, and the expectations are sky high. Sanjay Leela Bhansali´s knack for good story telling and an amazing star cast ensure that the film will take a great initial, but with such a big budget one wonders if the film will be able to recover all costs. It has been touted as the most expensive film to ever be made in Bollywood, and it shows. Visually stunning, Devdas is full of colors and breathtaking sets, which will keep your eyes glued to the screen.
Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) and Parvati (Aishwarya Rai) have shared a special bond since childhood and is put to the test when Devdas is sent away to England to further his studies. Parvati (or Paro) waits for him and lights a diya signifying her undying love for Devdas. When he finally returns Paro´s world lights up again. Their love is fully supported by Paro´s mother Sumitra (Kiron Kher) who is full of life and joy. However thanks to a meddling sister-in-law (Ananya), the love story takes an unfortunate turn after Devdas´ mother Kaushalya (Smita Jaykar) insults Sumitra and refuses to accept Paro as her daughter-in-law. The hurt Sumitra arranges Paro´s wedding to Zamindar Bhuvan (Vijayendra Ghatge), a rich widower. Hurt by the turn of events Devdas turns to his college friend Chunni Babu (Jackie Shroff) who opens Devdas´ eyes to the world of alcohol and prostitutes. Enter Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) a popular tawaif, who falls in love with the righteous Devdas. Sadly even her love cannot save the doomed Devdas who quickly becomes an alcoholic. The pain of his lost love can only be numbed by alcohol and it is that alcohol which ultimately consumes Devdas´ life.
The theme of the film is nothing new; in fact this is the fourth version of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhye’s novel to hit the screen. However under the direction of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who co-wrote the screenplay with Prakash Kapadia, the story comes to life thanks to a fresh outlook and innovative interpretation. The film is not perfect; in fact it´s far from perfect, in the essential factoral category of putting together a powerful film.
While Bhansali´s version is visually stunning, the pace of the film is uneven. The first half is slow in some parts and only gains true momentum post Morey-Piya once Paro´s wedding to Bhuvan is arranged. Thankfully, however, Bhansali does not waste your time showing the lovers as children. Instead he chooses to tackle that topic through periodic flashbacks.
An emotive tale, a set back on the feel is the fact that the audience is certainly more inclined to feel for the torn Paro and the courtesan trying to find love more than Devdas. It is almost as if the mis-understanding of Devdas by all around him is brought to life by not giving the audience a chance to understand him. While that is of relative importance, the dramatic intervals work for the most part. Assembling many other scenes of emotive excellence like Sumitra being insulted by Kaushalya and Sumitra´s subsequent outburst, Devdas´ reaction to his father death and his scene at the funeral, the portions following ´Dola Re´ where Madhuri confronts Milind Gunaji and the well-shot climax all show us why Bhansali is considerably leagues ahead of some of Bollywood’s current directors. He also utilizes poetic dialogues, which are heavily evident throughout the film, probably a few in each reel, courtesy of Prakash Kapadia. The comparisons of the scarred moon, the dialogues about a woman scorn, and the lines that Devdas retorts frequently, “They tell me to leave the house… Paro tells me to leave drinking… One day he will tell me to leave the world…”, all lend poetic justice to the beautiful picture.
Even still, despite all his efforts, Devdas fails to captivate the viewer in every scene of the film, which we all hoped for. The story gets boring in some areas, but the saving factor is that it doesn´t completely disappoint. And when the pace tags on the viewer, the stunning visuals certainly make up for it. While Devdas may have been Sanjay Leela Bhansali´s hardest project to date, and the work clearly shows, Khamoshi- The Musical would still classify as his best work. The film carries a certain subtlety, which at the very least is nowhere in this majestical fairy tale enterprise.
Technically the film is flawless. If you are bored with the story, then the visuals more than make up for it and make for some interesting viewing. A lot of money has been spent and it shows everywhere. Nitin Chandrakant Desai´s designs for the haveli´s is by far the best sets designs we have ever witnessed on screen. Whether it´s the beautiful glasswork in Paro´s haveli, the stunning wall tapestries adorning the walls of Paro and her husband’s house, or Chandramukhi´s utterly breathtaking kotha, the sets are spectacular. He deserves all the acclaim he can get for his work here, as by far this is the best setting an Indian film has seen. To help along the way Binod Pradhan´s cinematography captures each frame and turns it into art. The interesting camera angles show off as much of the sets as they can, and the lighting further enhances the delicate work that has gone into constructing these huge houses. Bhansali also uses colors to his advantage, which we witnessed in his last effort Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Costumes are just as intricate as the sets. While they look like they weight a ton, the clothing is stunning and fits very well with the period of the film. Full credit goes to Neeta Lulla and the team of Abu Jani´ and Sandeep Khosla´ who have poured their everything into dressing up the stars.
Ismail Darbar´s music also adds to the grandeur of the film. The music completely compliments the film and is perfect in creating the mood for each scene. While some songs get in the way (especially Chalak Chalak), others are used to help the plot progress (Morey Piya and Hamesha Tumko Chaha). The picturization of Hamesha Tumko Chaha will bring a tear to the viewer’s eye. Choreography is fantastic, and why not, the film brings together two of India´s best dancers. Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai´s dance sequence in Dola Re is very well done and definitely deserves a mention. Mar Dala and Silsila Yeh Chahat Ka are also well choreographed.
One department where Bhansali gets full marks for is extracting some amazing performances from his cast. Shah Rukh Khan is Devdas, you can see how much effort he has put into his performance. Although he does ham it up in a few scenes, overall his performance is solid. In the first half he doesn´t have too much of a scope for performance (again, despite being the central protagonist), but after the interval he impresses with his drunken scenes. He really impresses in the funeral scene. Essentially, when he’s not repeating some of his usual emotions, he has done a great job. And he shares excellent chemistry with Aishwarya and Madhuri, which helps him with his performance. His performance may not be award worthy, but it is definitely applaud worthy and certainly one of his better in recent times (including that of Asoka).
Aishwarya Rai gives her best performance to date. She uses her emotive eyes to the best of her ability. The scene where she meets Milind Gunaji is impressive as is the sequence where she first meets Chandramukhi. Not only does she emote well, but also she carries herself with a lot of grace. And her dances are the highlight of the film. However if there is one scene, which is completely hers, it´s the climax, where she runs through the haveli to catch one last glimpse of Devdas. Interestingly enough, a viewer will certainly feel that she has more screen time than both of the actors, but it is her awesome screen presence, which allows this. The actress has been given a great deal of footage and takes full advantage of it. Wherever the rumors begun of her disappointment by Madhuri’s “supposed” overpowering, they can surely end now.
Madhuri Dixit also impresses as the fiery Chandramukhi. She leaves a mark in the scene following Dola Re, and the scene where Devdas finally admits his love for her. Of the three she has the smallest role, but she takes full advantage of every scene she is given. Had her role been a little longer she would have left much more of an impact. Of the supporting cast Kiron Kher gives a shinning performance. Without overdoing her fun loving character she breathes life into Sumitra. Her confrontation with Kaushalya is award worthy, and her scene just before the interval leaves an impression. Jackie does not impress as Chunni Babu. He hams it up in all of his scenes and his character is drastically underdeveloped. Smita Jaykar also hams it up in her initial scenes, and does not leave any impression. The rest of the cast is adequate.
Devdas pleases the eye and provides more than adequate satisfaction for those highly anticipating it. It is certainly a theatrical experience, at the very least, as that is the only way you can take in the grand scale on which it has been mounted. While the story does drag and seem boring at times, it is an honest effort and Sanjay Leela Bhansali should be proud of this film. The movie is filled with colors and amazing sets and costumes. Add some excellent performances, fantastic dialogues by Prakash Kapadia, great music and well choreographed dances and you have a film which may not live up to unnecessarily towering expectations but almost makes it there. Bhansali´s Devdas is a visual masterpiece with a fresh treatment of a tragic love story. We are undoubtedly taken to higher levels of film making in many portions of Devdas, but unfortunately not completely.