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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dev D on V-Day

Originally published here on

(Statutory warning: This reviewer has got an incurable Nostradamus complex and is prone to spouting pseudo-profundities just for the heck of it…..)

Valentine’s Day is not my favourite part of the year……. I have an extraordinarily strong mush-radar, which was going haywire at about midnight on the 13th of February. My college(IIT Kharagpur) stands out for its laughably skewed sex ratio(at last count, it was about 8 per 100 in my year), and because of that, guys who do have girlfriends on campus, feel obliged to throw bucketfuls of mush right in my(and every other blissfully single guy’s) face. So, as I was saying, around midnight, there was a buzz in the air. I was walking along the long stretch on campus which has most of the hostels on it…..

I felt like some poor sod victimised by the living dead in a zombie flick. There they were, in twos, sometimes in groups of four or even six. This was a cold-blooded, calculated attack. These were professionals…. the worst part was these were guys and gals I actually hung out with on an average day, who felt compelled to subject me to this.

Well, that was that. The severity of the attack left me with two options: grab a saffron headband and join the Sri Ram Sena…..or grab the first local train out to Kolkata. Tempting as the Ram Sena was, I decided to go with the latter. I didn’t even return to my room…..I phoned a friend who was similarly reeling under the attack, and we just headed out to the station…..and we decided to watch Dev D.

Now this was one film which I had been looking forward to for months…… following Anurag’s posts on the making, then the “Emosanal Atyachar” wave which swept us all, after the music release … my expectations had started reaching ridiculous levels….never a good sign. Films have flattered to deceive all too often for my liking, and given my own propensity for hero-worship….

Nothing of the sort happened. :) Dev D lived up to all my expectations, and then some. Anurag Kashyap has raised the bar a notch higher, confirming his status as one of the finest minds in Indian cinema today. Years from now, when we talk about the films which changed the face of Indian cinema, the name “Dev D” will slip off easily from our tongues. At nearly three hours long, the film seemed if anything, a little on the shorter side to me, believe it or not.But Kashyap’s brilliance, combined with a masterclass performance by Abhay Deol, kept me hungry for more.Dev D is that rare kind of film, which clicks on so many fundamental levels, and draws you deep into its world……the film excites, infuriates at times, tickles you silly, is intimate one second and shuts you out the other.

To say Dev D is audacious is like saying Salman Rushdie likes to scribble little somethings every now and then. When Heath Ledger died, I remember Chris Nolan wrote a stirring obituary titled “Charisma as natural as gravity…” . Something of the kind is in play here. It is in vogue to be tongue-in-cheek nowadays, slipping in rookie double-entendres in otherwise anaemic screenplays which are meant to underline their wannbe status as “alternative” cinema. But in the hands of someone like Kashyap, it works magically, never once do the sleights-of-hand seem forced or fake…..and believe me, he gets away with plenty here…..

Since this is not your average Taran Adarsh review, I will not try to break the film down into manageable quarters, which can then be converted to BO collections. The initial portions focus on Dev’s return to Punjab after his padhai-in -vilayat. Right from the beginning, it was obvious that nobody was gonna pull any punches. I might mention at this point that I had a girl with a very annoying ringtone sitting beside me(I hate the Black Eyed Peas more than any band after this…). When Dev asked Paro if she touched herself, the female in question dropped her cellphone, after the most audible gasp I’d heard in some time. There is some justice in this wicked world after all…. After I saw Oye Lucky Oye, and its superb usage of the rustic lingo, unlike its usual abuse in Bollywood for cheap thrills and a quick chuckle or two; Dev D gives us Paro, who is the Punjab-di-kudi from hell, when she wants to, that is.

And yes, the much-talked about mattress-in-a-khet was every bit as awesome a scene as you’ll ever see.

A word about Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack here. The music is used in liberal doses here, throughout the film, sometimes nearly back-to-back. Of course, big fat Punjabi weddings do give you license that way. But the score is just so versatile, you are surprised constantly. From the earthy strains of “Hikknaal” to the wistful “Dhol Yaara Dhol” , we segue merrily along to the special from Patna Ke Presleys…… “Emosanal Atyachar” has achieved cult status on my campus, as it has, I’m sure on college circuits elsewhere in the country. The in-your-face brashness, straight-laced parody and cool-as-you-like Hinglish has struck a chord, and I dare say it has already become an oft-used catch phrase. However, my personal favourite is “Nayan Tarse” , the slightly-wasted sounding vocals of Trivedi himself resulting in a very grunge-like effect on this soul-meets techno track.

A frequent complaint about the film I’ve heard since then is that Anurag Kashyap has slipped back into uber-indulgent No-Smoking-territory again in the second half. To them I say, “Kaun kambakht bardaasht karne ke liye peeta hai? ” Dev’s descent into the seedy world of “connoiseur bars” , seedy undergound bars, and one psychedelic pharmaceutical after another is wonderfully captured here, in some virtuoso cinematography and camerawork. (To know more about that you can read this post by the man himself , about how Danny Boyle advised him to use a special camera technique… wonder he is credited in the film). Dev and Chanda’s first encounter is filled with deliciously funny dialogues, where newcomer Kalki Koechlin more than holds her own against Deol’s carefully cultivated rage and indignance.

That brings me to the two women in Dev’s life. To call the interpretation radical would be stating the obvious…. Paro in particular was brilliantly sketched out as a character. Mahie Gill is quite a handful, for both Deol and the obvious. If Paro was supposed to be a docile, demure character, nobody told Mahie…

“These boots are meant for walkin’ ,
And that’s what they’re gonna do..
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!!”

This is what she seems to tell Dev with every fiery glance, every defiant silence, and every sailor-like outburst of the choicest… check out her balls-out shaadi-ka-dance in the Emosanal Atyachar number(did I mention it’s her own wedding….?) Anurag sir, if you’re reading this, please cast her again in your next!

Chanda is alternately vulnerable and dominating. Half-child and half preying-mantis-seductress, Dev is intrigued by this strange and exotic creature who seems to be just as damaged as her. The use of the DPS MMS-scandal in Chanda’s backstory is a masterstroke…and tells us some very inconvenient truths. Kalki makes a solid debut with an utterly believable, if not compelling performance.

Which leaves us with the Curious Case of Abhay Deol. With every movie, the man has utterly reinvented himself. Perhaps fittingly, he was likened to a young Johnny Depp, by Anurag Kashyap in a blog post. Here, he has delivered the performance of his fledgling career. He has already put together a very impressive filmography, what with Manorama and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye….I have no doubt that he is the one Indian actor to watch out for in the days to come…would love to see him share screen space with Kay Kay Menon, another Kashyap favourite.
The great Frenchman Francois Truffaut first coined the word “auteur” in a famous essay, arguing that the director was in fact, the real “author” (auteur means author in French) of the film, leaving his handprints on each and every frame of the movie. He said that all great directors had a distinct visual and narrative style, which is unmistakeable, which is something separating the truly great from the merely good. I am not fond of singing paeans to anybody, but with Dev D, Anurag Kashyap has earned the right to be called one of India’s few true auteurs. I’m eagerly waiting for “Gulaal” and with every passing day, curse our luck and the Censor board for “Paanch” (someone, anyone please get in touch…how does one watch “Paanch?)
After this wonderful cinematic experience, I bummed along Park Street for a while, browsing through bookstores, munching down junk food……and come night, returned to a post V-Day Kharagpur, which was still as endearing , and still as much a pain in the ass as ever.
And now it’s my turn to annoy people, especially the committed kind, asking them about their V-Day. When they politely ask me about my own, I put on my best I-know-what-you-did-last-summer smile, and answer “I watched Dev D in Kolkata.”, like it was the most obvious, the most natural thing to do. Most of them give me a “what am I missing here” nervous chuckle, while their partners stare at me with undisguised loathing.

Come to think of it, at midnight on that Friday the 13th… it seemed the most natural thing to do, after all.