Saturday, March 31, 2012

White Elephant Blogathon: Dev D

This was my face after the movie finished
Read about the White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Paul Clark at Silly Hats Only.

            In general, I prefer to know as little as possible before seeing a film. Had I looked up Dev D, my “present” for this year's White Elephant blog, I would have known that it’s a modern adaptation of Devdas, a classic Bengali novel from the early 20th century. I would have known it was a box office success in its country and hugely popular. It was a critical success as well, and won a number of FilmFare Awards, one of the oldest and most prestigious film ceremony for Hindi language films. Most importantly, I would have known that this laughably and horid film was “serious.”

            Dev D follows a naïve 20-somethings boy named Dev (Abhay Deol) from a wealthy family who is a clearly an idiot, unworthy of our sympathies (which we are asked to do so for over two hours). He thinks he is in love with Paro (Mahi Gill), a childhood friend. Dev was sent off to the UK after causing his father much pain, by not calling him “father” (a detail I’m assuming from the original novel, because to be sent halfway around the country for such impudence is quite the punishment). But he never forgot about Paro, and through the beauty of the Internet, they stay in touch. Plus, Dev is such a good guy that Paro sends him naked pictures (what a gentleman so full of love). So when he returns to Dehli, the two only have one thing on their mind, as one shot of roosters suggests, though the two can never find alone tine.

Sign of a badass: a murse.
            But that’s only the first twenty minutes of the film. Anurag Kashyap, the director of the film, elongates the film to over two hours through techno-punk Indian music montages that continue over and over and over. In fact, at least forty-five minutes of this film is a montage of something (usually Dev drinking himself to the point of destruction). If you enjoy the new trends in Indian rap and techno, perhaps you’ll get something out Dev D. But instead, this simply elongates the film, and none of the actors are singing and there are only a couple sequences that feature any type of choreography. It’s instead the equivalent of Michael Bay doing a binge drinking montage—Transformers, the Alcoholic Bollywood Years.

            And then there’s also the rest of the narrative. On a whim, Dev hears a rumor that Paeo has been stripped of her virginity and sex with some other man. Instead of investigating it or asking Paro about it like a normal person would, he instead verbally abuses her, so she marries another man that same week. Looks like over a decade of childhood puppy love can’t resist one little fib.

Can the hooker be redeemed? When she looks this good boys and girls!
            The film then does a Tarantino style flashback to introduce us to another character, Leni, played by the gorgeous Kalki Koechlin. Leni was a popular high school girl with an older boyfriend, who had her perform oral while he videotaped it. The video goes viral, he goes to jail, but clearly the naïve and young Leni is the real person at fault, and her father reveals that he watched the video too (though hopefully he only watched). So he does the only natural thing and puts a gun to his temple, which is the film’s funniest moment.

            Sadly the humor drops from there, as Dev D becomes a romance between the alcoholic Dev and the fallen Leni, who becomes a prostitute (but with a heart of gold, of course!). As someone naïve about most Bollywood cinema, it’s hard for me to see why Dev D was considered so inventive, besides its modern day soundtrack (which drove me nuts). But it’s hard to take your film seriously when your protagonist is a jerk for two hours, and then randomly redeems because he decides he wants to change (he does nothing to justify such action of course). I believe one of the lines is “I’m not in love with Paro, I just wanted to have sex with her!” Dev D is big, loud, visually colorful, but annoying and its style comes less from the story it’s trying to tell than the film’s attempts to reach a younger audience (think She’s the Man tearing apart Shakespeare, but if there wasn’t really a plot).

            Dev D could have been manageable if it wasn’t for the repeated music montages, but they keep coming and coming and coming, without any sort of relief. And considering the film could have been two-thirds the length if it cut half of them, that’s saying a lot. Yes, this story is about corporal excess, but that doesn’t mean you need to have actually more montages to show that. Damn it, Dev D, I hated you. I hated you oh so much. I hated the fact you thanked Danny Boyle in the opening credits, I’m guessing for “popularizing” Bollywood film in someway. I hated your characters. I hated that your plot only needed thirty minutes. And I hated your damn music montages. This film made me want to go into my own binge drinking montage, hopefully set to better music.

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