The first three Bollywood movies I saw were Laawaris, Umrao Jaan (starring Rekha), Umrao Jaan (starring Aishwarya Rai), and Devdas, in that order. Perhaps that explains why I found Devdas a bit frustrating the first time I saw it(Read on and you'll see I've changed my mind). The movies I'd seen (with the exception of Laawaris) had one of three things, or all of the above: 1)a prostitute, 2)Aishwarya Rai, 3)a dragged out ending, or 4)a tragic love story that ended on a bitter note. This also gave me the false impression that the majority of Hindi movies were typically serious in genre, with a classic Indian vibe.
Obviously, I couldn't have been more wrong! As a matter of fact, since viewing many more films, I've discovered the opposite, which caused me to appreciate the darker dramas like Devdas that didn't have happy endings. As you may have read in my Umrao Jaan (starring Rekha) review, I realized it is possible to love a Bollywood film in a whole new way if you come back to it with a bit more understanding of Indian cinema.
The same thing that happened to me with Umrao Jaan happened with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, which I decided to show to my mom and bro to prove not all Shahrukh Khan films are as sugary as my fluffy faves. In doing so, I grew quite fond of the film's exquisite sets, magnetic performances, and haunting melodies (Maar daala, Maar daala...Sorry. It comes out sometimes.)
Let's start with the obvious. Aishwarya Rai is flawlessly beautiful, and while I have found this to be distracting in the past (I have to admit, sometimes I stare at her face instead of the subtitles), I think I'm getting more comfortable with her as an indentifyable character. Bhansali was wise to cast her as Paro, as her ethereal beauty was the perfect touch to the movie's elegant atmosphere. I'd heard he was originally considering Kareena Kapoor for this role, but I'm so glad it went to Ash instead.
But Ash wasn't the only one I took notice of in Devdas. Madhuri Dixit melted my heart as Chandramuki, the courtesean with the purest heart on the planet. Funnily, the first time I saw this movie I didn't quite get her role in the story. But this time, especially when watching the unforgettable "Maar Daala", I just got it. She was there because she loved Devdas unconditionally, expecting nothing in return but only living in the moments she could get from him. While I personally felt she deserved better since he insulted her most of the time, I was still glad she kept popping up just so I could get more of her.
Now that I've been exposed to different movies (with various budgets) in Bollywood, I can see how this is referred to as one of the most expensive ones ever made. Luckily, Bhansali's shopping spree worked (for me). The luminous sets glowed with elegance, a stark contrast from the almost vampy, mystical vibe in SLB's latest film, Saawariya.
The music in Devdas was fitting for the story, but there are two songs in particular that I literally cannot get enough of. "Maar Daala", which I find to be very suggestive and alluring in its own right, and "Silsila Ye Chayat Ka", which hypnotizes me every time I see it (Yes, I sometimes watch Bollywood songs over and over on Youtube. And I find it fun.). Madhuri is clearly a natural, but Ash ain't too shabby, either. I've tried to do the hand movements from "Silsila" myself but ended up looking more like a puppet than Paro. I've gotta hand it to Ash...She and Madhuri are now my two favorite female dancers in Bollywood (so far, and followed closely by Rani Mukerjee).
I have to bring up the final scene, and ***it contains a spoiler***: It had me just as much on the edge of my seat as the first time I saw it...I actually held my breath in suspense as Paro ran through the palace stairs, her red and white shawl trailing behind. Although I knew how it was going to turn out, I couldn't keep from thinking, right down to the last second, "Well, maybe she'll make it this time...!"
Obviously, she did not. And while this upset me greatly during my first viewing (I always cry at sad movies), this time I realized what a fine piece of work that scene actually was.
It's also worth mentioning that both my mom and brother loved Devdas from beginning to end on their very first try. But perhaps they're just used to me bringing out the Kuch Kuch Hota Hais and the
Veer Zaaras and needed a change of pace.
My favorite line in Devdas is when Devdas asks Chandramuki if she loves him, and she replies, "Or you could ask me if I breathe." Well, at least that's what my subtitles say. I wonder if it would sound even cooler if I understood Hindi. Either way, I can't wait to meet Mr. Right so he can ask me if I love him and I can use this. Don't worry...I'll be sure to write and tell you all about it.
Text © Copyright 2008 Nida Nazir
Bitten By Bollywood