Monday, February 18, 2008


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


bollywoodfoodclub February 21, 2008 at 4:29 PM  

Shabash! Great post. I loved Devdas and didn't quite understand the whole thing about Chandramukhi being a tainted woman, thus not a suitable mate, the first time I saw the movie. It was my first Hindi movie, so I just didn't get that part. I've seen it again and loved Dixit's protrayal of devotion too. I LOVE Maar Daala too!

I also saw the 1955 Devdas and I think you'd like that one too and Vyjayanthimala as Chandramukhi. Here's a link where I posted the similiar song from both versions of the movie:

I also think the Rai and Dixit are the best dancers at this time in Bollywood.

You could ask me if I love Bollywood Nida, "Or you could ask me if I breathe."

All the best!

Filmi Geek February 22, 2008 at 7:06 AM  

Nice post, Nida - nice paean to a movie you love.

"While I personally felt she deserved better since he insulted her most of the time..." Here you have identified just one of the many reasons I detest this film. Devdas is a horrible character - weak, self-indulgent, mean - and not merely one, but two powerful women lose their heads in love for him despite his utter lack of redeeming feature. Quite the indulgent male fantasy there!

*Devdas* is one of those polarizing films I find - people are either entranced by it or repulsed. In my view, apart from the songs, the film does just about everything wrong. It's endlessly fascinating to me to see responses like yours, form the other perspective, to try to imagine what it would feel like to see *Devdas* as everything it set out to be, rather than, as I do, a shockingly awful waste of potential.

Rupa February 23, 2008 at 8:12 AM  

Very nice write up on the movie although (like most re-makes) I am a bigger fan of the original, in this case the Dilip Kumar version. Like Carla pointed out, SRK's portrayal of Devdas just gives him no redeeming qualities and you wonder why these 2 amazing women love him so much. Dilip Saab's gives the character much more depth & a subtle sadness that makes the character much more likable.

That being said, I too enjoyed watching this movie because it was so nice to look at! Madhuri just stole every scene she was in & my mom (who used to do alot of classical dancing in India) said that she is a much superior natural dancer over Ash. Jackie Shroff also turned in a bravura performance in a very underrated (albeit over the top) role of Devdas' best friend.

Love your line 'Bhansali's shopping spree' :) and you are not the only one who goes to youtube for Indian songs - all us Bollywood lovers do the exact same thing...

Sanket Vyas February 23, 2008 at 10:46 PM  

Oops - that comment above was from me but I was on my mom's (Rupa) computer at the time...

bollywoodfoodclub February 24, 2008 at 7:07 AM  

Filmi, sanket, aur dosto,

I think Devdas captures the tragic and very common experience of longing in love. Certainly the author, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, understands this unhealthy aspect of "love" and tries to show the lure of longing for love with the unattainable. He shows the social and psychological stew that causes such pain, dysfunction and co-dependency. Freud named the reenactment of trauma the 'repetitive compulsion' and understood it as an attempt to gain mastery over the trauma. So Paro and Chandramukhi are working our thier own traumas with their magnetic attractions to Devdas. They are compelled to love him until the trauma is worked out, hain na?

All the best,

Nida February 24, 2008 at 9:30 AM  

Sita-ji, Filmigeek, Sanket:

Great points! Carla, I think I can identify with your reaction to Devdas, as it was probably one of the reasons I didn't "get" the film on my initial viewing. I wasn't as repulsed by it though, because sadly, as Sita-ji states, this is a "tragic and very common experience". I have a lot of friends who are trapped in relationships or situations with men who do not treat them well, yet unfortunately it seems to be in their nature to nurture these men to love them. Of course, it doesn't quite work out and I hope and pray they muster up the confidence to leave these situations and find someone who treats them the way they deserve.

Sanket, this arrogant, almost cruel, persona of Devdas is probably what drew these two women deeper into his web of self-destruction. Chandramuki most likely wasn't in her dream profession, and Paro had pined for Devdas for years, thus becoming very vulnerable to him and allowing him to control her mood--Had they been confident and secure with themselves and their own lives--I'm sure they would not have given him the time of day.

Having said that, you'll all notice Shahrukh Khan as Devdas was not one of my favorite things about the film. Not that he didn't do a good job(I've learned to appreciate his performance now since I realize it's an example of him branching out from his norm), I just didn't find the character likable, either. Ironically, this was my first SRK film, and thus gave me a very different first impression of him.

I'm going to check out the original though--you've all peaked my curiousity!

Sita-ji--"You could ask me if I love Bollywood Nida, 'Or you could ask me if I breathe' "-- Hilarious!!

Nida February 24, 2008 at 9:36 AM  

By the way, I just want to say I'm not implying that all prostitues are miserable...I really don't know any and it's not my place to judge...It's just that Chandramuki seemed to be crying out for love, like she wasn't too happy with her life or her situation...Just my take!

bollywoodfoodclub February 25, 2008 at 8:58 AM  

Right Nida! The life of a nautch girl isn't as glamorous as it looks! All that spinning and dancing and pretty clothing can really get old. Not to mention the whole other part of it. It all gets back to that GREAT song, "Maar Daala" and the fact that her love for Devdas is killing her:

Love the song and the lyrics. Here they are in Hindi & English:

All the best,

Filmi Geek February 25, 2008 at 12:32 PM  

Sita, with respect, your comment is an example of what I referred to in my review of this film as praise for the movie *Devdas* should have been instead of the movie it was. The fact that you have to cite the novel to explain the film's themes is not a strength of the film! What the novelist understood or conveyed is irrelevant to an analysis of what the movie achieved or failed to achieve.

In my opinion whatever the original story might have had to say about grand themes of love and longing was totally obscured by a parade of directorial wrong decisions that would be laughable if it weren't so painful to watch.

I don't begrudge anyone a favorable view of this film but I am completely boggled by it. I think it's not merely a bad film, but the worst kind of bad film: potential utterly squandered.

Sanket Vyas February 25, 2008 at 12:37 PM  

*Sigh* - yet another example of how bad boys get all the girls ;)

Beth February 27, 2008 at 9:25 AM  

Oh Sanket, you've hit on one of my pet peeves in fiction and real life. When oh when will people learn that only foolish and/or emotionally damaged women go for bad boys. The rest of us know better and are wondering when the otherwise sane men will figure that out.

Machu,  April 9, 2009 at 8:10 AM  

This was my review on Amazon.

The story is about flawed characters..None of the 3 protagonists had any redeeming values... OK..maybe the courtesan Chandramuki had some. If you are looking for an uplifting story...This is not it. Knock on another door. But then, the world is not all about redeeming characters.

Its a tragedy...but the path to their destruction was delightful to watch.

For me..the movie came alive when Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) was on the screen. By Joe, what an impact she has... She was spectacular and mesmerizing. Her subtle grace ...never seen anything like it. I wish I knew how I can just extract just her portion in this movie and then play it in an endless loop. Including the dances she was in... I'll be a happy man.

I knew the story going in....and yet I enjoyed it.

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