Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Devdas (2002) Review

Devdas is the ultimate love story. The Indian Romeo and Juliet (in which case I think it is better). Childhood friends become star-crossed lovers, who the audience instantly gravitates to. Devdas was not originally a movie, but actually a Bengali novella written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. It has now been adapted to the big screen over a hundred times, yet the audience never seems to fade. This tale is the epitome of undying love and it exists between the three main characters: Devdas, Paro, and Chandramukhi.

Devdas is a very complex and troubled character. Although he is titled as the “hero” of the film, one finds it hard to truly define him as that. He is not a superhero and not once in the film did he ever do something truly good for anyone. He continually breaks the hearts of those around him, which finally leads to his death. In the 2002 version of Devdas, the movie starts with both Devdas and Paro in their early 20’s or so, which is a difference not only from the novella, but also the 1956 version of Devdas, where the audience is able to experience their childhood. I personally enjoyed this opportunity to have a glimpse into their childhood, because it shows and even greater transformation in Devdas. As a child he was rambunctious and carefree, leading to his dismissal to Calcutta (he goes to London in the more recent one). As kids, Devdas comes across with as if he only cares about himself. At one point he strikes Paro and she proceeds to tell on him, only causing him to come back and apologize the next day saying he will never strike her again (clearly a lie seeing as he hits her on the head before her wedding). Creekmur states that Devdas is a creature of habit and repetition, and writes, “Devdas seems more fated to repeat actions than to actually fulfill promises” (181). This is also played out by his return to his home and also the brothel. Although it seems Devdas has changed when he returns home from London (more refined and scholarly), he instantly falls back into his old self by spending all his time with Paro and rebelling against his father (The “I object” scene). Instantly the audience is drawn into this relationship and can only hope for the best, but a sick twist of fate occurs. Devdas leaves yet again, which leads to his repetitive visits to the brothel. The only promise Devdas semi-manages to keep throughout the whole movie is that he will return to Paro as a guest in her house. Even then he does not make it to her, dying right outside of her house. Devdas has a love for Paro throughout the movie which seems to be his downfall. Although one hopes that they will be united despite the many obstacles, the audience must settle for tragedy.

Yet Devdas would not be the character he is without the love triangle he finds himself in. The theme runs throughout the movie with Devdas constantly chasing Paro, and Chandramukhi following after Devdas. Once again tragedy is created through this triangle as the audience picks sides and watches hearts break. Nair writes the following: “Parvathi and Chandramukhi are classic examples of the projection of two archetypes of women in Indian cinema- the woman of the house and the woman of the world: the first as the devoted, all suffering and self-sacrificing housewife, and the second as the one destined to please society as a whole, always there to help the hero in distress, very often at personal risk” (86). Nair defines these two characters perfectly. Paro has and will always love Devdas. This is clear in the 1956 version during their childhood, when Paro does not play with the others so that Devdas will not be left alone or when she gives him her food so that he will not go hungry. Even at an early age Paro was there to respect Devdas and to devote herself to him. In the 2002 Devdas, Paro’s devotion is a candle; an eternal light that will never go out which symbolizes her love for Devdas (only when he dies does the light flicker out). Paro has counted the number of days, hours, and minutes she has waited for Devdas to return. She even risks not only her reputation but also that of her family, when she goes to see Devdas in the middle of the night alone. Paro is willing to fall at his feet for his love and be fully devoted to him, yet her heart is broken when Devdas will not go against his parents wishes and leaves. Although one would think Paro would forget Devdas after he deserts her, she continues to hold him in her heart even after she is married to another man. The undying love is a strong theme throughout, proven not only through the relationship of Devdas and Paro, but also through the relationship of Bhuvan Chaudhry and his deceased wife, who tells Paro that although she is now the woman of the house, they will never really be like husband and wife because he still loves his first wife. The symbol of the candle is even present in Paro’s new home as it travels with her and she protects it from those who try to put it out. She is willing to go against the wishes of her new family for Devdas (which she does multiple times- bringing in Chandramukhi, keeping the flame for Devdas, and running to him as he lies in front of her house).

Chandramukhi on the other hand, represents the woman who belongs to everyone. She is introduced when Devdas goes to her brothel to try and forget Paro. This does not work one bit but it does create the love Chandramukhi has for Devdas. She is surprised by the way Devdas is disgusted and how he pays her without receiving anything from her. She is so accustomed to receiving money for the love of her exploitation, that this shocks her and creates an instant attraction. Once again another woman in Devdas’s life is willing to throw away all her pride just for him, which is clear when Chandramukhi makes a bet that Devdas will return. She gives him everything she has throughout the movie, from taking him in to her heart. Chandramukhi has always pleased others, but with Devdas she is finally thinking about her own self. But although she gives all the love she has to Devdas, she seldom receives any because his continuous love for Paro. Devdas says, “Chandramukhi, I can't say how the gods of virtue will judge you. But, I do know if I meet you again, in another life, I will not be able to resist you.” There is a point where you think Chandramukhi has almost given up on Devdas, and that is when she meets Paro. Paro, who had always been so warm and kind towards others, comes into the brothel with all the disrespect in the world towards Chandramukhi, who thinks she can not compete with Paro. But both women quickly change their judgements of each other when they observe the love they share for Devdas. Paro is so touched by Chandramukhi’s love for Devdas, she even invites her to a ceremony being held at her home (again risking her reputation) and also gives Chandramukhi the bracelet Devdas once placed on her wrist. What ensues is one of the greatest dance sequences of the film featuring Paro and Chandramukhi (Aishwariya Rai and Madhuri Dixit- two Bollywood greats), in which Paro passes on her love for Devdas to Chandramukhi, after realizing he can be happy with her. Although the two had every intent of battling for his attention, they find themselves both just wanting the best for Devdas. In the end, Chandramukhi realizes she must settle for second-best with Devdas though, when he leaves her to visit Paro one last time. She accepts this and is thankful for the time she was given, hoping that in another life they will be reunited.

The other characters of Devdas enhance the tragedy the audience must experince. How badly I wanted Bidi Ma to just intercede and say Paro and Devdas belonged together, or how much I wanted the evil sister-in-law to catch on fire after she corrupted the mother and destroyed everyones lives. The father repeatedly scolds his son and rejects the love between Devdas and Paro, causing him to die alone and have his son show up drunk to his own funeral. Paro’s mother dances her feet off, only to be let down and laughed at. Bhuvan and the love he does not share with Paro. Each one of these characters brings a little more tragedy into the story that is already full of ill fate.

As a whole, this movie is one of India's greatest. It not only depicts love, but also hatred and greed. The movie comes to life with vivid colors and indescribable dance sequences. Each song was written with a special purpose (it took two and a half years to compose) to depict this undying love that exists in the triangle of Paro, Devdas, and Chandramukhi. The movie is certainly worthy of any praise it received and the story of Devdas will continue to be recreated over and over again.

Posted for Claire

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