Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review of Devdas Reviews

While I can agree in some regards with Michelle and Claire's reviews of Devdas, I must say that what drew my attention the most in this film was the story structure – particularly, as mentioned in the Creekmur article, the repetition that seems to characterize Devdas, both in remakes and in the structure of the film itself. Dev and Paro's early flirtations, upon his return from England in the beginning of the 2002 film, follow a self-sustaining pattern of one rejecting or playing coy, while the other plays the earnest suitor until frustration or tempers break.

Playing to Creekmur's Freudian interpretation of the film (and of the film's ongoing remakes), none of this repetition leads to resolution. Everything the two lovers do lays their path towards dissolution. Their coy, teasing flirtations do not bring them closer together; playful resistance to each other gradually turns to real pain and wrath. Each contact with each other does not change the nature of their relationship in some fundamental way – it only unravels whatever future they may have seen together.

If we are to hold with Creekmur, this would somehow represent a larger question, and allow us to speak to why Devdas is remade again and again. The central tension of Devdas – some melancholy pain of class disparity, perhaps, or a simple longing for a simplicity of childhood that does not exist in an adult world – remains or remained unresolved. Devdas is a story revisited and revisited – but not updated, as Baz Luhrman updated the Shakespearean classic in Romeo + Juliet, or the Coen brothers updated Homer in O Brother Where Art Thou. The story, quite simply, exists in an almost standardized form across decades, with key scenes reiterated again and again. The difference may be in how each creator chooses to interpret and focus the story, perhaps reflecting changing periodic or regional sentiments, but the deeper tensions remain the same, and continue to strike a chord.

Claire, in her review, asks whether we can really call Devdas the hero of his eponymous story. Perhaps he is an antihero. Perhaps he is the protagonist. But, at least in the 2002 remake, it might be better to compare Devdas to the object of Maltese Falcon in its movie - while his name provides the film its title, the film is only about him insofar as other characters' feelings about him motivate their actions. The film does not seem deeply interested in Dev's motives or desires; only the manner in which those motives and desires impact the women who love him. His dissolution is treated so cavalierly, we must question whether the film really cares about Devdas at all – it seems that his romantic destruction is built as an opportunity for Chandramukhi to show compassion, and for Paro to feel the pangs of worry. That one of the most cheerful and comical musical numbers of the entire film is about drinking, at the time when Dev is most consumed and destroyed by his alcoholism, speaks volumes.

Perhaps I lack the proper romanticism, but I cannot read Dev, in this film, as the protagonist, or a character developed and made to be sympathized with. Instead, I must see Chandramukhi and Pavarti as the protagonists, which provides – I suspect – a more interesting set of questions. In a film with two female protagonists, I note, those two women only have two opportunities to speak to each other, and only briefly. They are both driven by their passion and concern for Dev, and that passion takes over all that is important in their lives. As such, the gender politics of the film remain firm: while the woman of the world and the woman of the house are the two powerful female archetypes, they are defined in their relationship to men – particularly as they seek to care for those men. It also shifts the focus of the film's tension drastically. It is no longer the anomie-afflicted young man of the upper class, who is forced into the strictures of an upper class life, that causes its conflict; it is the yearning by the rising middle and lower classes to share a measure of equality and care with that man.

Nevertheless, I thought the film was fantastic. Singh may call it too flashy and colorful; while I will grant that the ubiquitous intensity of emotion may have prevented powerful moments from hitting with due strength, the lush imagery is absolutely unforgettable.

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