Cast: Abhay Deol, Mahi Gill, Kalki Koechlin
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: * * * 1/2
To reprise one of Hindi cinema’s most-remade storylines would require both courage and an audacious new vision. Director Anurag Kashyap is equipped with both. And he gives as much as he takes from this classic tale of a love lost and pined for.
Dev D is a stylish, adventurous interpretation that gives an old story a contemporary edge and pushes the boundaries of Hindi cinema. You expect that, of course, given a title like Dev D and characters transposed from genteel Bengal to earthy Punjab, from one century to another. But you could still be taken aback by the unfettered play that Kashyap allows his imagination as the film ricochets between gritty and bizarre, mustard fields and dreamscapes. Amazingly, it all holds — for the most part. <b1>
Under Kashyap’s baton, Dev aka Devendra Sigh Dhillon (Abhay Deol) and Paro aka Parminder (Mahi Gill) are sexually adventurous lovers who break up because of a lie and an emotional atyachar. The eponymous hit song, performed at Paro’s wedding, has to be one of the highlights of the film with its picturisation as quirky as its music and lyrics.
With Paro gone, Dev begins his slow descent into hell. Enter Chanda, the multilingual call girl who can seduce in Hindi, Tamil, English and French. With her bee-stung lips, unusual face and refreshing lack of acting guile, Kalki Koechlin imbues the part with a touching fragility.
Unlike earlier directors, Kashyap fleshes out this character: Chanda’s slide begins with a lurid MMS clip in school. She was then Lenny; she renames herself as she watches Chandramukhi’s Maar Dala in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas.
But Paro returns to Dev’s life. Kashyap plays down the long-awaited reunion with unexpected domesticity in some beautifully executed scenes and then intertwines Dev’s two love stories in a tale of redemption.
If there is pain, there is humour too, of various hues, but mostly dark. The dialogue is pitched right, the cinematography can be both rich and edgy, the art direction terrific. Amit Trivedi’s music and background score are dazzlingly inventive. Mahi Gill is earthy and engaging and there are some absolute gems in the supporting cast, particularly Chunni the pimp (Dibyendu Bhattacharya).
There is just one problem: in standing this tale on its head, in the stylistic flourishes and inventiveness that he brings to it, Kashyap has lost some of its emotional underpinning. You watch fascinated but your heart rarely aches for Dev. Abhay Deol puts in a taut and remarkably controlled performance, but the vulnerability is missing.
Still, if you like your cinema far removed from the mainstream, don’t miss this one.