Hindi cinema can never have enough of Devdas, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s immortal character, who chose dissoluteness over self-determination in his endless pursuit of self-love.
Many cinematic iterations over the years have steadily crafted, and grafted, an image of Devdas as the eternal Indian lover. Sudhir Mishra’s retelling bungs in some Shakespeare and a bit of personal history, and comes up with a mixed bag of a movie.
Fashioned more as a political thriller than a tale of doomed love, Mishra’s film puts us in mind of his memorable Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, which also had three youthful characters, stinging romance, and astute recreation of an India during the Emergency. That film has legs; it still feels as true and trenchant as it did when it came out.
Daas Dev has lofty ambition but not enough impact: the film lives in moments, but droops as a whole. Set in UP, it opens in 1997, with a dominant political family and its cohorts spreading their wings. Twenty years later, we have Dev Chauhan (Bhat) being positioned to take on his family legacy, his childhood sweetheart Paro (Chadda) doubling up as a political rival, and the crafty Chandni (Rao Hydari) learning when to give in, and when to take over.
We are told about the feelings between this troika, never really seeing anything earth-shatteringly intense overtaking them. The point that in this day and age pure love is a myth, and the only way it can work is transactional is valid, but not executed well enough: it doesn’t help that Bhat is bland, and Chadda is familiar in her feistiness. Rao Hydari stands out: there may be an actor in her after all.
Mishra is patently more at ease while cooking up his hothouse of political intrigue, with Saurabh Shukla (terrific) as the man behind the throne, Dalip Tahil as the devious businessman who only talks in crores, Vipin Sharma (as solid as ever) as an associate with an eye on the main chance, Anil George as a loyal friend, Sohaila Kapur as a widow with power, and Deepraj Rana with one of the most entertaining scenes in the film.
The trouble with all these people (a fine ensemble cast), whose questionable actions underline the common belief that all politics is for personal gain and not for the greater good, is that they get shoehorned into an overwrought plot. And its all much too jerky and staccato, never really letting its good parts breathe.
One such moment I loved has three people, two men and a woman, caught in an embarrassingly intimate moment: she tosses it off with a laugh, and we laugh with her, not at her. It’s nice to see a woman own her hold over men minus coyness; the scene is lifted by the wonderful Vineet Kumar Singh, the lead actor in Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz. The latter shows up here in a walk-on part, in a meta nudge-and-wink, deliberate I’m sure, to his own marvelous Dev D.
It’s the kind of moment which makes a film. Pity the whole doesn’t match up.