Directed by Anurag Kashyap, Dev D follows Dev a rich, upper-middle-class guy from Delhi who throws himself into a destructive lifestyle when his childhood girlfriend marries another man.
Dev D is completely unlike Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s take on Devdas (2002). That’s Dev D’s biggest strength but at times also its major weakness. Unfortunately, I haven’t read the source material or seen the 1955 classic so pardon me if I criticize elements that are, in fact, being faithful to the original story. Dev D finds some very interesting ways to subvert expectations and give unique spins on a story that dates back nearly 100 years now. But it’s so focused on doing that, that it skips out on some very important elements that prevent it from being a cohesive story. However, it’s still a very interesting take on a timeless story that will always find ways to feel relevant. Dev D, undoubtedly, not just feels relevant but is also keeping up with modern times.
Harder, better, meaner
Dev D pushes its titular character in more interesting ways than before. Where we’ve previously had a cowardly character that couldn’t stand up to his parents, we now have a narcissist who is the only one to blame for his misery. That to me was a huge surprise and hooked me in completely. All the self-loathing and self-pity makes that much more sense and doesn’t give any room to sympathy making it more of a character study. That’s exactly what this character needed. Something audiences could look at and immediately say, “That’s who we should not be”.
Another highlight is the character of Chandramukhi, who probably has more depth to her than Dev himself. Instead of just being a mindless charmer to Dev who fulfills his desires regardless of how she is treated, Chanda in Dev D stands up for herself. Yes, she is still a bit gullible, but she also draws the line when she must. Why she does this you ask? It’s because she has a rich backstory that has made her a strong and responsible human being. Without her, as she has been portrayed, Dev D wouldn’t work as well as it does.
I know him but I don’t
For all the good, there’s a lot that’s missing. Dev and Paro do not feel like a real couple. For two people who’ve supposedly been in love for their entire lives, they barely have an actual conversation. Maybe this was a conscious decision, to highlight Dev as a shallow human being regardless of his heartbreak. But that raises the question, what exactly is his problem? It certainly doesn’t feel like Paro. Even after her marriage, he feels less like someone going through heartbreak and more like a wild teenager going through puberty.
This makes his journey far less interesting. Without a convincing reason for his downward spiral, there’s very little to be invested in. Chunni seems more like a plot device that just exists to guide Dev than someone who’s genuinely invested in him. I don’t know why Dev’s father had to die in the story. It felt as though it just happened because it was supposed to.
But Anurag Kashyap’s gritty and grungy vision makes up for most of the flaws. Set design and cinematography are a delight and just ooze with personality and style. All the while still being authentic to the time and being perfectly realistic. Abhay Deol does exactly what’s required from him in every scene, not missing a beat. The film also has an interesting take on the ending. It seems very intriguing as an idea but because I felt I didn’t really understand Dev, I don’t really know what that ending means for him. Ultimately, I just feel indifferent, which can potentially be worse than being upset with an ending.
Dev D experiments with its source material in some very interesting ways and Anurag Kashyap’s stylized direction makes a classic tale feel fresh. However, a focus on style can at times lead to a lack of substance, skipping elements that are crucial to the character of Devdas.