Monday, January 27, 2014

Broken Glass, Anklets, and Liquor

Destructive misunderstandings arise between people who grew up in happy environments and people who grew up accustomed to having their trust and faith betrayed. This is the driving force in 2002's Devdas, one of Bollywood's many adaptations of the popular 1917 novella. The only other adaptation I've seen is the deeply flawed 2009 modern retailing Dev D. The 2002 version, set in the original period of the novella, is a much more effective film. It's also easily one of the most decadent films I've ever seen; every frame of the film contains something visually stunning. It's so over the top that sometimes it eclipses the story but for the most part this is a beautiful, tragic film with excellent performances by its three leads.

Shah Rukh Khan plays Devdas in this film and it's good casting--vulnerable and obsessive are perhaps the two things Khan does best. As the film begins, he's returning home after being educated in London at the command of his cold, abusive father.

I thought Devdas' home was impressive and gorgeous but I figured it must be distracting for anyone watching the film who recognises what famous temple or palace was used for the location. It was only later that I found out the place was constructed for the movie.

Everyone is overjoyed at the idea of Devdas returning, especially Devdas' mother and his neighbour (and childhood sweetheart) Paro--played by the intensely beautiful Aishwarya Rai. Her family is poorer and of a lower caste than Devdas' but you wouldn't know it from the sets and costumes--one of the flaws in making everything opulently beautiful is that it doesn't truthfully reflect the financial status of all the characters. But the movie certainly has a fairy tale, intentionally unrealistic quality as we see right away in the fact that Paro has kept a candle lit for Devdas while he's been away and we see that even a great, complicated dance number in the rain cannot extinguish the flame.

Over 12,000 pieces of stained glass were used for the sets of Paro's rooms.

Devdas' mother becomes bitterly jealous when he chooses to see Paro before her, a jealousy exacerbated by Devdas' hateful sister. The two women contrive a plan to humiliate Paro's family. In retaliation, Paro's mother decides to marry Paro off to someone even more rich than Devdas. In his despair over these circumstances, Devdas writes to Paro that he no longer wishes to be with her, telling her she ought to marry someone else.

Paro, of course, is heartbroken. And of course Devdas regrets his action which Paro can't understand why he executed to begin with. But it makes sense when one considers how his father exiled him to London to reform him in his mischievous youth, when one considers the machinations of Devdas' sister and mother. No one in his family has faith in one another and the devices they use in reply to this lack of trust are drastic, violent actions, meant to destroy the situations where hope has any chance of manifesting. Devdas' mother, after staging a deceit to humiliate Paro's mother, brings up the guavas Paro, as a child, had stolen from an orchard belonging to Devdas' family. Paro's mother, of course, can't understand why Devdas' mother would mention something so innocent.

So Devdas embarks on a self destructive spiral in the bad part of town which, of course, looks like the best part of most real towns. This was all constructed in Mumbai for the movie:

I was reminded of the enormous sets in old musicals, like the Venice set at the end of Top Hat complete with art deco canals and gondolas.

Devdas meets a famous courtesan named Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) in a brothel that would be hard to distinguish from a palace.

He's rude to her, of course, his personal pride and his family caste compels him. It's his friend who brings him to the brothel originally. And yet, Chandramukhi, who's never loved anyone, falls for Devdas because of the despair she sees in his eyes. She also comes from a world that abuses trust.

Devdas, who before never drank, now dives into a permanent state of inebriation. In response to Chandramukhi's affection for him, he tells her he will only visit her brothel when hates himself and he thinks of Paro. So he essentially takes up permanent residence at the brothel.

It's a really beautiful film. I'm curious now to see some of the older adaptations though I know it'll be just about impossible to get decent copies.

No comments:

Post a Comment