Time magazine’s influential film critic, Richard Corliss, has selected Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Devdas as one of the 10 best films of the millennium. Devdas shares the list with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Michael Hanake’s The White Ribbon, James Cameron’s Avatar and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
Citing the reasons for selecting Devdas, Corliss says, “The plot, based on a 1917 novel, is the good-ol’ family-values propaganda, drenched in luscious masochism: rich-boy leaves home, abandons girlfriend and suffers magnificently while dallying with a prostitute. The piece is played with such commitment that the tritest twists and all the dancing in the nine songs seem worth believing. But the fervid emotion is what makes the thing sing. Beyond that, Devdas is a visual ravishment, with sumptuous sets, fabulous frocks and beautiful people to fill them; it has a grandeur the old Hollywood moguls would have loved.”
Bhansali is thrilled, to say the least. “This is the tenth year of Devdas and, somehow, the film hasn’t lost its sheen. We’re now going to do a 3D version of the film to commemorate these ten years. When Devdas released, it was slammed by Indian critics for being over-the-top and melodramatic. But Corliss had loved the film and supported it for the same qualities. Today, when he selects Devdas alongside The Artiste and Avatar as one of his 10 favourite films of the millennium, I feel that my struggle was worth it.”
Bhansali claims he has received compliments for the film everywhere outside India. “In 2008, while doing the opera Padmavati in Paris, I went to a bistro. The lady at the counter struck up a warm conversation. ‘You are from the land of Devdas,’ she said. I didn’t tell her I made the film. I just asked her why she liked it and she said she loved the opulence, the flamboyance, the songs and dances. These were the qualities I was initially criticised for in India then.”
Bhansali feels melodrama is nothing to be apologetic about. “It is my forte, and I love it when a western critic as emiment as Corliss endorses melodrama. We have to stop getting embarrassed about the so-called ‘song-and-dance formula’.
That is Bollywood and we should be proud of it. Instead of trying to make films that Westerners would approve of, we should just create cinema that comes naturally to us.”
Sanjay says he will return to literature for inspiration after many years. “My next film is based on a literary work, too. And I am happy to say it has a lot of singing and dancing.”
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