Daas Dev Movie Review
This cycle of democracy, violence continues unabated though. As it would. Play it again, sham!
U/A; Romance, Thriller
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Actors: Rahul Bhat, Richa Chadha, Aditi Rao Hydari
One could (rightly) argue this film, despite its inverted title, direct references to drunk Devdas, his paramour Paro from a lower class, and the prostitute Chandramukhi, doesn't quite count as a full-on adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's 1917 novel of the same name. Which might be a good thing.
Who you (as an audience) wish you could be, generally comprise heroes in mythical/popular entertainment. Revealing who you actually are - delicate, real, human, as it were - often gets perceived as art-house cinema! Decadently rich, alcoholic loser/lover Devdas (with hardly any redeeming qualities), for his relentless endorsement by style/pop icons over generations - KL Saigal (1936), Dilip Kumar (1955), Shah Rukh Khan (2002), even Abhay Deol (2009) - possibly remains then the most 'art-house character', with an universal, mass appeal.
Lead actor Rahul Bhat (as Dev in this film) - doubtlessly competent, thoroughly confident - to be fair, isn't quite SRK so far as public expectations/imagination is concerned. Which is even better. This actually frees up the filmmakers to introduce fresh sub-plots, characters - simultaneously steering the story, inch by inch, closer to Shakespeare's Hamlet. The camera zooms out to survey the dark outer-world that Dev inhabits, rather than single-mindedly focusing on Dev's mental turmoil, or his narcissism alone.
The film is set at the heart of a political dynasty, in Uttar Pradesh, where pretty much everyone exists simultaneously as a loyalist, or a traitor, depending on the fundamental question that defines most human interactions: What's in it for me? These are essentially extremely ordinary people altogether seduced by a blind, brutal pursuit of power - whether that be Dev's uncle (Saurabh Shukla), or his chief opponent (Vipin Sharma); both first-rate performers.
Apocryphal as the story may be (and I repeat this quite often), writer Khushwant Singh once warned politician LK Advani: "You don't drink. You don't smoke. You don't womanise. You're a dangerous man," referring to the potent lust for power that can trump the most hopeless addiction there is. The only principle that guides politics, as the picture sharply argues, is that "nothing is personal" - a rule, like the law of Omerta, that must not be broken.
If anything, the inebriated Dev in this film, the slave prince/heir to a political legacy, while hardly a reluctant leader, is very much the only character with any moral compass at all, save a couple of insignificant others. What holds him together is possibly love, and empathy; the only things that can probably save humans from each other.
What holds this film together is politics of all kinds - led more obviously by money. But also by women - both Paro (Richa Chadha), Chandni (Aditi Rao Hydari) - given sex is as strongly a tradable currency that, since forever, has caused, and won wars. The sub-text is spot-on.
Writer-director Sudhir Mishra, whose Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005), as a film on Indian politics, remains unsurpassed still, looks at modern-day palace intrigues with an insider's take, although choosing to stay away altogether from the intricacies of identity-based politics (religion, caste etc.) that more wholly define the Hindi heartland (Full disclosure: Friend, part philosopher, director Mishra is also my favourite person, south of Vindhyas, and north of Versova!).
He also doesn't let complexities of other structures - law, judiciary, bureaucracy, etc - slow down a completely breathless narrative (at the same pace as Prakash Jha's Rajneeti) that unspools like a political thriller. This has its pluses, and minuses, of course.
The film appears rather densely plotted, plus populated, rather than calmly subtle, tightly simple, or even disturbingly real. It seems in parts, therefore, slightly under-realized. Does the penny drop? Yup, it does, even as human lives don't seem worth a penny, men drop like pins, as they are prone to, in several Shakespearean tragedies.
This rough, dusty roller-coaster ride though is still about the stolen moments (music included), some delightfully wonky folk, crackling scenes (screenplay co-credited to Jaydeep Sarkar), top-notch dialogues, soaked in the patois of contemporary Lucknow (co-credited to Tariq Siddiqui).
The pacy pessimism of the picture effectively captures that of the street. Psychopaths on screen strongly mirror elected leaders, who've herded us together to where we are now, and where we're headed. What's in their head? This pic is one way to ponder over that. This cycle of democracy, violence continues unabated though. As it would. Play it again, sham!
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Daas Dev: Movie Review