My Devdas review in Mid-day on July 12, 2002
Devdas By: S Ramachandran July 12,2002 Devdas **** Dir: Sanjay Leela Bhansali Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, Jackie Shroff, Kiron Kher, Smita Jaykar, Milind Gunaji and Ananya Khare There are times when you wonder why a loser like Devdas Mukherjee deserves 11 films dedicated to him and Bhagat Singh gets only eight. The Saratchandra Chattopadhyay novel has been exploited by filmmakers dishing out tales about a spineless drunkard who did not have the courage to stand up to his family for Paro, the woman he loved. Devdas spent his life at Chandramukhi’s brothel without exploiting her too - primarily because of his love for Paro, who married a much older Thakur. Picking up the spirit from Chattopadhyay’s bottle, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has concocted a cocktail of emotions, fizzing up the brim with the impishness of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and the garish colour schemes of Holi. Shah Rukh plays Devdas Mukherjee - the London-returned barrister son of the zamindar. His mother Kaushalya (Smita Jaykar) awaits his return, but he meets Paro (Aishwarya Rai) before he sets foot in the house. That is just the start of friction between the families of Paro and Devdas. Egged on by her evil older daughter-in-law (Ananya Khare), Kaushalya invites the ire of Paro’s loud mother (Kiron Kher) who gets her daughter married off to a rich Thakur with three kids - when Devdas’s mother refuses to get her son married to Paro. Admonished for being a lower caste, Kaushalya also casts a curse on the Devdas household. Devdas meanwhile rushes off to the city and meets his old buddy Chunnilal (Jackie Shroff), his friend from London. He also accompanies Chunnilal to Chandramukhi’s (Madhuri Dixit) brothel. After the initial reluctance, he hits the bottle and also hits on Chandramukhi, albeit with a condition that she does not lay her hands on him. But his father’s death brings him back home and later separates him from the family after one of his sister-in-law’s schemes work out. Soon he seeks refuge with Chandramukhi. And now Bhansali’s imagination starts working. Thanks to Durga Maa, he gets Chandramukhi to meet Paro. Did we hear Saratbabu say ‘Oui Maa’? Thankfully Bhansali’s idea works, unlike 1978 Telugu filmmaker D N Rao’s wild idea about Devdas’s reincarnation and meeting a now old Paro. Reverting to this film, Devdas consumes so much alcohol that it consumes him in the end - just before Paro can catch a final glimpse of the eternal lover at her doorstep. Performances are A-Grade. Shah Rukh Khan excellently hics his way through without a hiccup in the role of Devdas. Aishwarya Rai pumps glamour into the much sought-after role of Paro. (Most actresses who have been offered the role of Chandramukhi in earlier versions have asked for the role of Paro.) Lending a sense of respectability to a nautch-girl akin to what Rekha did in Umrao Jaan, Madhuri Dixit leads from the front with a bravura performance. Bhansali oozes from every portion of the film, including the notes of Ismail Darbar’s music. He has total command over the film and the subject. However, he does not introduce and later define the character of Chunibabu, and does not give him enough footage, though Jackie tries his best to fit into a role that suits him. Neither does he explore Devdas’ childhood, which is an integral part of the novel. Milind Gunaji, as Paro’s step-son-in-law, and Kiron Kher provide commendable support. However, the film is indeed a landmark, thanks to the flawless Saratbabu script. Bhansali, backed by the biggest budget in Indian cinema till date has given the film the Mughal-e-Azam feel, though at times one feels that he should have been subtler when it came to emotional scenes. A must film for the gentry.