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-[Film Reviews]-, Bollywood, South Asian Cinema

‘Devdas’ (2002): Sanjay Bhansali’s Stylish Masterpiece


Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali || Produced by: Bharat Shah

Written by: Prakash Kapadia || Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff, Kirron Kher, Dina Pathak, Milind Gunaji, Smita Jaykar, Vijayendra Ghatge, Tiku Talsania

Music by: Ismail Darbar || Cinematography by: Binod Pradhan || Editing by: Bela Sehgal || Country: India || Language: Hindi

Running Time: 183 minutes

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas remake is a remarkably similar film in style to his previous outing, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (HDDCS, 1999). Like that film, this 2002 romance is visually extravagant, sporting an amazing variety of colors, lighting, and visual flair, showing off breathtaking and intricate dance sequences, and exuding catchy, melodic music. Unlike HDDCS, Salman Khan’s annoying performance is nowhere in sight, and Devdas is a stronger film for it with the famous Shah Rukh Khan in the lead role.

Devdas is a great melodrama that does an excellent job magnifying the interpersonal affairs of several extremely wealthy families from early 20th century British-India. The melodrama is biting and has many “Oh no they didn’t!” -moments that will make you laugh and gasp with the story, rather than at it. In many ways, Bhansali’s Devdas is romantic melodrama at its finest. People actually get bitch-slapped in this movie, and it is awesome. Furniture gets burned, people get burned, family members stab each other in the back, Shahrukh Khan gets off-his-ass drunk (or drinks himself to death, rather), and multiple individuals get roasted in public. It’s great stuff!

My personal favorite Bollywood number of all time: “Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka”

Prakash Kapadia’s script keeps Khan’s performance subdued and melancholic during the whole affair. He uses drunken excess and tears where it is appropriate, for the most part, and that timing makes the story’s drama most effective. As for the female lead, Aishwarya Rai, and supporting actress, Madhuri Dixit, they both do great jobs with the material and fill the screen with just the right amount of emotion — no more, no less. In actuality, they are the true stars of this film, not Shah Rukh Khan, and it is the two big female names who take center stage in the most meaningful conflicts. SRK is the catalyst that initiates all these various fiery reactions, which fuel this adventure, but in the end, Dixit and Rai are the main attractions that make this affair worth watching.

The film is paced well due to the arrangement of its fantastic musical numbers and is further supported by its amazing visuals. These set-pieces range from complicated, intricate dance sequences to personal, deliberate musical numbers free of diegetic lyrics. In the former, the glorious dancing skills of Rai, Dixit, and others, combined with fantastic set designs and beautiful costumes, synergize with great music to produce some of the best musical numbers you will ever see in a motion picture. In the latter, the music takes even more center stage and serves to channel the exaggerated on-screen emotions of the characters in drawn-out fashion. The visuals during both these types of sequences and even in non-musical scenes are extraordinary. Devdas is the polar opposite of a film like Lagaan (2001) and its monochromatic palette. This movie is bursting with color from every part of the rainbow, making for a visually dazzling experience from start to finish.

It goes without saying that the technical components of Devdas are the film’s most impressive features, with its music perhaps being its most memorable of all. The score of any Indian epic is critically important to each film’s success, but with a Bhansali picture, it is even more so. Frequent collaborator of Bhansali, composer Ismail Darbar, delivers one of the industry’s most popular soundtracks of the last fifteen years. The movie’s most famous number is easily the centerpiece, “Dola Re Dola,” which features a powerful ensemble of taught duet vocals, powerful brass, and a variety of ethnic instruments that channel the unique and complicated dances between Rai and Dixit. However, the soundtrack has additional star numbers that are equally if not more impressive, including the opening “Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka,” with its haunting vocals, striking low-key visuals, and sublime percussion lineup, and Dixit’s lauded “Maar Dala,” a song that paces  a courtesan’s seductive presence with a protagonist’s descent into alcoholic madness. Top to bottom, Devdas is as musically strong as any in the Bollywood business, and that key aspect of melodramatic presentation goes a long way toward making Bhansali’s picture such an interesting adventure.

Top: The famous “Dola Re Dola” centerpiece is absolutely fantastic. Bottom: Madhuri Dixit’s “Maar Dala”

Admittedly, the movie’s screenplay loses steam by its final half hour, and some of its moral consequences for Khan are somewhat contrived. Devdas’ closing moments remain haunting and end its narrative on a fittingly depressing note, but a portion of the hoopla that leads up to the story’s climax feels forced.

With that said, Devdas remains an engaging story throughout. The scandalous gnashing of teeth between the high-ranking Indian families of Rai and Khan, plus the added dimension of Dixit’s involvement via a seductive brothel, give this romantic narrative plenty of dramatic muscle to flex. All the emotions and tears inherent in Hindi melodramas hit the right beats and maintain an effective rhythm in this romantic adventure, so the tale feels passionate rather than campy. Many Bollywood love stories flounder from the massive weight of stretching what would, in most cultures, be 22-minute soap operas into 3-hour+ epics, but Bhansali masters this task with ease. Much of Devdas’ appeal comes from its amazing presentation and distinct tone, but the movie packs more than enough emotional punch to add substance behind all its style.

The film is far from flawless, sure, and still needs stronger writing to back up its powerhouse visuals and unforgettable musical numbers. Overall, however, Devdas‘ effective pacing and strong melodrama make the ride worth it. This is how you do a musical epic.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Devdas comes equipped with an awesome audio-visual arsenal of luscious dance sequences and beautiful music. Its costume and set-design are impeccable. From a technical standpoint, Devdas is a masterpiece. Story-wise, the melodrama feels natural and well paced. The downer of an ending finishes the narrative on a strong note.

However… many of the proposed conflicts and consequences for Khan, including his insatiable urge to drink himself to death, are a little much. I would be lying if I didn’t admit Devdas is overwhelmingly a stylized extravaganza, to the point where its melodrama and characters, however memorable, are secondary to the musical set-pieces at best and narrative afterthoughts at worst.

—> Devdas still comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

? What man in his right mind drinks to stay sober?! Damned right. The only people worse than those who stop drinking before getting tipsy are those who don’t even drink at all.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.



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