Just back from watching Dev D. No time for a proper review, so some general points of interest and thinking aloud will have to do.
What fascinated me most about this reworking of the tired old story of an essentially annoying character is one of perception and drama and how the two are connected. Let me explain: the Dev(das) character is a feckless, annoyingly self-absorbed, addictive personality who has, inexplicably, the love of two strong and very likable women. I have never been convinced by why this should be. For the first time it seems that there might be a way to see this character in a new way.
In Dev D, the three main characters are frequently seen reflected in mirrors in key scenes*: when Dev rejects Paro and she returns to her room, we see her reflection (we don't see her; that is to say, there is only one Paro in the frame and that is the reflection) and we watch as she observes her grief turn into anger and then resolution. Likewise, Chanda is often seen in the mirror watching her own transformation every day from a school and then college-going girl into a call girl who allows herself to be transformed into whoever her clients want her to be - nurse, school girl, dominatrix.
The first evidence we have that such self-awareness is not given to Dev is when he returns from London and we see him with his back to the mirror, looking at something (I've already forgotten, can you imagine!) in his hand. He doesn't look at himself; only we are aware that he is doubled, both himself and his reflection. Through the film, we will see him reflected many times in mirrors, or infer his reflection (as when we see him in his Paharganj hotel room, from the side, as he bends over the washbasin. We don't see the mirror but we know it is there) but we will notice that he never looks at himself with the attention that the women give to their own faces.
What we do see, however, is Dev's face transformed and distorted. Twice he puts his head under water and as if from a different medium, as a different life-form, we observe his face bloated and bubbled-over with his breath**; at other times, he takes a deep drag from his joint but it is our perception of him that becomes distorted and unreal, as if we had inhaled instead of him.
With Paro and Chanda, we are kept at a distance, aware of the separateness of the drama of their lives; with Dev, we are complicit in it; we are transformed by his drama, because we - like him - can't always see him clearly.
There were two or three missteps that for me diluted the impact of the film. Strangely enough, it wasn't the supposedly dragging second half - I didn't have a problem with that at all; I thought every bit of it necessary.
1. The scene on the bus where (SPOILER ALERT if this is important for you) he eats the woman's ticket because she's going on an on at him. It's a lift from a German short film. (Will put up the name and director and all later, once I've looked for it among my DVDs.) Now this is unlikely to be a homage because it's not a well-known or much-watched film. It's a lift. One that might go mostly undetected, but I've seen that short film and I feel a teeny bit disappointed.
2. The one sole voice-over in Dev's own voice when he's picking up a bonanza of one rupee coins from a faulty PCO and is almost run over by a driver who's as drunk as he was when he killed people just a couple of reels ago - it's totally out of character.
3. Does Paro really have to wash the man's clothes for him?
4. Chanda takes her name after watching the Bhansali Devdas. To have a character who's watched the film and yet remains oblivious of the connections seems a little odd to me. I mean, if there was anyone who could have pulled it off it would have been Kashyap, so that was a little disappointing.
5. The ending. I mean, please. Couldn't there have been some teeny little thing to indicate that that was a false trail? (It was, wasn't it? Please say it was. I mean, if it wasn't, where was the sunset?)
I can't get over how well the film was cast, especially in its main characters. Just superb.
Statutory Audience Watch:
One kid behind us who cried during the interval. Another one elsewhere who cried soon after but whose parents wouldn't leave the hall.
Two whole rows of young lads who had already seen the film, knew the dialogues and insisted to letting the whole theatre know they knew.
A hall full of giggling men and women during the cane field scene.
One idiot who, once the film was over, celebrated by scattering the remaining popcorn over his friends like confetti.
*Even as early on as when Dev and Paro are children, and the father decides to send him away to England to study, we see Paro's reflection standing behind Dev even as she stands in her own person in front of him; but it is in the reflection that we see her expressions.
**And what a shot it is! Blue and surreal until you begin to notice the water tinged with red around the nose and then the mouth. Then, when he pulls his head out of the water, you wonder if you imagined the blood and why it felt so plausible.