The biggest problem with the resurrected 'respectable' cinema of Bollywood is that despite the quality that obviously comes across, the overall focus of a film is lacking in completeness. Sometimes it's because the director is not fully versed with the complete business of filmmaking, relying on others to fill in the holes - cinematographers in the case of rocking dudes and scriptwriters in the case of long-haired impresarios - and sometimes it's because the studio backing it wants to create a product that sells.
Whatever it is - we remain thankful for the gradual uplift of quality. Dev D, however, is a different beast. After the fiercely independent and supremely arrogant No Smoking
, Anurag Kashyap's latest is not so much a flawed marriage of art and commerce, it is a complete triumph of vision; so thoroughly the work of, dare I say, an auteur, that it feels absolutely stunning.
There are concessions that Kashyap makes in his vision - making a slightly uneven film where sometimes the jokes are subtle and the emotions stark yet understated, and at other times everything is explained conveniently to the viewer with a very loud in-your-face palette, likely because of the mauling his last film got. Despite that variance in tone, the movie remains a single voice and a complete vision. This is not the film Kashyap was born to make, but with Dev D, he has finally come into his own.
There are mistakes he makes in his execution. Alongside the bumpy pacing, some of the writing is gratingly bad, and without revealing too many moments, it is surprisingly ineffective, especially given that the rest of the film is top notch. The writing is stellar in most scenes, and this is key here - better made films are judged on a much harsher scale. We want them to be better, and so it is with Dev D. Even with niggles, however, there are strong points to be made in the favor of the film.
For one, the casting and story come together triumphantly together to give us some of the better characters Hindi cinema has seen. Dibyendu Bhattacharya's oleaginous Chunni as a pimp who leads young Dev to the mad world of drugs of prostitutes is starkly memorable, and neatly etched. Mahie Gill as Paro, is a delight to watch. She plays the character with the right touch of naÃ¯vetÃ© bordering in insanity that slowly graduates into unbridled confidence.
Abhay Deol, fast becoming the go-to man for leads in quality cinema, is his superb restrained self here. Kashyap and Deol have worked hard to breathe life into this unidimensional classic hero by adding facets and rare gems of detail, but as a symbol of humanity's weakest link â€" self-aware morality dying in self-pity - the character never had much of a chance to win our affection. Which is why Abhay comes off as good but not great; mostly because there is no greatness that can be infused in a role such as this.
Kalki Koechlin as Chanda, the strongest character in the film, is merely okay. Her presence is a sum total of her coiffed personality, and her acting skills relegated to passively being a well-written character. She may yet have surprises for us, but Dev D ain't the place for it.
But the real star here is the director. Such beautifully composed shots are serviced for the smallest of details that you are at once living the spectacle. Kashyap's style of filmmaking has always been overtly influenced by the post-modern Euro theatre, but Dev D is a stylistic, impressionistic piece of filmmaking overloading our senses with vision and sound.
This neatly (ha!) brings us to Amit Trivedi. Trivedi has seamlessly integrated his music with the insane tapestry of this film's visual sense, and has composed the music as the living embodiment of the tragic story. His music has the right spirit, and complements the tone of the film pitch-perfect. This is a movie that values the overall cohesiveness of it all, and we are rewarded for that indulgence.
Anurag Kashyap's aim was lofty, and not a little arrogant. He wanted to create multi-faceted characters in a story told many times before, and he wanted to make this version authentic, real, and at the same time cool
. In that, I am happy to say he has succeeded. Whatever the faults of the film, they are all because of Kashyap, and such singularity of imagination and execution has to be lauded.