After his wealthy family prohibits him from marrying the woman he is in love with, Devdas Mukherjee's life spirals further and further out of control as he takes up alcohol and a life of vice to numb the pain.
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The son of Zamindar Narayan Mukherjee, Devdas (Shahrukh Khan) was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He grew up in the lush village of Taj Sonapur, where he spent his childhood, indulged by his lovely playmate Paro (Aishwarya). They grew up sharing a special relationship, in which they existed only to each other. Oblivious of all the differences of status and background, a bond that would never break grew between them. Slowly, it changed to love but it was still unsaid. But the reverie was broken when his family sent Devdas to London for education. Paro's world crashed knowing that her Devdas would be gone and she lit a diya, for it signified the fast coming back of her loved one. Years passed and Devdas returned. Devdas was besotted by her stunning beauty and longed to have her back. But Zamindar Narayan Mukherjee (Vijay Crishna), Devdas' father, met Paro's mother Sumitra's (Kiran Kher) marriage proposal with condescending arrogance. It caused a rift between the families and even... Written by
I was lucky enough to see this in the theater in the United States when it first came out. I had seen a few Shahrukh Khan films on tape (thanks to a friend), and when I noticed "Devdas" in the online movie listings, I decided to go have a look at what would be my first Hindi film in a theater. I was the only Anglo in a packed house and I aroused as much curiosity as I felt.
I was completely blown away by Devdas, from the first moment of the opening credits to the last bitter tear on Paro's cheek. Every shot, every frame of this film is like an artist's canvas. Aishwarya Rai is breathtakingly gorgeous, Madhuri Dixit's quiet beauty increases with each scene, and Shahrukh has never looked so good. All the supporting actors are incredible, particularly Jackie Shroff as Chuni-babu and Kiron Kher as Paro's mother.
The sets and the costumes are fabulously opulent...almost too fabulous, in fact, and at times threaten to overwhelm the story. But I was far too enthralled in the theater to do anything but gasp in open-mouthed wonder, and enjoy.
The story of Devdas, a famous Indian novel written in the 1920's by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, has been made into film numerous times by Bollywood. It is about the spoiled son of a wealthy man, who is loved by Paro, his lower caste neighbor and childhood playmate. Devdas is a weak, aimless sort who is blown about by destiny, never taking action until it is too late. He is unable to recognize his love for Paro until she has been married off to an older man and is lost to him forever. He then turns to the bottle, and to the prostitute Chandramukhi, for comfort and forgetfulness.
This story will probably be hard for westerners to relate to...there is no corresponding literature of the west that I can think of...perhaps Romeo & Juliet is closest. Bhansali's version differs in many respects from previous versions, and from the book, in that Devdas is a more forceful presence who declares his love for Paro, only to be kept apart by scheming family members. In the novel, however, it is Devdas' own flawed character that keep the lovers apart. He is simply too weak and indecisive to know what he wants until it is taken away forever.
Having seen the earlier Dilip Kumar/Bimal Roy version, and read the novel, I can say that Shahrukh Khan truly made the character his own and breathed a new life into Devdas, making him more lovable, and more a victim of fate than of his own tragic weakness. In the novel, and in the earlier Bimal Roy film, Devdas has almost no personality at all...he moves through the story like a mere shadow, and we only see his character reflected in the love of the two women who worship him.
Much attention has been given to Aishwarya Rai for her performance, which I agree was outstanding. She is almost inhumanly beautiful in this film. When I saw this in the theater I was in half love with her myself.
But it was Chandramukhi who haunted me after the film was over. Madhuri Dixit deserves much, much more attention than she has received for her wonderful performance, which has been relegated to a "supporting" role, when actually her role is every bit equal in importance to that of Paro. Chandramukhi is the only character in the film who is completely unselfish in her love...her love is the purest of the three, because she loves with no expectation of being loved in return. While Devdas and Paro are busy destroying each other's chances for happiness, Chandramukhi's love is always uplifting and positive.
Besides the award-winning performances (Devdas swept all the Bollywood popular awards in 2003) and the fabulous sets and costumes, Dedas has one of the best music scores I've ever heard, and dance numbers to match. I wished the opening number, Mere Piyar (performed by Rai), could have gone on forever, and toward the end Dola Re Dola (performed by Dixit and Rai) is a treat. Some viewers felt that the up-beat drinking song Chalak Chalak (performed by Khan, Shroff and Dixit) was out of place in such a dramatic story, but it is my favorite number in the movie.
There are so many things to recommend this film, I could go on, but I will just call it a masterpiece of Indian cinema and leave it at that.
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