10 years to the magnum Opus 'Devdas'

Browsing through my hard drive recently, i came upon a copy of the 2002 magnum opus of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, and something urged me to open it. I played the file and moved the cursor on the time bar and it landed on a scene where Kiron Kherr was dancing in her red Bengali saree, and i was surprised that i had not heard that song for a long time now. Kiron Kher was dancing at the 'Godhbharayi' function at Thakurs house, thinking her Paro and Devdas will be engaged to each other that day. She was naive and loud, but thats what the character of hers was directed to do, by Mr.Bhansali. He was sure he wanted it dramatic. In fact, Devdas, was at its time, and even now, one of the most melodramatic movies ever made, and its not a bad thing here. If any story should be so over the top melodramatic, it is this one. Or is it that Mr.Bhansali quite convinced us with that.The huge Havelis, the grand interiors, the colourful screens and the lavish costumes tells us that Mr. Bhansali never stopped to think twice about going the extra mile. It becomes so evident (if not after all that you have seen already) when the song goes "Jamuna ke theer bhaaje mridungg..kare krishna raas radha ke sangg', and Sanjay took it literally to screen with a gorgeous Aiswarya and white-clad Sharukh Khan in each others arms near a beautiful set of melodically flowing river and a broken branch of a tree.

I have heard critics complain, (even i thought so too at first) that all the grandeur took away the soul of the movie. Sanjay couldn't restrain from making lavish sets and bright decors, and he didn't concentrate on the content of the movie. That's the time now. The brighter the movie gets the more commercial its deemed to be. But i wondered, if there was any movie with dialogues more poetic than in here. The very scene after the song we see a humiliated Kiron kher confronting Devdas' mother, talking about dowry and other practices. But what makes it perfect is that the dialogues are not preachy, but actually seemed like words from a broken heart. Sanjay isn't skeptical about having heavy metaphors in speeches, or having characters out perform subtlety. He pours one confrontation after another where the characters love, fight, plots and venges one another, with sheer directness.In a scene, where Kiron Kher (again!!!) blows her Shankk(indian horn) and curses Dev's mom saying that every act has two parts, and in the first part if she and Paro danced, in the second part Dev and his mom will dance to death - we see the build up of the tension raise the hairs on your arms. Such was the effect of the dialouges in that movie. Who can forget the lines where Madhuri teaches Dev about love.

Who could forget the introduction scenes in the movie. While Aishwarya as Paro came in with a dance while saving her lamp from losing its ignition, Shahrukh had a bigger build up towards his introduction. Paro hears the arrival of Dev, and she starts running across her great mansion, through the glass doors, and the coloured sun patches falling on her when a humming is brought in to sprinkle aroma to the eagerness. She shuts herself in her room, when a bee irritates her. 'Jaa Bhawra. Naa saata. Saajan ayo re'..... 'Oh Bee, not today. Do not bother me. My dear one has come'. While Aiswarya swings and spins with her white sheets driving the bee off, and the camera does a top angle to get the sheets in a beautiful circle formation, the door opens and comes in a sauve sophisticated Shahrukh, in an English attire. Sanjay plans the angle in such a way that we get the first look at his hero, when Paro realises his presence and drops the sheets which flies past Dev and uncovers him onto the screen.

Well, i loved the scene from the moment Paro starts running through the hall dropping her pedicure tray. Madhuri as Chandramukhi gets her image flashed through broken glasses as she looks Dev Babu through them, and says its not good to have broken glass during somebody's first visit. She speaks with such romance in her words and voice, that you know what her character will bring to the fore, in this poetic romance.

The magnum opus would have been just another colorful landscape and no feelings, hadn't Sanjay worked over each and every moment on the screen with his cinematographer Binod Pradhan. It was not only his responsibility to gather all the colours and decors and artwork in these sets, but to also move according to the pace being set after each scene, mostly that ends in a confrontation. Towards the end, he just lets his camera run along with his characters, in their mindsets and with their pace. While the camera slightly tilts when shahrukh turns his face, it sprints on the trolley as fast as aiswarya when Paro rushes to see her dying Dev. Right, left, up down- the camera wouldn't just let the audience rest their tensions for a moment. The camera caught the angrily flying saree of Paro's in atleast ten different ways that would make the viewer hold their breaths.

Well, the talk about Devdas wouldn't be complete without discussing the performances and the music of the movie. But let me not do the former, as they have been reviewed a zillion times by now, and we know what Aiswarya and Madhuri accomplished in this movie. About Shahrukh everyone has their own opinions, and I am not discussing that here. Kiron Kher, Smita Jaykar and Dev's family also were well cast.

The moment i heard that Sanjay Leela Bhansali is coming up with a mega budget movie, i wanted A R Rahman to be a part of it. But ofcourse that didnt happen, which is good in the end. Ismail Durbar was roped in, and though he had given an awesome album in 'Hum Dil de chuke Sanam', i was still skeptical. But what an amazing classical composer he is. In Devdas, there is songs of every mood, but none had even wandered an inch from being classically composed. 'More Piya' to 'Kaahe ched mohe', Ismail opened up to his best. His 'maar dala' took breaths away as slender Madhuri rolled on the floor in her green regalia.While most of Sanjay's extravanganzas have a Dhol song, like 'Dhol baje' in 'HDDCS', or the recent 'Nagada sangg Dhol' in 'Ramleela', the best would still be the amazing dance number 'Dola re' from this movie. While Madhuri's heart-stealing footwork, and Aiswaryas beautiful shape adds to the beauty of the already beautiful set and camerawork, the song in itself elevates the whole mood to a cliff drop moment.

Sanjay must have done other works after Devdas, which are equally extravagant and bright, but they haven't been able to capture the audiences hearts and imaginations as much as 'Devdas' did. He proved that it was not only Peter Jackson who could set up such complex settings, and India was as much in command as Hollywood in this regard. CG is a different story though :). He also fearlessly worked in an environment of high melodrama, when the tides of film making were slowly changing to realistic portrayals. In the end, what he achieved was truly one of the biggest Magnum Opus ever made in India.


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