Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff, Kiron Kher
Written by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Prakash Kapadia, based on the novel by Saratchandra Chatterjee
Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Hindi, with English subtitles
Running Time: 182
Date: 05/23/2002
IMDB

Devdas (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Facing the Music

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's novel, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas comes with some impressive credentials. The most expensive Bollywood movie ever made, it premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and was chosen as India's Oscar submission. It also reportedly earned a bonanza at the box office, despite mostly negative local reviews. Going into it with limited knowledge of Bollywood, however, Devdas emerges as a most impressive achievement. Not nearly as energetic, suspenseful and cheerful as last year's Lagaan, Devdas wallows in a more operatic, melodramatic form of storytelling and winds up an epic tragedy in proportion with Romeo and Juliet.

Bollywood box office hero Shahrukh Khan stars as the smoldering Devdas, a wayward son who has been sent abroad to study law and finally returns home after 10 years. The first person he wants to see is his childhood sweetheart, the impossibly beautiful Paro (Aishwarya Rai). The two are obviously still in love even after such a long absence and only five letters exchanged. But the bitter, backstabbing family members on both sides conspire to keep the lovers apart. Paro winds up becoming the second wife of an aristocrat while Devdas retreats to a brothel and becomes an alcoholic.

Bhansali sets the story within an entirely artificial universe, completely designed and controlled, not unlike Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. When Devdas and Paro cavort near a waterfall, a heavenly blue light bathes their faces and bodies. The camera itself seems aloft on angel wings, soaring at impossible angles through the extravagant sets. Given that I'm no expert on Bollywood music, I found the jaunty tunes in Lagaan far catchier and more alive than these numbers, which are more prevalent in the film's first half. (I guess no one has much to sing about in the second half.) Even so, it's tough not to be moved by their spirit. Indeed, the entire film has an overwhelming hugeness to it that's hard to resist. Everything that happens does so in the grandest way -- the most passionate romance, the most beautiful girl, the most wonderful guy, the most tragic ending, the saltiest, most stinging tears.

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