If a film has been made nine times over the years in four different languages and is also the most widely read story in India, then you can be assured that the plot has to be a good one and Devdas is most certainly a tear - jerker of the first order.
The story is a literary classic in India. Written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhye and set in 1917, the novel of Devdas has reached such heights that the term Devdas itself has entered common usage to describe lovelorn men for that is what the story is all about - love!
To sum up the story is very difficult without giving away too much for those who haven`t seen one of the previous versions but here goes.
The film is basically about the lives of three people. Devdas,played by Shah Rukh Khan, a London trained lawyer from a very rich upper class family of land owners. Paro, played by ex-Miss World Aishwarya Rai, his childhood sweetheart and constant companion that he returns to. We luckily see little of them as children, only flashbacks are shown with the story concentrating on their reunion and adult love. All throughout the years of his absence studying, she keeps a flame burning for him, not just in her heart but also literally . She comes alive upon his return and the romance is renewed. Unfortunately she comes from a family that, although rich, were entertainers and so marriage to her is out of the question even though they are infatuated by each other. Her mother then marries her of to an older widower of much higher social standing. The third person in the triangle of love is Chandramukhi, played by Madhuri Dixit. She plays a courtesan that enters the life of Devdas as he descends into alcoholism and despair when he is introduced to the world of drink and dancers by his college friend Channu Babu, acted by Jackie Shroff.
No more about the plot for you really must see it for yourself and I have no wish to spoil your enjoyment of how it progresses!
Currently at no.1 in the Indian cinemas, with a big star cast, multi-million rupee sets and a fantasticly beautiful film-score, do not write it off as just another Bollywood movie. This one is different and would appeal to anyone who loves cinema, indeed it was chosen to be shown at this summers Cannes Film Festival and received rave reviews, being hailed as the best film to come out of India for a long time.
It could have been a routine blockbuster movie. The director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, with only two films under his belt, was chosen to make the film and although it would have plenty of money available from it`s backers and some of the biggest stars of Bollywood in it, success was not forecast by some critics, citing that it could never compare with the last and for most, the best version of the novel. This had been made in 1955 and starred Dilip Kumar, that doyen of Indian cinema. Directed by Bimal Roy, it had won many awards and accolades for its portrayal of the intertwined loves of the three main characters.
But Bhansali`s 2002 version was to silence the critics.
With it`s sumptuous, wildly expensive and exhuberant sets sending the budget rocketing to make it the most costly movie in Indian history at 500 million rupees, with it`s jinxed production responsible for the death by decapitation of one worker and the serious injury of another, with fires breaking out on-set., with the arrest of the producer on suspicion of being linked to organized crime and with the directors meticulous eye for detail delaying everything, there were doubts that the whole production would ever finish but thankfully it did.
So what did we get?
The soundtrack, released prior to the film`s release as is the norm in Bollywood, is breathtaking and immediately addictive. The music is stunning and fits each and every scene to perfection.The sets are simply out of this world, creating an almost fairy tale world at times with colours, water, lights and decorative buildings. Costumes are just right, elaborate but not over the top The dancing is captivating, up-lifting and exciting, not to be confused with the standard offered in the usual B-movie romp for we have two superb dancers in Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai. They even dance together at one stage, a brilliant piece of choreography.The love story and it`s associated songs are enthralling in their beauty and portrayal of the passion involved,be sure to take enough tissues for you will have a tear or two in your eyes.
The performances by the key players are top-notch. Shah Rukh Khan`s Devdas is entirely believable in his love-struck role and men will certainly empathisise with him.He seems to get better as the film progresses and Devdas sinks down into a pit of despair. Women will swoon at his good lucks and wish they were in his arms, able to comfort him. Aishwarya`s Paro will make the males in the audience realise how easy it is to lose your heart over a beautiful, intelligent woman. Her looks are beguiling and her acting has come on by such leaps and bounds that she carries each scene with confidence and composure that you truly believe that she is Paro. Madhuri Dixit`s Chandramukhi really brings out the character of the woman beneath the dancing saris, a woman seeking love in her world of lust.
So is it a classic to rival or even surpass Bimal Roys 1955 Devdas?
It is certainly the best film to come out of Bollywood in years and will remain watchable for ever but it does have it`s drawbacks. Shah Rukh Khan tries his best and his best is very good but his performance is a little unconvincing in some parts - he is a better romancer than drunkard! The other players at times inject too much melodrama into the plot and Jackie Shroff for one is unconvincing as Devdas`s college mate - plus the fact that he must be about 20 years older than the part he is supposed to fill _ - a common failing in Indian cinema! At times the film does begin to drag and is too overlong at 179 minutes.
I really enjoyed the overall experience and left the cinema on a high! I would have to award it 8 out of 10 overall and recommend you all to see it and judge for yourselves!