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The Best 21st Century Mumbai Film?

All right, let me gush.

To my off-hand list of good fun films of recent years -- such as Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisii, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Johnny Gaddar and Luck By Chance -- let me now add Anurag Kashyap's Dev D.

In fact, lest I get all rational and "balanced" about it later, let me just come out and say it:  For my money, it is by far the best Mumbai film of the 21st century.

Let me confess that I went in with grave misgivings after having heard and read that Delhi's notorious "school MMS scandal" and the "BMW episode" were inspirations for the film. Particularly about the former, I had worried that the film would be exploitative. I was pleasantly surprised, if one can say that about something as grim as that. In fact, if anything, Anurag Kashyap's sensitive and empathetic portrayal of what the victim and the family go through establishes and anchors the film's emotional and moral core.  Pathos doesn't descend into bathos. There is no melodrama: it is just a very honest look at attitudes and relationships. All the characters are imbued with a fragile vulnerability --the visceral rage of the father and the uncomprehending, innocent, anguished rage of the young child are heartbreakingly real. There is no coyness or sanctimonious moralising.

That, in a nutshell is the film's strength.

And to the filmmaker's credit, despite the very matter-of-fact portrayal of things sexual, he manages to stay far away from prurience or voyeurism.

Watch i

All right, let me gush.

To my off-hand list of good fun films of recent years -- such as Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisii, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Johnny Gaddar and Luck By Chance -- let me now add Anurag Kashyap's Dev D.

In fact, lest I get all rational and "balanced" about it later, let me just come out and say it:  For my money, it is by far the best Mumbai film of the 21st century.

Let me confess that I went in with grave misgivings after having heard and read that Delhi's notorious "school MMS scandal" and the "BMW episode" were inspirations for the film. Particularly about the former, I had worried that the film would be exploitative. I was pleasantly surprised, if one can say that about something as grim as that. In fact, if anything, Anurag Kashyap's sensitive and empathetic portrayal of what the victim and the family go through establishes and anchors the film's emotional and moral core.  Pathos doesn't descend into bathos. There is no melodrama: it is just a very honest look at attitudes and relationships. All the characters are imbued with a fragile vulnerability --the visceral rage of the father and the uncomprehending, innocent, anguished rage of the young child are heartbreakingly real. There is no coyness or sanctimonious moralising.

That, in a nutshell is the film's strength.

And to the filmmaker's credit, despite the very matter-of-fact portrayal of things sexual, he manages to stay far away from prurience or voyeurism.

Watch it. Watch it for its humanity, for its wit, for its humour, for its irreverence, for a very matter of fact depiction of the seedy and seamy side, the dirty underbelly of Delhi  and a very gritty, harsh and brutal Punjab, without really going over the top.

Watch it for some astute social commentary without getting preachy at all. Watch it for capturing the new -- strong -- women and the old -- weak -- man. Watch it to hear the shattering sound of the stereotype on sexuality breaking...

Watch it for the seamless flow of language in the film -- how the characters lapse into English, or slip into Punjabi, but only to come back to Hindi (after a  detour into Tamil and French in one particular scene) in a totally natural manner-- in fact, come to think of it, the very weakness of Slumdog Millionaire is Dev D's strength. Danny Boyle is thanked for some of the wonderful cinematographic sequences in the film. Perhaps he could have picked Kashyap's brains on casting and language. Watch it for catching the angst and alienation of a rich, privileged, rootless, aimless, spoilt brat-slut in a contemporary Indian multilingual milieu -- the way the film version of that brilliant book, English August, failed miserably to do. 

Watch it despite the problematic, awkward and gauche initial 15 minutes or so. Watch it for situating the maudlin Devdas in contemporary times, with some fun intertextuality thrown in. Watch it for absolutely stunning performances from all, particularly the three main leads, watch it for goofy cameos such as the taxi driver who admits to drinking like a fish and, above all, watch it for its wonderful music, song and dance. Enough fanfare for now, so let me rest my case with clearly the song of the year (Music: Amit Trivedi, lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya):



Emosanal Atyaachaar -- the brassband version, performed by Patna ke Presleys

yeh dil pighlaa ke saaz banaa luuN
dhaRkan ko awaaz banaa luuN
smoking smoking nikle re dhuaaN
 
siine meN jaltii hai armaanoN ki arthii
arrey what to tell you darling kyaa huaa?
arrey sapne dekhe jannat ke
par mitti mein mil jaaeN
phookeN re ghar baar ki duniya..
wo bole good bye..
chad jae haaye allah
jisko bhii yeh bukhaar
 
taubaa teraa jalwaa taubaa teraa pyaar
teraa emosanal atyaachaar
taubaa teraa jalwaa taubaa teraa pyaar
teraa emosanal atyaachaar
 
jao jao oh dilbar
oh dilbar oh
taubaa tera jalwaa taubaa teraa pyaar
teraa emosanal attyachaar
 
ho gaii dil ke paar trajdy…tragedy
luT gaii re bahaar gul suukh suukh murjhaae
ho gaii dil ke paar tragedy…tragedy,
luT gaii re bahaar gul suukh suukh murjhaae
 
bol bol why did you ditch me?
zindagii bhii le le yaar -- kill me,
bol bol why did you ditch me, whore
bol bol why did you ditch me?
zindagii bhii le le yaar -- kill me,
jaao piaa jaao piaa jaao piaa
 
taubaa teraa jalwaa taubaa teraa pyaar
teraa emosanal atyaachaar
taubaa teraa jalwaa taubaa teraa pyaar
teraa emosanal atyaachaar
 
jaao jaaao oh dilbar, oh dilbar oh...
taubaa teraa jalwaa taubaa teraa pyaar
teraa emosanal atyaachaar

(We'd perhaps end up doing another post on the best songs of this century. Mine, I think, will have to be Bawra Man from Hazaraon Khwahishen..)

Perhaps after so much of gushing, another "balanced" post on what doesn't work for the film will have to be done, but for now, take my word, go watch it and at least come argue here as to why you disagree vehemently. Preferably, go watch it without having been biased and bugged unnecessarily by gushing reccos like this one, knowing fully well that chances are you'd come out feeling dissatisfied -- like I did.

Yes, perhaps the ending could have been different. In any case, please do share your list of films that make it to your top-5 list.

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