New Delhi: If you recall the sheer opulence of Baz Luhrmann's musical Moulin Rouge, complimenting Craig Armstrong and Marius de Vries's music, you will find it easier to justify Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus Devdas' place in the '10 Greatest Movies of the Millennium' list compiled by the Time magazine.
A decade after it was released in seven languages, the grandeur of Devdas continues to enamour an audience in the West bred on expensive Broadway classics and technologically advanced science fictions. If you think about it, Devdas is the perfect film to be feted in Hollywood, sharing space with giants such as WALL.E, The Artist, The Lord of the Rings and Avatar.
And why not? It was Bhansali's ode to India's best known unrequited love story. It premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival and was India's official entry for the Oscars in 2003. At that time it was India's most expensive film at Rs 50 crore.
The film, based on a 1901 novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay of the same name, is one of the most popular adaptations in the history of literature after Romeo and Juliet, with several regional versions. At the time of its release, the film was critiqued by the Indian media as painting an affluent picture of India's zamindari system that bordered on the incredulous.
Then there were the dance numbers, the Bengali dialect and over-the-top melodrama that only marginally impressed the Indians who have grown up on Bollywood kitsch and have seen grander fares. But for the Western audiences, the wide staircases, balustrades, chandeliers and horse-drawn Phaetons were a window to a mysterious opulence of a country they associated with wild animals, honey-skinned women with kohl eyes and films that were mini musicals in themselves. The reputation of Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai's fabled beauty preceded them in overseas screenings.
The Time gushed about Shah Rukh Khan as an 'all-world charismatist' and Madhuri Dixit 'a hot number who danced flamencos on men's libidos'. "A year after 'Moulin Rouge!' had its world premiere at Cannes, another visually intoxicating musical opened at the festival, introducing sang-and-danced Bollywood dramas to the international culturati," it said of the film.
"The piece is played with such commitment that the tritest plot twists seem worth believing - and dancing to, in nine nifty production numbers. But the fervid emotion is what makes the thing sing. Beyond that, Devdas is a visual ravishment, with sumptuous sets, fabulous frocks and beautiful people to fill them; it has a grandeur the old Hollywood moguls would have loved."
At the heart of it was an irresistible love story, not unlike that of Christian and Satine's in Moulin Rouge. Ismail Darbar and Monty Sharma's music was the toast of the film fraternity. It remains one of Indian cinema's showcase films even though the acting bordered on screeching melodrama. But the Broadway audiences lapped it up, eulogizing the sets and the dances that have become a stamp of Indian films. In 100 years of Indian cinema, have there been no better films that Time could have considered for its Millennium List? There have been many. But none that works as a complete Indian package the way Devdas does.