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DaasDev Deconstructed: Shakespeare Meets House of Cards With Some Salty Love

Love, sex, and violence do sell cinema, and DaasDev has those box-office elements, but what happened to Devdas the muse in the multi-pronged march to suspense, gunshots and denouement? As the film flows to its finish, we find the biggest surprise for those who watch directors closely.

Madhavan Narayanan | News18.com

Updated:May 3, 2018, 1:19 PM IST
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DaasDev Deconstructed: Shakespeare Meets House of Cards With Some Salty Love
Love, sex, and violence do sell cinema, and DaasDev has those box-office elements, but what happened to Devdas the muse in the multi-pronged march to suspense, gunshots and denouement? As the film flows to its finish, we find the biggest surprise for those who watch directors closely.
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Some weeks ago, when I saw the trailer of DaasDev, I had impulsively said it was the third part of an unintended trilogy on politics by Sudhir Mishra, following his acclaimed Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi and the underrated Yeh Saali Zindagi. It seems I was not wrong, but Mishra pre-empts critical imagination by alluding in a preamble that the movie is about the addictive nature of power, with an acknowledgment to Shakespeare and his own grandfather's political history. Still, there is much to solve in Mishra's films, like a crossword puzzle, because he likes to mix intriguing characters who seem real, yet unreal, in plots well above room temperature.

DaasDev, inspired by Devdas, a 19th Century Bengali classic that somehow fascinates Bollywood, is hardly the story of a narcissistic, confused young man torn between two women as it shifts to 21st Century Uttar Pradesh in the times of Sex, Lies and Live Television. If you are looking for a love triangle, drop the idea. It is more a polygonal tale woven in a colourful web of intrigues, involving the proverbial 50 shades of grey. It begins with a somewhat cryptic pastiche of scenes and shots that feel like a Picasso painting the wrong side up. But everything catches fire close to the intermission and after as events get the grip of a clear thriller -- filled with suspense, twists and turns. And lots of booze bottles and guns, if you please.

But that's not what this director is famous for -- not counting his one-night thriller Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin. In fact, the plot line is so strong in terms of what they call "story value" it nearly overpowers Mishra's hallmark insights into grey characters. But look harder and there they are.

As the plot thickens, you see a Shakespearean motif of characters trapped in circumstances, first doing things you expect them to, and then not. The initial disclaimer of characters not resembling real people rings hollow as we see politico brothers Bishamber Pratap Chauhan and Avdesh Pratap Chauhan in a political rally that sees violence -- followed by the usual suspects of contemporary Indian politics: moneybag fixers, gun-toting henchmen, ideologically fluid defectors and an unholy business-politics nexus. You can play some spot-the-character on a fine evening though Mishra fuzzes it all up, be it the names of political parties or the familiar personas.

Dev Pratap Chauhan, the impulsive, sexually charged and often violent Daas Dev, is a far cry from Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's original Bengali Bhadralok but for the booze and the women. The women are not your Paro and Chandramukhi of yore either. They jump in and out of beds in a tale of manipulations and trade-offs. It's complicated, as they say on Facebook. As violence and political manipulations rise, what you see is a Shakespearean tragedy for the House of Cards generation -- yet with a touch of idealised romance that is unmistakable. You nearly lose sight of the original Devdas as the film looks closer to a Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam or its latter-day takeoffs: Anurag Kashyap's Gulaal and Tigmanshu Dhulia's Sahib Bibi Aur Gangster.

In fact, the guest appearance of Kashyap as Bishamber is symbolic of how Mishra's style seems to have been influenced by him and Dhulia in its contemporary, earthy narrative rhythm, but the characters are more subtly woven. There is a paradox in the 21st Century Paro (Richa Chadda) and Chandni (Aditi Rao Hydari): they have lost their innocence but retain their purity; they are involved in manipulations but retain their vulnerability. The two woman actors seem to fit the bill in their strange mix of frailty and strength, though the dialogue delivery could do with some room for improvement. Watch Paro's determined anger and Chandni's nervous huddle shots amid the chaos to see inner motifs of women who can surprise. Look at the intricacies of the plotline to see that amid the transparent villainy of self-seeking men, there is still some sacrificing "Mother India" spirit lurking somewhere.

The big surprise is Rahul Bhat as Dev Pratap Chauhan. In him, we find a rare show of rugged elegance, plonked right in the middle of arthouse sensitivity and mainstream Bollywood in looks and mannerisms. It fits well the spirit of the times as neo-feudals in their upward mobility display contrasting social colours.

What holds the earthy essence amid the ups and downs, which can fascinate popcorn audiences is the way Saurabh Shukla plays Avdesh Pratap, and a host of other characters from what I now call the UP School of Cinema. They are weaned in the lush badlands of the Lucknow-Gorakhpur-Varanasi triangle with its quaint characters and quirks.

The music by a welter of composers singing lyrics of profound meanings is a positive surprise, and a bit of an indulgence in a film that multiplex filmgoers will watch for other reasons. This kind of patchiness in Mishra's movies is enjoyable for those with an acquired taste to appreciate his fascination with sublime feelings and gangster roughness in a single cocktail. I’m not sure if it is for everyone.

Love, sex, and violence do sell cinema, and DaasDev has those box-office elements, but what happened to Devdas the muse in the multi-pronged march to suspense, gunshots and denouement? As the film flows to its finish, we find the biggest surprise for those who watch directors closely. Scratch Sudhir Mishra's Devdas turned an angry-young DaasDev, and you find a poetic Vijay from Pyaasa rising from Guru Dutt's classic. Yeh satta agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai.

(The author is a senior journalist who has covered business, public policy, politics, technology and diplomacy. He tweets as @madversity)
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