Monday, 8 August 2016

Dev.D: A different kind of 'Black Comedy'

Black Comedy is a farce that is played in the dark, as you know, with the lights full on. It's the Chinese convention of reversing light and dark, and exactly where anybody is at any given moment is the play.

- Peter Shaffer
Adapting Devdas has been a thorough favourite with the filmmakers of our country. While pursuing an ardent research for this most of us will be able to decipher that it is not just popular with Hindi filmmakers but Devdas has also been taken up by Urdu, Malayali, Telegu, Tamil and even Assamese filmmakers of the past. Most of these adaptations might fall into different linguistic categories, but it is the genre (romance, drama) that binds them. However, Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D takes a step forward and brings itself to a different genre, i.e. - Black comedy.
Wikipedia says – Dev.D is a romantic black comedy.

In layman’s terms, one would refer to this film as themodern day Devdas. By modern, we usually mean keeping the story in the present and changing its attributes in terms of character attitude, moral values of the same, and most important of all – the look of the film (clothing, space, etc.). To go with such a description of a modern day adaptation is not wrong, but what it is – is that it is incomplete. Such an adaptation must also shed light on the timeline it is placed in and the cultural background its characters belong to. Not only that, it should also try and question the existing, while it is faithfully following the original narrative.

In the context of Dev.D, starting from character names to the setting and the other aspects of the plot, all of which has been able to give us, if not new, maybe a refreshed definition of ‘new age’ film adaptations. As a viewer, one can easily look at the flushes of postmodernism in the narrative. What stands out and in my opinion, justifies the previous point is the eradication of ‘sex’ or  ‘sexual desire’ as a taboo, in terms of the Indian society. The film is one of the best examples of how one can break gender stereotypes, using the same. All of the characters of this film have their base feature, i.e. - libido.

Dev.D is a patriarchal film that reflects a massive amount of male chauvinism. Oxymoronic in its approach, it also reflects on how the two female leads- Chanda and Paro free themselves from the shackles of the superiority of males of the society. In the initial stages of the film, when Dev comes back from London, Paro has been successful at sexually intimidating Dev. In Dev’s point of view, there exists a picture of a ‘good woman’ who doesn’t jump to have sex. A good woman is a kind that will wait for the man to take the first step. This is where the character set up of Paro trumps Dev’s. Moreover, Dev blindly believes rumours about Paro sleeping with other men forgetting his own similar deeds. This is where Kashyap justifies his take on the oxymoronic approach. I am also of the opinion that both male, as well as female characters in this film, have been given equal attention in terms of driving the narrative forward.

It is also not very easy for us to place this film in the black comedy genre so soon. As per my understanding of this, the film’s placement under this genre is simply because of the ease with which Anurag Kashyap has been able to portray grave and graver issues regarding gender stereotypes and male domination. This ease has allowed the makers as well as the viewers to comprehend the problems (if any) and issues in greater detail, without having to switch between temperaments. Through a delicate childhood romantic relationship between Dev and Paro to when they are in a long distance relationship, Kashyap has tried to put forward subtly how the ‘guy’ had the upper hand since childhood. He even mistook this superiority to prevail when he came back from London. This is where the tables turned and brought the newer side of the narrative – Leni or Chanda.

Not only did the adaptation’s narrative stick to the basics of this present day timeline, it also managed to take up real issues and incorporated their portrayal. For exampleThe Delhi Public School RK Puram – MMS scandal and the Sanjeev Nanda BMW hit and run case. Leni, who studies in school, lands up in trouble when she decided to be physical with her boyfriend. There are two very evident and major points in the film narrative that help us identify with the contradiction that has been talked about in the points mentioned above. Them being – Paro victimised because of Dev’s egoistic reaction and Leni’s life toppling because of an irresponsible boyfriend whose intentions weren’t right. In both cases, the women have been shown to face hardships, their lives are highly determined by what the men in their lives do. However, in due course of time, the turn of events take an opposite course.

To analyse the change of events we must take their individual lives into consideration, for instance – Paro gets married to someone else, absolutely against her will. Post marriage she is shown to be a woman who values her own worth and hence refuses to physically involve herself with Dev every time. Leni courageously takes on her life and cuts through the thorny society that led her father to commit suicide and to flee from her own family. Leni ends up becoming a prostitute, she earns herself her livelihood and from that money pursues the further college education.

To recklessly progress with the individual lives of the two women of the film would also be wrong. We can take into consideration their worth in Dev’s life. Considering Leni, one can say that she was the typical object of sexual desire in films. However, she goes on to become the subject of love for Dev. Whereas, Paro has not completely been able to let go of Dev yet manages to prioritize her worth. She also succeeds in making Dev understand, in the simplest of terms that she was no longer available the way he wanted her. In my opinion, her concerns regarding Dev and his wellbeing were well rooted in ideas of friendship that dated back to their childhood.

This film also does not follow the dichotomy of characters, that being – good bad and hero-villain in particular. All characters have good enough reasons to be the way they are. Like I’ve mentioned before that this film manages to help get rid of sex as a taboo in the society. However, ironically, it cannot help accept the expression of sexual desires by women.

Keeping this aside, if one judges the film on the basis of its loyalty towards the original text, one will find that at both times, with Paro and Leni he fails to trust them and ends up protecting his ego and letting the women of his life go. This is where the complexities and the misunderstandings have been faithfully taken from the old text. The original text ends on Dev’s death for which no one but the character Dev can be blamed. On the other hand, Dev.D manages to get a happy ending that succeeds in putting forward ideas that needed some knowing. This film was one of the first that could put through new opinions in the minds of the audience and nothing had to be compromised with. This is how this adaptation encourages vigorously the idea of ‘acceptance’, especially acceptance regarding a change. It increasingly became easier for the audiences to absorb this film because of its unusual cast, about whom the audience did not have any preconceived notions.

All in all, Dev.D being an adaptation of a classical text of the past, did not fail to disappoint the aspirations of a constantly altering society yet remaining faithful to an already written and appreciated work of words.

Written by Smita Ganguli
Aspiring cyber journalist but too damn opinionated.

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