Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) and Paro (Aishwarya Rai) were childhood friends, whose friendship grew into love as they grew up. Although from slightly different levels of society, they were close - until Devdas left for London. On his return, their love is rekindled, but a wrong decision by Devdas places their relationship in jeopardy. As the crisis worsens and the families clash, Paro is betrothed to another man, a stern and distant widower. Devdas, having lost his chance, is devastated, turning to drink and living in a brothel, where a soft hearted courtesan befriends him. Devdas continues to sink into an abyss of depression even as his longing for Paro intensifies, and finally when as a broken man he tries to see her one last time, he realises it's just too late.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The visual scale of this latest adaptation of one of India's most popular stories is huge. Some 42 generators were used for the film compared to the usual two or three, with 2500 lights, 700 light men and innumerable junior artists. Its half a dozen musical numbers are the film's more obvious production highlights, but there is much more to its accomplishments than these. The lighting is not just BIG; it's also sensitive and intimate at times, especially in the close ups of the two lovers, whether alone or together.
Eyelights are beautifully maintained even in the darkest scenes, and the extraordinarily rich colours of costumes and sets are given maximum vision value. Why am I going on about the images? Because the film's emotional and story content is totally bound up with the images. As director Sanjay Leela Bhansali says, "all the characters in Devdas have something very special in them. They have strong minds but tender hearts. Eventually, they are people who think from the heart and not the head. And in spite of losing in life, they never lose faith in God. Therefore Devdas, which was a simple story had a soul which was so big. I felt that to do justice to this, it had to be made with grandeur and opulence."
He goes on to compare Devads to every Indian in every street, who wants love and yet is unable to articulate his feelings. That is perhaps at the heart of the film. But the social and cultural setting of traditional India are crucial for an understanding of the film, or even to be able to approach it with Western eyes. The nuances of social hierarchies and the ancient traditions that bind families, that dictate customs and that rule everyday life are silken threads that are as strong as steel cables.
Bhansali's previous film was Straight From The Heart, and he again uses his leading lady, the impossibly gorgeous Aishwarya Rai, whose every facial feature is perfect, accentuated by big, wide eyes with clear whites and unfathomable pupils. Leading man Shah Rukh Khan has the rugged good looks to make him at once credible and masculine, and the supporting cast handles the important secondary roles beautifully.
For those unaccustomed to Bollywood movies, some of the film, especially the first half, will seem forced and contrived, with clunky dialogue (the subtitles are a tad old fashioned). But the power of the production itself and the quality of the performances win us over and turn what seems at first a fluffy escapist piece of glitz into a meaningful and dramatic work produced with great zest.
Imagine millions of everyday Indians in thousands of villages and towns struggling with their daily lives seeking momentary escape in the dark of a cinema where for a few rupees they can live in the vibrant colour-saturated world of wealth, opulence, beauty - and someone else's heartache.
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CAST: Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff, Kiron Kher, Smita Jaykar, Tiku Talsania, Ava Mukherji
PRODUCER: Bharat Shah
DIRECTOR: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
SCRIPT: Sanjay Leela Bhansali (novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhye)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Binod Pradhan
EDITOR: Bela Segal
MUSIC: Ismail Darbar, Birju Maharaj, Monty
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nitin Desai
RUNNING TIME: 180 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: MG Distribution
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: May 27, 2004; other cities June 3, 2004