Mirror Magazine


Stardust and glitter
By Edward Porter
If you have never seen a Bollywood movie, have you missed out on a cinematic treasure trove?

The ideal way to find out is to watch Devdas. After all, if you want to give Bollywood films a fair chance of knocking your socks off, you might as well start with the most expensive movie in the history of Bombay film-making, which also happens to be the first Bollywood picture to be included in the official selection at the Cannes film festival.

Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Devdas is based on a 1917 novel that has already been filmed several times in India. It tells the story of two star-crossed young lovers: the titular hero (played by Shahrukh Khan) and his soulmate, Paro (Aishwarya Rai). Sweethearts since childhood, they now long to be married, but Devdas's snobbish father vetoes the idea on the grounds that Paro's social status is too lowly. Paro ends up lovelessly married to an older man, Devdas sinks into despair and drunkenness, and we viewers must wait to see if fate will allow a happy ending.

In typical Bollywood style, all of this is presented in the manner of a myth or fairy tale. To say that the film lacks irony is putting it mildly. Irony has been locked in a safe, encased in concrete and dumped at the bottom of a very deep lake, leaving the two lovers free to gaze passionately into each other's eyes and proclaim their feelings in purple prose that makes Catherine and Heathcliff sound noncommittal. If, then, you are the sort of person who gets swept along by Mills & Boony romantic movies and are always lamenting the fact that Hollywood doesn't make 'em like that any more, then Devdas is the film for you.

It should also appeal to those who enjoy romantic sagas in a slightly different way - not as overpowering dramas, but as comforting candyfloss nonsense. Although Devdas never consciously puts its tongue in its cheek, there is nothing to stop you chuckling at the film's straightfaced excess - nothing, perhaps, except the politically correct side of your conscience.

What, though, does Devdas have to offer those of us who don't warm to its make-believe romanticism? The answer is there in every frame. Even if you think the story hackneyed (as I did), you are likely to be dazzled by the film's visual opulence. The palaces in which most of the action occurs are represented by huge sets decorated in a kaleidoscope of colours: emerald green, blood red, copper-sulphate blue, imperial purple, all lined and encrusted with gold and silver. The brocaded costumes are resplendent, and the song-and-dance sequences, overflowing with performers, are dynamically choreographed.

You can, of course, have too much of a good thing. For me, the film's third hour was hard work - the cinematic equivalent of being force-fed a few dozen Crunchie bars - and I left feeling no great desire to see a similar epic in the near future.

I'm quite sure, though, that other newcomers to Bollywood will be delighted by Bhansali's movie from start to finish. If, for instance, you loved the colour and bustle of Moulin Rouge, you should certainly see Devdas, which, in its spectacular luxuriousness, makes Baz Luhrmann seem a dour minimalist.

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