A little more than a decade ago, actor Abhay Deol approached filmmaker Anurag Kashyap with a concept of a contemporary retelling of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas. The result was a film that was less of a breath of fresh air and more of a welcome punch to the gut. Whether it’s the depiction of complex female characters or how it meshed music with narrative (it was composer Amit Trivedi’s breakout film), Dev D was less about plot and more about trapping an audience in the messy state of mind of its angst-fuelled protagonist.
While the film is brimming with stand-out moments, here is but one attempt to choose the top five scenes:
1) The Hand Pump Scene
Having been rejected and slut-shamed by Dev during a particularly intimate moment, Paro storms back home from the Khet, mattress in tow, humiliated and seething. Seconds into entering her house, she is further enraged when her father calls her delusional for thinking she could ever be considered a bride for Dev by his family whom they serve. Her simmering anger explodes when she takes out her frustration on a hand pump, as if bewitched, refusing to stop even when the bucket is overflowing. It’s a powerful moment where it all comes pouring out of her – rage, humiliation, sexual frustration, and pain.
2) The Brothel Pitch
Amongst Dev D’s many deviations from convention was its depiction of prostitution. Kalki Koechlin’s Leni has run away from home with no one to turn to, having been cast aside by all her friends and family. While roaming the streets of Delhi she is noticed by a local pimp who asks her to join the business. Except this isn’t the kind of brothel we are used to seeing in mainstream Hindi cinema. There is not even an iota of violence or lack of consent, but an environment of agency, democracy, support and family. He tells her she will do nothing till she feels ready. It is for her to choose her clients and she must finish her education and carry on attending college. She is not bound in any way to do anything she doesn’t want to. Hindi mainstream cinema has rarely depicted the world of prostitution and brothels with such empathy.
The “Pardesi” song sequence was as significant to the film’s narrative as it was visually dazzling. It marks the start of Dev’s descent into self-destruction, as he’s seen knocking back a seemingly endless line of drinks at a bar brought to life with dizzying, hallucinatory visuals aimed to depict his drunken state of mind. Not to mention the underwater shot which sees Dev plunge his head into a bucket. These were inspired by Danny Boyle. Boyle, who made Trainspotting – one of the great ‘drug films’ – is said to have walked Kashyap through the technique, which is why he has a ‘Special Thanks’ credit in the film. It is also one of the earliest instances we see Kashyap use breakdancing (the mysterious Twilight Players) as a method of dramatic expression and capturing a mood as we saw in later films like Mukkabaaz and Manmarziyaan.
4) The Bus Ticket Scene
Dev, drunk and wounded, stumbles into a bus and sits next to a quintessential judgemental aunty who looks at him with disgust. She begins lecturing him, saying what many in the audience are no doubt thinking at the time, that he’s a pathetic wreck and he should be ashamed. His response? Grabbing her ticket, stuffing it in his mouth and eventually swallowing it, mere moments before the conductor comes to check her ticket. An ingenious little playful moment that encapsulates much of the anarchic spirit of the film.
5) Paro Visits Dev
Amidst his perennially drunken state of wasting away and pining after a now-married Paro, she comes to visit him and attempts to clean him up. Dev is still the stubborn child who refuses to come to terms with not having got his way, which he considers as love, but her character in many ways has come full circle. No longer is she the same naïve girl in love with this man. Distance has given her perspective and she now sees him for what he is – narcissistic, selfish and someone who never truly loved her but instead only wanted to possess her. So when he once again confesses his love for her and asks her to make love to him she lays down and offers herself to him free to do what he wants and have his way because ultimately that’s all he really ever wanted.