Director: Sudhir Mishra
Cast: Rahul Bhat, Richa Chadha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Saurabh Shukla, Dalip Tahil, Vineet Kumar Singh
It's on days like these that I'm inclined to wonder if timeless writers like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and William Shakespeare were indeed pioneers in the field of storytelling. Every time an Indian director adapts their literature to contemporary surroundings – the infinite Devdas and Romeo & Juliet versions have virtually spawned a separate film industry – their words die a little harder for a generation wary of punkish remakes. While the Bhansalis, Bhardwajs and Kashyaps continue to recycle these themes within the cultural and historical fabric of a vastly tolerant nation, it's the hybrid "hinterland" versions that have long outgrown their edgy novelty. The templates of lawlessness, murders, guns, secrets and sleazy ministers wear such a torn, un-cinematic look under current circumstances.
Sudhir Mishra's first feature-length film in five years places the repetitive futility of Devdas within the treacherous dynastic politics of Hamlet – in an all-too-familiar middle-Indian environment (Uttar Pradesh, of course) that harnesses the chaotic worst of Tigmanshu Dhulia, Anurag Kashyap (appropriately has a cameo, too), Prakash Jha and, occasionally, even Madhur Bhandarkar. At many points, Mishra's interpretation is so incoherent, strange, abruptly cobbled together and poorly cut that it stops mattering whether Dev Pratap Singh's (Rahul Bhat) is more of a star-crossed love story or a mud-soiled familial tragedy. It constantly bears the look of a project that has had to be salvaged (in the mildest sense of the term) on the edit table. Eventually, it's hard to engage with a film – irrespective of the maker's reputation – so consumed by the pulse of its medium that it fails to merge the most basic emotions of two operatic literary palettes.
At many points, Sudhir Mishra's interpretation is so incoherent, strange, abruptly cobbled together and poorly cut that it stops mattering whether Dev Pratap Singh's (Rahul Bhat) is more of a star-crossed love story or a mud-soiled familial tragedy.
For most part, it almost seems like Mishra has little or no hold over the craft; the inconsistent framing, amateur ambient-sound editing and bizarre music design suggest the stubborn delusions of a once-distinct voice veering more towards the dated doldrums of Ram Gopal Varma and Subhash Ghai than the overstuffed ambitions of his more illustrious peers. Never mind that neither Devdas nor Hamlet deserves yet another picture in a museum full of over-customized duplicates.
Dev starts off as a raging alcoholic and drug-addict after the death of his party-leading father (Kashyap) in a suspicious and terribly amateur-looking helicopter accident. Lilting rock ballads later sound his self-destructive portions with a pushy Paro (Richa Chadha), the daughter of the right-hand man of Dev's ex-Chief Minister uncle (Saurabh Shukla, again, the saving grace), as well as with a sultry Chandni (Aditi Rao Hydari), a glorified political escort ("fixer" is the politically correct term) who works under (often, literally) the power of a generic corporate magnet (the ageless Dalip Tahil). I have managed to detail the complex identities of the many faces involved here only because much of this is narrated in Chandni's dry voiceover. Though it'd be considerably more entertaining if one reimagines her guileless words in the breathless magnificence of Piyush Mishra's machine-gun-ish vocals instead. Again, this would make for the haphazardness of a rushed Kashyap-verse, just as the secondary layers of usual suspects ranging from Vineet Kumar Singh to Vipin Sharma and Deepraj Rana occupy roles that would be the trademark of an over-written Prakash Jha multi-verse.
Daas Dev is, at its best, Dev.D shot by its drunken protagonist on a frantic deadline. At its worst – and there are a lot of unsavoury, boring phases of muddled exposition in its 140 minutes – Daas Dev is a low-budget Bhandarkar bomb called Politics.
Even the spurts of deadpan humour are so awkwardly assembled that by the time some jokes land in our head, the camera has long turned its attention to another aesthetically artificial out-of-focus shot. When Dev decides to glaze his way to his heir-apparent destiny, the film abandons its romantic tracks and turns to endless backroom variations of the "yeh Rajneeti hai" spouting villains (they are the better actors, after all) to remind us that it is the illegitimate lovechild of no less than two famous fathers. Dev's exasperation – where he combines Hindi with millennial English – is designed to remind us that the passion and plot of this film has not just been conceived in the outdoor seating area of a Versova pub. It might have even reached the smoky corner of the aforementioned outdoor bar, whose emphatic name (WTF!!!) quite poetically sums up my feelings about this film.
Daas Dev is, at its best, Dev.D shot by its drunken protagonist on a frantic deadline. At its worst – and there are a lot of unsavoury, boring phases of muddled exposition in its 140 minutes – Daas Dev is a low-budget Bhandarkar bomb called Politics. Where is Chitrangada Singh when you need her?