Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/21/04 00:45:23

"Grand Opera, Bollywood Style."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2003: If you were to combine Verdi's Aida, Puccini's Turandot, and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the result might somewhat equal the grandeur and tragedy crammed into this awesome Bollywood epic!

The principals in writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's version of the classic tale of doomed love are Shah Rukh Kahn as Devdas, and the astonishingly beautiful Aishwarya Rai as Parvati, or Paro. Soulmates from childhood, Devdas and Paro are encouraged in their love by her mother Sumitra (Kiron Kher) but become separated, first, when he travels to England to further his education, then, upon his return, by his meddlesome family who opposes their son's union to the lower caste Paro.

After being insulted by Devdas' mother Kaushalya (Smita Jaykar), Sumitra retaliates by arranging her daughter's marriage to a wealthy widower, Zaminder Bhuvan (Vijayendra Ghatge), a man far older than Paro. In his grief, Devdas turns for solace to his friend Chunni Babu (Jackie Schroff), who introduces him to a life of drinking and consorting with prostitutes. One of the courtesans, Chandramukhi (the stunning Madhuri Dixit), falls in love with him, but even her devotion can't save Devdas from his broken heart and subsequent descent into a sea of alcohol.

The tale is every bit as melodramatic as it sounds, and it works beautifully here. Melodrama being one of the hallmarks of all grand opera (and I found Devdas very operatic), I thought it perfectly in keeping with this amazing, larger-than-life spectacle.

Based upon a novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee), Bhansali's is the fourth filmed version of the tragedy of Devdas. The production had the distinction of being the most expensive ever to have come out of Bollywood, and every dollar spent clearly shows. The sets, designed by Nitin Desai, are magnificent; the costumes, fashioned by Neeta Lulla and her team, exquisite. The result is an opulent work of art, framed perfectly in the camera of DP Binod Pradhan. Equally a part of the transcendent experience are the music of Ismail Darbar and some wonderful dance sequences, notably Maduri Dixit's and Aishwarya Rai's performance of "Dola Re Dola."

I found the entire experience of Devdas to be a sensory banquet, and the three hours flew by for me. I knew I was enrapt when, at the end, I caught myself almost literally vaulting out of my seat, mentally running along with Paro toward her dying Devdas, trying to keep the gates between them open by sheer force of will!

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