THERE IS NO weepiness in the Anurag Kashyap universe. There is drama, but dramatic tension, rather than being expressed, is almost always sublimated in drink, drugs, or — most powerfully — dancing. Among Dev D’s showstopping scenes is when Paro, rejected by Dev, is marrying a suitable businessman: Kashyap cuts rhythmically between Dev, drinking himself into a stupor, and Paro, in bridal finery, dancing her sorrows away in deliberate abandon.
Despite the film being visually stunning, full of standout setpieces in locales stark and psychedelic, Kashyap’s greatest strength is his characterisation and dialogue — and thankfully, he knows it. In Dev D (played to understated perfection by Abhay Deol), he has created a flawlessly updated version of our most famous hero: one who doesn’t hesitate to ask his long-distance girlfriend to send him a “bina kapdon wali” photo of herself, but has a lot of trouble dealing with the possibility of her having a sexual history. Smaller characters are equally well-etched, like Dev’s father, who, having realised that the lovely Paro isn’t going to be his bahu after all, delivers one of the film’s best lines: “London ja ke tera taste kharaab ho gaya hai: whiskey chhodke vodka peeta hai, asli auraton ko chhodke sookhi-sookhi lakdiyon ke pichche bhaagta hai.”
Kashyap’s Paro — an unapologetically passionate woman who gives as good as she gets — is at the film’s core, and the longlimbed Mahi Gill brings to the role a heartbreaking feistiness. Even with a broken heart, Paro remains the strongest of the three characters: the stubbornly self-destructive Dev seems to need a lot of mothering (which, oddly, both women seem happy to provide), while Chanda hides a deep vulnerability.
The Chanda section is where the film flounders a little. Much as you want to like her, Kalki Koechlin, as the half-firang schoolgirl Leni, is hard put to do justice to her wildly overwritten opening journey from a posh South Delhi colony to Paharganj. Too much happens too soon to feel anything but vaguely synoptic, and by the time you get to the patriarchal Punjabi family home and find Kalki holding a copy of Alberto Moravia’s Contempt with Bardot on the cover, you’re too tired to wonder why. But these are small quibbles with a film that represents an undeniably remarkable vision, somehow both as deep-rooted as necessary, and utterly fresh.