Thursday, August 15, 2013

Devdas and its near-twin, Parineeta

Here's what happened: I watched Devdas (Bhansali's version), and then a little while later I watched Parineeta. And I had a slight sense of deja vu. The stylistic feel of the movies was different (I really don't think anyone is quite like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, love him or loathe him), but there were definite echos as far as story goes. Turns out both movies are adaptions of novels by the same writer, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. I wouldn't judge an author's entire set of works by only two, but these two certainly dealt in similar characters and situations. Both featured childhood next-door neighbors and friends who grow up together and in love with each other, and the complications brought by the differing social statuses of their families.

Film: Devdas
Year: 2002
Stars: Aishwarya Rai, Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit
Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
How I watched it: On DVD delivered by Netflix
Short answer to "Did I like it?": Yes. With an exclamation point. Yes!

I was, quite simply, mesmerized by this film. I have read complaints about it before and since watching it, and I can definitely see how the opulent sets and the heightened tone could be not to everyone's tastes, but it worked beautifully for me. (One peeve--people who complain that it was "unrealistic." That's like attending the opera and harping on how it's so unrealistic to think people would sing everything to each other, and what's with the horned hats? Bhansali doesn't seem to go in for realism. It's a choice, not a blunder.)

Every frame is shot with the maximum aesthetic effect in mind. The music is delicious and the dancing is simply stunning. Aishwarya and Madhuri are the best I've ever seen them, and SRK is made for the over-the-top melodrama that Bhansali relishes, but he's not obnoxiously frenetic here. The story is sad, but a very cathartic sad, a sad that feels like tears over beautiful poetry.

If you like beauty and spectacle in your Bollywood, this is a must-watch. And, in case it wasn't clear, well, it has Aishwarya Rai AND Madhuri Dixit DANCING. Even together, once.

* * * * *

Film: Parineeta
Year: 2005
Stars: Vidya Balan, Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt
Directed by: Pradeep Sarkar
How I watched it: On DVD delivered by Netflix
Short answer to "Did I like it?": Yes. Yes, I did.

I stayed up too late watching this movie. Apparently, it is dangerous to assume I will be able to turn off the movie at intermission and wait until the next day. It didn't happen. I was having too much fun staring at Vidya being all beautiful and riveting and Saif being all intense and brooding and Sanjay Dutt being all gentle and noble.

There are several similarities to Devdas here, but the music and dancing were far, far inferior. (Was there any dancing? Now I can't really recall. There was an interesting and fun item number by Rekha, sung to the tune of Louis Armstrong's "A Kiss to Build a Dream On." No, really.) However, there is much less altered reality and general over-the-top-ness, if that sort of thing bothers you (although the climax does have more than a touch of melodrama.) Also, this one has

a happy ending. Sort of. Depending on whether you think Saif's character is basically a decent guy who just needed to get out from under his father's thumb and wake up to what was going on, or whether you think he is mostly a controlling and abusive whiner. I could go either way by the time the film wound to its close, so while I enjoyed it, the vacillating sense of whether or not I was happy with the outcome kept it from being a clear winner. Not that it really could have been any other way, as it turned out, but still.

I did absolutely love Vidya Balan in this. She was fabulous and flawless. I also loved her character, who could be sometimes strong and sometimes weak, firm as well as needy, clear-headed except when absolutely foolishly driven by emotion. You know, a complex, real human being.

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