I tend to find myself bored by persons whose every word and action is selfish, destructive and belligerent. This doesn't seem like it ought to be an unusual point of view, yet there bafflingly do seem to be people, despite freedom to do otherwise, who not only put up with such individuals but even love them. 2009's Dev D is about such a man and the beautiful women who are drawn to him for no discernable reason. An Indian film that very self-consciously imitates western cinema, it's an occasionally beautiful film with some really great performances, but mostly it's an awkward, naive slog.
After the obnoxious performance of the wildly popular star Shahrukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the fundamental societal sexism criticised in Kahaani, and hearing recently that the problem with the mostly male protesters against the possibility of light for punishment for perpetrators of a gang rape is that the male protesters have been groping the female protesters, I'm not getting the rosiest picture of gender relations in India. Dev D, a contemporary update for a novel written in the early twentieth century, did little to diminish this unfavourable impression, being about a young man who beats and insults a woman he's supposedly been in love with his whole life because he heard she had sex with someone else. This doesn't dim the flames of her passion for him, and of course he's the one who has to push her into the arms of another man before we watch him in a derivative, self-destructive spiral of drug and alcohol abuse.
The first thing you see, before the title or any of the credits, is a Special Thanks for Danny Boyle. Why? According to Wikipedia, "For the scenes where Dev is high, British director Danny Boyle suggested the use of a still camera as [director] Kashyap did not have the budget for special effects." I can only imagine Boyle wanting to disappear into his shirt if he saw that Special Thanks.
The colour filtered shaky shots of Dev's wandering in the Dehli underworld couldn't be more lifeless and it's sad seeing an Indian director, a country that has such an extraordinarily distinct cinematic language, bending over backwards to be so conventionally western.
Abhay Deol does a fine job playing the asshole, and Mahi Gill is incredibly radiant as the first woman he's a dick to, Paro.
The second woman he doesn't deserve who inexplicably falls for him is a French prostitute named Leni, played very effectively by Kalki Koechlin, a young actress who displays a phenomenal skill with languages.
She's had a hard life, again presenting the double standard shown earlier in the film where Dev feels justified in abusing and casting aside Paro for the slightest suggestion that she had sex at some point, Leni is ostracised by her parents and her father commits suicide because a sex tape of her and her boyfriend emerges. She's sent to live with hateful grandparents before she runs away and finds a home--as well as money for college--in a brothel.
There's certainly a criticism here of the unfair attitudes Indian society holds towards women and their sexuality, but the movie's indulgence in the dull blackguard Dev's behaviour is a little over the top, even though I understand it might be trying to change some minds. It wouldn't hurt to show some evidence that a guy like Dev is worth anyone's time, particularly the audience's. I don't believe a lead character has to be sympathetic, but if the move's about him, he ought to be interesting in some way.