Deepansh Duggal analyses Dev.D and examines whether Anurag Kashyap humanises its protagonist Dev or holds him accountable for his problematic behaviour
Last Updated: 12.45 PM, Feb 07, 2023
Egotistical and entitled; condescending and chauvinistic; Dev (Abhay Deol) in the black comedy Dev.D, was the poster boy of toxic masculinity much before the Kabir Singhs and Arjun Reddys took over the silver screen. Much like the OG Devdas, Anurag Kashyap’s modern-day Dev has self-destructive tendencies that get the best of him. After a series of passionate sexcapades that play out in Chandigarh’s poultry farms and ganne ke khet, Dev, who is unable to control his hormones, cheats on his childhood sweetheart Paro. When confronted, he admits to believing false rumours about Paro’s sex life and also aims a dig at the apparent class difference between the two — which was the central conflict in Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Devdas (1917). Paro moves on, marries a man who appreciates her, and appears to be happy — her thumkas when she breaks into a dance on Emotional Atyachaar at her wedding, while grinning ear-to-ear, are proof. Dev, who is deservedly left alone, seeks refuge in drugs and alcohol.
Paro aptly puts it “You [Dev] can’t love anyone, but yourself. You should marry the mirror — the one in the toilet”. It’s not the most eloquent description of Dev’s narcissism. However, it is the only instance a character in the film addresses Dev’s problematic behaviour. Paro follows this up with a thinly veiled, yet blatantly obvious, dig at Dev’s sexual competence. “Are you mocking me”, he asks. “No, I am showing you who you really are. Get over me”, she says and storms off. What seemed like an attempt by Paro to reconcile with an ex-flame (and therefore sabotage her married life), ends in a brutal confrontation and a much-needed reality check for Dev.
But the reality check doesn’t last long. Instead of confronting his demons, Dev finds refuge in Chanda, who inadvertently becomes his therapist. Mind you, Chanda has her own childhood trauma to deal with — she was disowned by her family after a sexually explicit video of herself was recorded and shared online without her consent. But Chanda is no Paro, she knows how to put a man-child in his place. She won’t make Dev a drink, even if it means losing a client for her escort service. He’ll have to do that for himself. For every insult hurled by Dev at her, Chanda has a wittier comeback. But this spunk and candour soon dampen as Chanda realises that Dev too is a damaged individual like her. Instead of guiding him to a real therapist, or even a rehab centre, she tries to fix him. Both Dev and Chanda confront their childhood trauma as they fall in love with each other. Past wounds open up and love blossoms in Chanda’s Paharganj room which is decorated with mannequins in lingerie and outlandish wigs.
Chanda becomes Dev’s unpaid therapist as she trauma bonds with him. Before the toxic relationship can progress, Dev’s male ego gets the best of him, yet again. He is too fragile to accept that as a commercial sex worker, Chanda will have to engage with other clients. Dev abandons Chanda and goes on a drug-induced bender.
After killing seven people in a car accident, showing up drunk to his father’s funeral and becoming a broke, hopeless, drug addict, Dev finds redemption when he bumps into Chanda at a momo stall. Just when one expects him to face the consequences of his actions, Dev and Chanda reconcile. The camera cuts to Chanda giving Dev a sponge bath. Dev’s transformation into a man-child is now complete. Chanda is now not only his unpaid therapist but also a nurse. While Kashyap did try to readapt Devdas to a modern context and give Chanda and Paro, the two women in Dev’s life, more agency than the classic novel, he did end up playing into the old ‘woman saves manchild’ trope. Dev.D does try to break tradition and show Dev for he really is — a narcissistic alcoholic. But the film ends up glorifying toxic masculinity instead. This is not to say that men like Dev do not deserve redemption or find their foot in the world. But must this redemption come at the cost of a woman devoting her life and existence to improve the man’s lifestyle? That too a woman who has her own trauma to deal with?
Dev.D continues to be a masterclass in filmmaking, 14 years later, despite its problematic gender politics. Even as director Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Deol trade barbs over Kashyap’s allegations that the latter was ‘difficult to work with’, the film continues to inspire cinephiles with most of them fawning over the meticulously cinematographed visuals by Kashyap. The scene where Dev is downing vodka shots at a club as the camera revolves around him at high-speed serves as a fitting visual to accompany the refrain ‘meetha sa chadha hai bukhaar’ in Amit Trivedi’s Pardesi. The psychedelic depiction of the drug-fueled ‘high’ experienced by Dev in the song is a testament to Kashyap’s brilliant cinematic craft. To top it off, the film also has some 2000s pop-culture references. It briefly alludes to the infamous 2004 MMS sex scandal which rocked a Delhi school and a 1999 BMW hit-and-run case which received much media coverage. Kashyap also doffs his hat to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (2002). Leni, who watches Madhuri Dixit’s Dola Re Dola and Maar Dala, names her escort avatar ‘Chanda’ as a tribute to the iconic sex worker, Chandramukhi.
The larger question, however, is — do men like Dev deserve redemption? Must all redemption come so easily? That’s food for thought.
(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)
(Deepansh Duggal writes essays, think pieces and features on films and TV shows. He tweets at @Deepansh75)