When prodigal son Devdas returns to India from his studies in England, his plans to marry childhood sweetheart Paro are dashed. But even when he's finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle and living with a courtesan, the flame of their love never truly goes out...
The first Bollywood film to be invited into the Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival brought a riot of colour and choreography to the artier end of the film spectrum. It then received a high-profile U.K. cinema release at a time when Bollywood movies were very much in the spotlight. An Oscar nomination for Lagaan brought international credibility for what had been a specialist market; but given that Bollywood movies regularly find themselves in the U.K. box office top ten and themed exhibitions are popping up across the country, it's time to stop treating these movies as curiosity items and start enjoying them as the pure cinematic experiences they so often are.
As far as mainstream audiences are concerned, the groundwork for Devdas has been provided by Moulin Rouge as much as by other Indian films. The literate script, rich colour schemes and wonderfully energetic song-and-dance set-pieces grow naturally out of the sumptuous style of the story, which is familiar enough to Western eyes with its Romeo And Juliet-style approach to neighbouring lovers kept apart by social standing.
Those familiar with the novel on which this and many other earlier films are based will discover deeper levels as the characters reflect the mythological lovers, Krishna and Radha. Everything looks absolutely gorgeous, from the ornate sets, to the intricate costumes, to the lead actors themselves. After Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Asoka, Shahrukh Khan is set for his third U.K. hit in a row, while former Miss World Aishwarya Rai proves she has the acting talent to back up her flawless looks. It's a long haul, of course, but every inch of the screen is packed with detail. This is cinematic spectacle to the power of ten.
Possibly the best crossover movie yet for an intrigued Western audience, Devdas lacks the broader comic touches of commercial Bollywood and so might seem a little serious to die-hard fans. But in its field, it's the event movie of the year.
Reviewed by Alan Morrison