Dev.D: The Eternal Soundtrack for the Broken-Hearted


Dev.D: The Eternal Soundtrack for the Broken-Hearted

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

If you’ve ever been pissed drunk and sobbed thereafter like a hopeless, hapless romantic, chances are you’ve been tripping on “Emotional Atyachaar” while trying to have a meaningful conversation with schezwan chakli.

Devdas has been told and retold to us for 90 years now because all of us identify – at least at some stage in our lives – with the nihilism that Dev encapsulates. It is very much an antithesis to the “main udna chahta hun, girna chahta hun” conundrum that dominates the Bunny-type boy (read Ranbir Kapoor), where one is out to “find their true self” with a lollipop of idealism between their lips.

I was barely 15 when Dev.D released, a time when my hormones were raging like a Dylan Thomas poem, not letting anything go gently into the good night, but even at that age I could fathom that you don’t just sit back and watch an Anurag Kashyap film. You feel it. You feel the chest congestion and desperation in a No Smoking and the brutal violence of a Gulaal while with Dev.D you can smell the mustard fields, feel the alcohol gushing down your throat, and let the soundscape take you into the character’s inner recesses where not a lot is said, but silence is experienced by the music that sets the scene.

The reason why the music in Dev.D has become the album for those broken by love, is because Kashyap demonstrated, through his music alone, that his adaptation is the story of three lives that intermingle, and it is as much Paro and Chanda’s story as it is Dev’s. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, the songs speak of Dev and how others relate to him. In Dev.D, Kashyap challenges that very notion as soon as he decides to mount the narrative on three characters rather than just the one and uses the music to establish the overall arcs of each character.

The chords of a very unnatural long-distance romance are struck the moment Dev asks her to send him nudes.

Leni’s (later Chanda) story is set in the rich public school world of Delhi, where the exuberance of school romance is captured in the free-flowing verses of “Yahi Meri Zindagi”. As her story shifts rather drastically and she’s alienated by her family, friends, and the world itself, her isolation is captured by “Aankh Micholi” which sums up the character’s motivations precisely and puts you in her very uncomfortable shoes. Leni’s transformation into a prostitute by night and a college girl by day is complete when she adopts the name “Chanda” after watching Madhuri as Chandramukhi from Devdas. The meta reference aside, Amit Trivedi, Amitabh Bhattacharya, and Anurag Kashyap constantly try and remind you that their story is a deeper insight into Chanda, who ends up as an emancipated and independent character by the time the film culminates, unlike the Chandramukhi of Devdas.

The naïve black polish of Chanda’s canvas shoes changes to Paro’s jooti almost effortlessly. The chords of a very unnatural long-distance romance are struck the moment Dev asks her to send him nudes. It speaks volumes of their relationship, as Paro decides to go all the way to Chandigarh to develop those photos. “Dhol Yaara Dhol” becomes the rustic flavour of romance, as Paro awaits her knight in shining armour, who turns out to be a lot less. The disillusionment after Dev arrives on the scene – because of inflated male egos, rumours, and the like – blends into “Mahi Menu”, the polar opposite of the track before, as it spits in the face of romance and romanticises the pang of separation more than the act of love itself.

Dev’s character trajectory, even though heavily influenced by the two women, also makes you experience the disillusionment that entraps most of his world: the dim-lit alleys of Paharganj where hash, haramis, and hippies flow like My Bar’s cheap wine. The music pivots to Dev’s self-pity and self-harm as it leads him onto a path of destruction which culminates in a deadly accident. While “Pardesi” speaks of alienation and looks at your own life like an outsider, “Nayan Tarse” is an ode to addiction, much like Devdas itself – it is these layers of addiction that bring the film together. Addiction to a past, to drugs and debauchery and to relationships that are forged over the coffins of other stories. “Saali Khushi” again is a reminder of how one tries to pinch himself to feel the pain one thinks one must feel to eventually escape the sorrow but all it achieves is a vertigo-inducing spiral down more self-pity and destruction.

It’s a soundtrack that’s difficult to forget, even a decade after it released. It comes alive in house parties, at the fag-end of binge-drinking sessions when no one wants to take on the responsibility of DJ’ing, when only “Payaliyaa” will hit the spot.

As “Emotional Attyachaar” became the break-up anthem of the last decade, Kashyap ensured that as viewers we felt exactly what Dev felt without empathising with him. Alcohol abuse, drugs, and voyeurism are traits that show how a man who we’d come to see as a rebellious hero in the first few minutes of the film, turns out to be an egomaniac turned down by a stoic Paro and rescued by Chanda. We might feel sorry for Dev but are never ready to hero-worship him. There is a fine balance that Kashyap and his co-writer Vikramaditya Motwane maintain when we see Dev at his worst.

Through the soundscape, the handheld camera, and poignancy of form, Kashyap delivers a love story which is an aberration in the growing list of Devdas adaptations over the years. It is a comment on the inherent fragility of the male ego seen through the prism of a romance. The women are innately stronger characters and choose to either denounce or redeem the man, the love of their lives. Even men apart from Dev are seen in this light. Be it the father who shoots himself because his daughter’s MMS clip or Dev’s father who constantly rejects any threat to his status as the patriarch.

Eventually, what Kashyap is trying to say by making his own dent in the Devdas universe is that we are all self-loathing losers pinching ourselves into bleeding so that in our self-induced intoxication, we can mistake the blood for schezuan chutney and dip our sorrows in it with “Saali Khushi” playing in the background. More importantly, he tells us, that even after the worst, all that remains… is hope.