DEV (2004)

I have been an ardent Govind Nihalani fan for as long as I care to remember. I was bolstered by his Drohkaal a film that remains one of my favorite Bollywood films of all times and one which I am planning on doing a detailed review very soon. He made several other path breaking films like Aakrosh, Ardh Satya and more recently Thakshak starring Ajay Devgn. What is synonymous with Nihalani is his penchant for creating not only artistic but highly entertaining cinema. In each of his previous outings he never forgot to extract as much entertainment as he could out of the somber and often stark themes that he has been dealing with in his film. I had the same expectations from Dev, a film that deals evidently with the Gujarat riots and stars Amitabh Bachchan and Om Puri, two stalwarts of our times. Om Puri has been the corner stone of many previous Nihalani successes and Bachchan is always a mighty star. The chances of failure looked almost improbable.

Dev is the story of its titular character’s journey through a stretch of time. The film starts with a brief introduction to what he is capable of doing as a police officer when he is shown shooting a guy in the nuts for just insulting the law. Through a series of flash backs, we are introduced to his best friend Tejinder (Om Puri) and we also learn about the tragedy of his little son Armaan who was killed by miscreants who had plans of killing Dev instead. Dev is a tough cop who is often ruthless but he still holds the law above all rest and is not barbaric. Farhan (Fardeen Khan) comes to town in a time when there is turmoil in the air. The religious leaders are trying their best to mobilize the public to cook their own personal agendas. Farhan’s father, a staunch Gandhiyan is pulled in to leading a peaceful protest rally against the police after the police accidentally kill off a mother and a child during an encounter. The rally soon turns violent, the police opens fire and Farhan’s father is killed. This infuriates Farhan to an extent that he decides to murder Dev who he holds responsible for the mishap. He joins the local Muslim leader Lateef who promises him vengeance. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative.

I have to admit that Dev has an intriguing plot but where the film falters is in its performences and believability. This was a shocker for me. For a film by Govind Nihalani to have bad acting was unthinkable but that is exactly the case here. If you are thinking that I mean Fardeen Khan alone by this then you are wrong. Off course I knew he would act badly and that was hardly a surprise for me but to have such laid back and almost sleepy performences from Om Puri and Amitabh Bachchan was unexpected. I expected sparks to fly and a lot of friction between the two as the script offered those possibilities and a lot more. I bought the film on DVD and re-watched it a couple of times to be 100% sure of what I was arriving at. I wanted to be sure that I was right before ranting against a film that won a Filmfare critics’ award for best film. Not that Filmfare has any credibility in my eyes but still, it was a Govind Nihalani film.

The most shocking let downs were the sequences of riots where both Amitabh Bachchan and Om Puri underplayed their characters to an extent that they felt fake. There was no urgency what so ever in their act and it literally pulled me out of the narrative. Kareena was outstanding in these sequences. Every time you looked at her, you felt as if she was really in a soup. But that was never the case with any of the others. Fardeen Khan is not meant for acting and he proves that yet again here. The way in which he huffs and puffs and makes face is almost funny to watch. Just look at the sequence where his father is killed. A serious sequence, as it was intended to be, his act turns it into a funny sequence. That’s never a good thing for a film that is this somber. Milind Gunaji and Amrish Puri do their parts well though.

Inspite of the fact that the film has an intriguing story-line, Dev often turns boring. I was bewildered to find that as I have never moved an inch every time, I sat through a Govind Nihalani film. There are many sequences that are without reason and logic. There are many things shown which border on the impossible and that is just a strict a no no in a film of this nature. The few songs that are there really torture you and do nothing but increase the runtime. I just wish they hadn’t put any songs in this one. Farhan’s innocence borders on stupidity. It’s almost impossible to believe that he couldn’t see the evils in his mentors after being screwed by them time and again. Both the Hindu and Muslim characters are clichéd versions of what we have seen a zillion times and have nothing new to offer. The manner in which Tejinder turns against his best friend was also strange and makes you question the character himself. It’s all very muddled and confusing and at times plain stupid.

The film’s pacing and editing is also all over the place. The flash backs mentioned above turn up in strange situations and catch you completely off-guard. The makeup is horrific and hardly does anything to cover-up the evident old ages of the men and again liquidates the situation and context when they film the flashbacks. The looks and weight of Amitabh and Om Puri keeps fluctuating and so does their belly lines raising a question or two about the duration and time frame in which the film was shot.

Suffice is to say that, Dev is a rare misfire from Nihalani. It may be ages better than the formulaic bullshit that we are dished out month after month and year after year but for people like me who have been ardently following Nihalani’s work over the years and have heightened expectations from him, Dev is a serious let down. It’s also a letdown for fans of Om Puri and Amitabh Bachchan who came in expecting firework from the fiery duo.

Rating : 2.5/5 (2.5 out of 5 Stars)

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