Dev Review: A middling romance fraught with problems
The film lacks the emotional wherewithal to see any thread through, and when it does occasionally try, it rings false and/or seems problematic
Dev’s the love story between a flawless man and an almost psychotic woman. He can say and do no wrong, and in keeping with the dark history of Tamil cinema when it comes to the portrayal of ambitious women, it’s the heroine who’s flawed. She’s beautiful, she runs an organisation with an iron fist, and yet, these films find a way to turn that power, ambition, into some sort of a negative. When it’s a man like Sanjay Ramasamy (Ghajini), it’s assertive. But when it ’s a Meghna Padmavathi (Rakul Preet), it’s almost dictatorial. Perhaps that’s why her organization’s called Dictate.inc. When she walks with purpose, a character says, “Adikkara madhriye poraale.” Such films have traditionally been about how the man tames this ‘unusually aggressive creature’, but here, director Rajath Ravishankar tries his darndest best to pretend this isn’t that film. The insinuation in Dev is that for such an ambitious woman, the man is somewhat of a dispensable creature, a sort of puppy she needs around her. Meghna’s a harpy whose bizarre expectations of a relationship torment this patient, perfect man.
The best romances are those where both parties bring something to the relationship. They’re often about two flawed people (who isn’t?) finding a way to look past the flaws, or helping each other rise past them. Such relationships bear the fragrance of equality. When one’s too divine, and the other’s flaws force her to almost beg forgiveness, it begins to wear the guise of a god-devotee relationship. I never truly understood what Meghna brings to her relationship with Dev, save for a supposed air of arrogance which turns bizarrely into unbearable clinginess. I think even she doesn’t get it, for, she keeps asking Dev why he’s into her. He keeps swatting it away with obscure answers. He says he loves her eyes (they always do). Then, he says he likes the idea of going on an adventure with her. And then finally, he almost resigns and says that love isn’t something to be verbalised; it’s to be experienced. The truth is, if he had something worth saying, he would have. Dev doesn’t want to ever admit that this was all about him being smitten by Meghna’s looks when he spotted her profile on Facebook. He’s crafty; he’d be a fool to say it when she has an unending list of friend requests. He keeps trying to pretend there’s something deep about his liking for her, that’s far beyond her looks, but all he can say till the end is, “Your eyes.”
Director: Rajath Ravishankar
Cast: Karthi, Rakul Preet, Amrutha Srinivasan, RJ Vignesh
His holiness, Dev, shines light everywhere. Among those who benefit is Vicky (RJ Vignesh), his friend, whose idea of a stand-up comedy session is to tell his paying audience the never-ending love story of his friend. Director Rajath isn’t the sort to make jokes about his dark or plump appearance, but he’s not above having Vicky himself admit inferiority on account of them. He isn’t the sort to explicitly have Dev wear Meghna down with his pursuit, but he isn’t above having him almost kill her in a road accident, so he could get a glimpse of her. He isn’t above having him gatecrash her felicitation ceremony and ask her an embarrassing question or two. He isn’t above having Dev’s friend, Nisha (Amrutha Srinivasan, whose casual demeanour I quite liked), tell him, “Something tells me she’s your girl.” There’s nothing there, really. It’s just the director manipulating this character into saying this cheesy line. Director Rajath isn’t the sort to have Dev say anything disrespectful of women, but he isn’t above having his friend look at a woman and say, “Gift kadachuduchu. Apdiye parcel pannida vendiyadhu dhaan.” He isn’t above having him later say, “Viruppa padravala correct panravan dhaan aambala.”
There is the interesting idea of all the main characters suffering from parental abandonment. Dev, Nisha, Meghna… all of them are affected by this, but the film lacks the emotional wherewithal to see this thread through. And when it does occasionally try, it rings false and/or seems problematic. A character says that because Dev was raised by his father, he’s grown up with courage and clarity. It’s like, nobody read this line and asked, “As opposed to?” It also doesn’t help that any time there seems to be some conversation of emotional resonance, Harris Jayaraj steps in to guide you with overstating background music. Dev looks at his mother’s portrait, and Harris’ BGM has women almost wailing. Meghna’s mother talks about the difficulty of being single, and Harris has a violin trying to incite you into tears. It’s all way too loud and more melodramatic than it needs to be.
Given how Meghna is portrayed, I found Nisha far more likeable. Someday, hopefully, our cinema will make a character like her its heroine, and not just in a film like IrudhiSuttru, but in a romance. Nisha almost self-deprecatingly says she will have a hard time getting a partner because of who she is. If we cannot show an ambitious woman unapologetically, let’s at least try and make heroines out of women like Nisha, and perhaps, we may finally begin to have something new to say in this genre.
Of course, it’s another matter that Dev has a hard time being true to its romance genre. The couple go on a supposedly transformative bike ride, but before we can be introduced to any deep conversation, there’s a silly robbery that’s designed to utilise Dev’s superhuman fighting ability. In between, Nikki Galrani gets a cameo in a bizarre sequence that’s again designed to be another mandatory stunt sequence. Dev can’t even climb Mount Everest, without a Cliffhanger type of situation.
The best I could say about Dev is, it looks great. And yes, the songs — though seeming like hangovers of previous Harris Jayaraj hits — are rather catchy. But what Dev is most efficient at doing is normalising stalking, perhaps inadvertently (if we were to give it the benefit of the doubt). At one point, Meghna realises in horror that Dev’s tracked her down using her mother’s Facebook post, and her response is, “You’re such a stalker!” almost as if it were a compliment. We could again talk about the importance of avoiding such portrayal, and perhaps there’s no point, given that Vicky says, “Seiyaadha ngardha senju kaatradhu dhaan Thamizh paiyan gethtu.” Well, all right then.