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Director : Music : Starring :
Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri, Fardeen Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Rati Agnihotri
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
How does it feel to be an Indian Muslim? To be constantly told by rabid elements that your real home is across the border?
Govind Nihalani's latest work -- in many ways far more powerful than his other soul-searing comments on the stench of a rotting social structure -- is arguably his best.
He constantly crosses borders in search of a creative home and pitches his tent in a twilight zone where no filmmaker dares to venture.
A Nihalani film isn't easy to watch. "Dev" raises even more complex issues than "Ardh Satya" about the politicisation of the police force and "Drohkaal" on the politics of terrorism.
It talks about the isolation of the Indian Muslim in the post-Gujarat scenario when even secularists turned partisan, rendering the country's law machinery into a den of horrific violence.
Debutante writer Meenaxi Sharma's screenplay is one of the most powerful pieces of writing we've seen for Hindi cinema. The script creates a sense of all-consuming foreboding whereby the polarisation of Hindus and Muslims becomes more than a power game.
It becomes symptomatic of Indian society where wily politicians, regardless of their religion, are a law unto themselves.
At the centre of this terrible power structure are the two cops Dev Pratap Singh (Amitabh Bachchan) and Tejinder Khosla (Om Puri).
Dev's gradual realisation of the enormity of the politics behind the isolation of minorities in India is delicately though powerfully weighed against the uni-dimensional, almost villainous communalisation of Tejinder.
"They're all terrorists," Tejinder believes and lives by his communal credo to the end.
Dev, the film's lynchpin and conscience, has a much tougher job in going by his inner voice's steep graph. He starts off as a disgusted cop who point-blank shoots a sneering insulting young man who, by chance, turns out to be Muslim.
Dev's fence-sitting political ideology lurches across a legion of metabolic changes. In a corkscrew turning point, he's attacked by a young Muslim, Farhan (Fardeen Khan) who holds Dev responsible for his old father's death during a procession that went all wrong. Here's where Nihalani steps in to show, as always, that oppression isn't peculiar to any one people.
Perhaps a tad simplistically, the film lays the blame for all the communal strife in the city - unnamed but Vadodara by implication - on two politicians - one a Hindu and the other a Muslim.
Like Mani Ratnam's "Bombay", which was far more melodramatic, "Dev" also secretes a tender and moving love story that unfolds during a time of communal riots. Farhan's attachment to the girl next door, Aaliya (Kareena Kapoor), is celebrated through furtive glances thrown at one another from a terrace as Aadesh Shrivastava's haunting melody creates a sublime subtext for the routine milieu.
The love story works mainly because Fardeen and Kareena are so comfortable as a pair. Kareena doesn't have much to do except steal into Fardeen's abode with trays of home-cooked food. As in "Yuva", she not only transforms completely into a character but also creates substantial space for it.
In her two key sequences where she tries to stop Fardeen from taking to the gun and later comes forward before the police commission to expose powerful rioters, Kareena's face effortlessly becomes a map of the human heart.
Fardeen's face mirrors enduring turmoil and conflict. His role as the disgruntled young Muslim echoes Hrithik Roshan in Khalid Mohamed's "Fiza". But the echoes are far more restrained.
In a role that's central to the dramatic conflict, Fardeen's awkwardness goes very well with his character, though the accent remains more south Mumbai than Vadodara.
But the film and its grave repercussions are rooted to the two behemoths - Bachchan and Puri. As ideologically polarised cops, they provide the flesh to Nihalani's powerful parable of our times.
Puri is the film's surprise packet. As the boorish communal cop he throws shocking lines and attitude into the narrative.
Bachchan's silences speak a scathing language of guilt, anger and atonement. His monologue with wife Rati Agnihotri after he helplessly watches his colleague burn down a whole building of Muslims is unforgettable, and so is that moment towards the end when he unknowingly calls Farhan by his dead son's name.
The riot scenes are vivid and graphic though never done in calculated colour schemes as they were in "Bombay".
The plot grows progressively optimistic about the communalisation of our society, with the post-riots sequences acquiring a strange Shakespearean complexion.
Puri's villainous self-assertion and his final suicide are more "Macbeth" than Gujarat. But then Nihalani wants his powerful and haunting film to end with a final corkscrew twist. He did it in "Aakrosh" and "Ardh Satya". He does it again in "Dev".