|Storm clouds gathering over Versailles|
There's something about a freakish show of wealth that gives people violent headaches. Maybe it's an allergy to gold filigree, maybe it's just jealousy of a life dedicated to luxury, maybe it's just anger at seeing massive spaces dedicated to the showcase of status, but in my experience, nothing makes us want to pick up our torches and pitchforks like a glimpse of life in the upper echelons of society.
(Occupy Wall Street could be seen as but a recent and relatively uneventful version of this tendency towards picketing the places of the rich. It wasn't exactly Russia circa 1917, however.)
Like most Americans, I am caught between populist sympathies and bourgeois aspirations. I love a beautiful, civilized, decorative space as much as anyone, but when that space doesn't belong to me . . . when I can't have access to it whenever I'd like . . . I am sometimes stricken with an urge to boycott private property.
|That belongs in a museum. Donate it or I will donate you.|
|Entrance to the Hall of Mirrors|
Much fuss is made now about how the Palace and the Gardens of Versailles are the property of the people, and are a grand testament to the power of the people. You see it on signs everywhere. Parisians are desperate to proclaim: "Look what we scored from those old royals! What horrible people they were. We will charge you a fee if you aren't French and you can see for yourself what horrors they got up to inside. It was horrible. What waste. Did you see the golden bits? But we will certainly keep spending French Euros trying to restore the horrible gardens to their original horrible glory for the use of the not-horrible French Republic."
|The Gardens and Palace of Versailles 1746|
I really need someone from the fifteenth or sixteenth century to weigh in on this post (so if you know anyone, hook me up), because I wonder if the inner rage we feel when we visiting places like Versailles is purely a modern, post Enlightenment phenomenon. In the ongoing Age of Revolutions, perhaps we have only a limited tolerance for obvious displays of wealth in physical structures and man-made objects. People can possess as much as they like in the way of jewels and objects and art and cars, but they really shouldn't let anyone know how much they have. Not that showing off these days is illegal, exactly, but it certainly is rude. I guess you can still have your palace, as long as you keep it well-hidden.
|Yes. This house was built for the movie. It did not exist before.|
|Been praying for 10 years that Devdas would come home to me. Should have prayed that he would stay . . .|
|I'm the hero, right? Wait. What is it that heroes do again? You must have heard I'm London-returned. London doesn't have a "School for Heroes." I hear there's one in Jaipur.|
|Does this lighting make me look doomed to you? Be honest.|
|The courtesan district must dazzle, no? Oh yeah, this was all built for the film as well. It's not a bigature.|
But while LOTR was certainly opulent in a fiscal sense, it did not actually celebrate opulent lifestyles. This may be a key difference. When you're doing a film about the exploitation of women, you have to decide whether or not you are also actually exploiting women in your very depiction of the problem; and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people felt that Devdas blurred the line between depicting empty, wasteful decadence and becoming empty and wasteful in and of itself.
That's probably what a lot of people feel, and I wouldn't blame them. They wouldn't be the least wrong to celebrate the death of the violent, drunk, wretch of an aristocrat at the end. Perhaps in Devdas' character they see a dying aristocracy, and feel both satisfied by his tragic end and angered by his paramour's marital imprisonment.
|You people belong in a museum.|
|That's what the pharaohs said. And Rome. And those pesky Brits? Yeah, maybe you remember making the sun set on their empire, too.|
Yet I don't feel that way. I am moved by Devdas. There, I've said it. Jack's out of the box. It's not just because of the fabulousness of it all. It's not just because the songs are worth multiple viewings (even Filmi Geek agrees . . . and she's a hard sell). Devdas' tale certainly comes off as a morality play about selfishness and stubbornness and the perils of traditional marriage customs, but it's ALSO about wanting more and MORE possessions, and wanting to possess people, and what dark things happen when you get love confused with ownership.
|Ye gods. I can't believe they're foreshadowing my ending so early in the film.|
|My relationship with you, sister-in-law is one of the few times in this story that I seem pure or at least guileless. At least you can't call me materialistic.|
|Sister-in-law wants Paro's bracelet, the only piece of jewelry she CANNOT have that you see here.|
|Sister-in-law is refused bracelet. Paro must pay, but with Devdas' life. Makes evil sense, does it not?|
|Sister-in-law cannot take a joke. Also, thinks everyone is stealing from her because she is a thief and that's what she would do.|
Sense and Shameability:Next to this family of mercenaries, Paro's family is like a baby bird that just fell out of its nest and has absolutely no concept of how vulnerable it is. A fateful night of hoped-for betrothal shows how quick they are to trust, and how VERY quick Devdas and his family are to take advantage.
|Naivete Exhibit 1: Of course Choti-Ma wants Paro to marry Devdas! We are practically family already!|
|Naivete Exhibit 2: Just because I am dancing for you in the dark, doesn't make me a courtesan. But I know you would never cause me shame and tell someone about this.|
|Naivete Exhibit 3: Just because my grandmother was a courtesan doesn't mean I can't do her dance for you. I know you wouldn't try to shame me.|
|Naivete Exhibit 4: Devdas will listen if I say no. I'm not going to get raped tonight.|
The Mixed Up Files of Devdas' Psyche:
But Dev went off to London and read some romance novels and now he also believes in love. It seems like a better deal. He goes home and trivializes the mercenary lifestyle around him, but still continues to reap its benefits. Instead of yearning for shares in the inheritance, like his brother and sister-in-law, he yearns for childhood friend Paro.
However, he fails to understand the rules of the game. While Paro soon realizes she is nothing but a commodity to be bought and traded and adjusts to this fact . . .
|Nice play on the wife's vermilion thing there, Devdas.|
Math is Hard:
Appropriately enough, the running joke between the lovers throughout the film is that Devdas is bad at arithmetic, while Paro improves at arithmetic exponentially in each scene. It IS a nice metaphor for Devdas issues. He really doesn't understand the equation he must follow to get what he wants.
1. Dev wants X =Possessing Paro
(B) betrothal rules
(C) parental disapproval
(D) tradition of bride-price
(E) danger of tarnishing her reputation
3. I'm also not very good at math, so I I'm already losing my train of thought here, but basically, X is negated by A-E.
Said courtesan is a whole 'nother psychological study.
|I'm Chandramukhi, the goddess, no the REKHA, of courtesans. I can have all the money and sex that I desire . . .|
|...behold my kingdom . . .|
|But I think I'd rather watch this wastrel brood and drink himself to death in my quarters.|
Despite her dubious bhartiya nari tendencies, for me, Chandramukhi still manages to be the antidote to the poison in these characters lives. She is not possessed by anyone or anything (except perhaps by her profession). Money is not her motivation, nor is romantic conquest. She loves Devdas, but doesn't try to own him. While everyone else tries to grasp at life, or pine for what they couldn't reach, Chandramukhi gives selflessly, and enjoys the current moment, however painful.