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'Devdas' gets the cold shoulder in Britain

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON JULY 12. Bollywood's latest and much-trumpeted global offering Devdas has been greeted here with withering reaction, verging on contempt. Even sympathetic critics of India's escapist cinema such as Derek Malcolm of The Guardian found it "tacky" and weighed down with "cliches".

Billed as one the most expensive Hindi films to come out of Mumbai , Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ambitious reworking of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's classic was described by one critic as a huge "waste of talent" and money. "How, you wonder, can a film so expensive seem so cheap," asked The Daily Telegraph.

In one of the most devastating critiques, the newspaper called it so "absolutely horrid" that it "should embarrass all those involved in making it". Its British Asian critic, Sukhdev Sandhu, who is apparently quite a Bollywood addict, found nothing to commend in Devdas except Madhuri Dixit. Shah Rukh Khan performs like a "second rate mime artiste", Aishwarya Rai "coos and trills like an asthmatic mynah", songs are a "frightening mix" of irreconcilable styles, dialogue is stilted and sets and costume are "gaudy".

Inevitably, comparisons have been made with the P.C. Barua and Bimal Roy versions of the film, and there is unanimity that Mr. Bhansali's is the worst. Mr. Malcolm, who rates Bimal Roy's version the best, said it "attempted to show India as it was at the time the story was written". Mr. Bhansali's adaptation, on the other hand, has "the whole thing on garishly luxurious sets that may dazzle the eye, but have very little to do with the much more intimate psychology of the story". He warns viewers not to assume that all Bollywood is as bad as Bhansali's Devdas. Some of the greatest Indian filmmakers worked in Bollywood, he says, and "cut through the cliches considerably better than this".

The Independent likened it to a "pudding trolley" loaded with "flaring colours, elaborate song and dance sequences and opulent locations" that, after a while, "may give you indigestion".

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