26 Apr 2010

DEV D: Reading the film narrative with special reference to Weber's Theory of Authority



I chose Dev D to slap down on my dissection table primarily because it tells an immortal story of love and rejection - and the politics of love and rejection. In sociological understanding of it, this is perhaps the best example to delve into a Weberian reading of authority and action, in the context of modern Indian film-making and character building. There's a major difference between KL Saigal, Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and Abhay Deol's Devdas. The first three films were faithful to Sarat Chandra's legendary novella, while Anurag Kashyap's deviant take on Devdas is contemporary and in the process, differs from the original work. And perhaps the real narrative of the film exists in its poignant background score, executed almost perfectly by music director Amit Trivedi.

In Dev. D, the film captures the essence of wealthy business class patriarchal Punjabi families of Chandigarh. Dev, or Devendra Singh Dhillon, is the son a rich Punjabi businessman, who was sent to London when he was very young. But the seeds of love had already been sown between him and his father’s business manager’s daughter Paro, or Parminder Kuldeep Singh. While away, their love only grew, slowly edging out the young innocent infatuation giving way to more concrete sexual demands. And on the occasion of Dev’s brother Dwij’s wedding, he comes back home. Their obsession with intimacy is arrogantly complacent, but complications grow, as their youthful banter turns to misunderstandings, and they result in Dev’s rejection of Paro’s love. Paro in turn, almost as if to mete out punishment for Dev, agrees to be married off to a wealthy businessman, a widower with two children. Her decision borders on compromise and convenience, as Paro puts marriage before sexual gratification.

Following Paro’s marriage, Dev’s remorse alienates him from his family and friends. And what follows is a journey of self-destruction. Dev moves to Delhi from Chandigarh following Paro, who after marriage settled in Delhi with her husband. Dev makes excuses to talk to and meet Paro. Paro, now a married woman complies to Dev’s demands, but stands her own ground as well, and quite clearly asks Dev to move on with his life and forget her. This second rejection, this time from Paro, shatters Dev’s will for even self-pity. He drowns in a sea of intoxication and substance abuse. During this he meets Chunni (Chunnilal), a middle-man, who introduces him to Chanda (Chandramukhi), a young prostitute.

Chanda has her own story, distanced and abandoned by her family following an MMS scandal, she gets drawn into prostitution. She meets Dev and develops a friendship that helps both of them cope with their individual crises. But the day Dev realises that despite all closeness, Chanda is still a prostitute, the inherent patriarchal obsession with ownership over the lover’s physical body hinders his dedication and trust. So, he leaves, and trips into a even heavier trauma. Dev, in his intoxication, gets tangled in a hit-and-run case, and his ailing father dies of shock. After this, through a series of even more misfortunes, Dev realises the true worth of the women in his life, and he realises his real allegiance and returns to Chanda. Dev confesses finally to Chanda that he never really loved Paro, he only obsessed owning her.

The references and innuendos used throughout the film punctuates cultural stereotypes that exist within the Indian context, as well as the visual arrangement and use of dialogues are all in-tune with the young generation. The portrayal of Punjabis in the film is almost perfect in comparison. The recurrence of ‘values’ as a theme is integral. This has been projected through the female characters in the film: Paro as the village belle, is not stereotypically shy and coy. She is up front, straight forward and bold. Again, Chanda is the only character in the film, whose fate was uncalled for, but she makes no excuses for it. She is a prostitute but she is not sorry about it. Thus, she is a complete contrast to Dev, who is inherently, but not literally, apologetic. The interplay of rural-urban and tradition-modernity is shown through the relationship of Dev with the two women in his life.

Every character in Dev D, has been positioned beautifully to portray a specific nuance of the film narrative. The cast comprises mostly of newcomers, except Abhay Deol himself, who was also responsible for the concept of the film, which is, again, the most innovative angle for the entirety of this film. In the original novella, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay spoke of his own times, punctuated with the instances of class and caste differences, alongside the colonial rendezvous of tradition-modernity dialogue. Chattopadhyay’s Devdas has been read several times for screen and stage interpretations, but by far, Kashyap’s treatment of the analogous quality of the characters is flawless.

Coming back to the Weberian debate, the film may be dissected into four main sections of plot development according to the narrative. 1) The sense of loss- betrayal, rejection and death, 2) Kinship ties- role of family and relations, based on a strictly patriarchal sense of the term, 3) City as the site of trauma- wherein, the urban space provides for the existence of a dark, almost villainous, persona, in the absence of a real anti-hero, and 4) Fate- as recreated through destruction, realisation and ultimately resolution. These four sections are all intimidated by characters, which are however much downplayed in the film; evolve through the fantastical turn of events.

1) The sense of loss- betrayal, rejection and death: Dev’s character develops through each of the aforementioned sections. For example, in this part, we can look into his authoritative development through the sense of loss – through betrayal and death. Firstly, the loss through betrayal occurs on two levels, the first being Paro’s, although misinterpreted by Dev himself, it was betrayal on one count. The second being Chanda’s, where again Dev had created his own reality and the harsher fact betrayed this. Both these cases have deeper repercussions on Dev. On both counts, he himself created the illusion of betrayal, almost as if to spatially distinguish himself from the culprits, in this case Paro and Chanda. Thus giving rise to the opportunity for his traditional authority to grow out of his father’s own position, something like a psychological coup. So, for the ultimate transfer of authority the loss of his father was the final element. Dev’s father’s death was the climaxing point of Dev’s retrieval of his authoritative character, which he willingly was bypassing by his irresponsible behaviour. So the loss of his father took over that one last quarter of his faulty character.

2) Kinship ties- role of family and relations, based on a strictly patriarchal sense of the term: since the film revolves around rural Punjabi wealthy families, the depiction of kinship ties are absolutely contemporary in nature, which is why Dev’s character is infused with elements of the rich young brat, sent to London, disinterest in academics, drug-abuse, taste for unrequited love, etc. Thus his relationships with those around him are also overshadowed with such elements. Such as the introductory scene in the film, where Dev and Paro’s relationship is established; followed by his relation with his mother, father and brother are also briefly touched upon, it all seems very casual and the positions of authority are forced on him, and not naturally digressed. This proves the waning and charitable quality of traditional authority that Weber debated. Dev’s father holds the supreme authority, but his power over his subordinates is unofficial and subjected to questions.

3) City as the site of trauma- wherein, the urban space provides for the existence of a dark, almost villainous, persona, in the absence of a real anti-hero: In Dev D, the film revolves around the story of one character’s part of lifetime, winding through the build-up of a crisis and eventually the resolution of the crisis. Here the crisis being ‘love’, and the feelings it exudes in an individual, and the actions and reactions these feelings generate within the individual and other individuals around him, and the environment in which the whole story unfolds is an undivided dark spectrum – as represented through an urban space. This urban space provides the stage for the characters to display and conduct their roles, as pertaining to their socio-cultural relevance. Since the actual narrative lacks atypical representation of cinematic characters – i.e., a hero, a heroine and a villain – the attributes have been virtually assigned to other forms. For example, here, the city stands as the villain, where Dev finds his vices and grips them on for the longer part of the film. Even in the original text, Devdas moved to the city after his estrangement from Paro, took up alchohol and met Chandramukhi in a brothel. In Dev D, Dev not only takes to alchohol, but also hard drugs to initiate his inner-peace, and found Chanda as a solace in New Delhi, having had travelled out of rural Punjab. So the urban space provides a moral-free zone, and can be compared with the notion of the typical villain, who also is conscience-free. But unlike the regular depictions of black and white, Kashyap created a great gray space, where Dev and the city mingle to form the quintessential anti-hero; this can also be related to a number of historical depictions of popular traditional authoritative heads in literature and cinema.

4) Fate- as recreated through destruction, realisation and ultimately resolution: This is directly in relation to the understanding of traditional authority as Weber argued. To begin with, fate is entwined with the one who begets traditional authority, because it is that one form of authority and power that is transferred through birth, property and association. Thus, in Dev D, the element of fate looms throughout, despite almost all of the action-reaction sequences being in direct control of Dev’s whims. Thus one may argue that fate decides the formation, destruction, realisation and resolution of the life-aspects of Dev, quite like his authority, which was given to him, not acquired.

Coming to the characters of the film, a basic understanding of the theoretical premise is necessary before delving into the analysis. Weber’s theory of authority claims that in pre-modern and modern societies, there has been a hierarchy of command of which everyone must adhere to. In order for this system to operate, there must be someone in charge or otherwise known as authority. According to Weber, authority is power accepted as legitimate by those subjected to it. Weber outlines three forms of authority in modern societies: traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal. These forms of authority are ideal pure types that are rarely "pure" in real life. Based on this understanding, we can categorise the characters in Dev D, simply by analysing their personalities and grouping them. To begin with, the relationship between Dev and his father relies on the traditional authority, where it is passed on to Dev from his father, after he returns from London, despite the still existing signs of Dev being a spoilt child. In more concrete terms, Dev’s father also confesses to spoiling him, but unashamedly so. The repercussion to this being Dev’s brother Dwij’s an inherent dislike and mistrust for Dev, as it so occurs around the space of a traditional authoritative position, which so often gives rise to the proposition of change and rebellion, in its strict political interpretation. However, this form of authority that so exists in the mere disposition of Dev’s character, is objectionable from its ideal typical understanding. For example Dev’s substance abuse to counter his rejection – which in itself was self-imposed, unlike in the original novella, the rejection of Paro came into the plot of the story given her lower class-caste status, and not a simple misunderstanding. In an ideal typical situation, Dev would have taken it into his stride to put things right, but in Dev D, given his traditional authority, Dev rejects Paro for her alleged intimacy with another man. The transfer of authority from his father to Dev happens within the narrative and interpretation of the story, and not so much within the characters. Yet, the change is inimitable and permanent. And there are two characters who stand up to this transfer of authority, the first being Paro, who calls for a change of technique herself by demanding reasons for Dev’s rejection of her love and questions his own intentions, as he too had shared physical intimacy with Rasika, the sister of Paro’s later-to-be-wed husband. The second resistance comes from Dwij, who constantly has to deal with favouritism shown toward his brother Dev, as he remains while Dev gets an education in London, and gets continuing financial help even when he has flouted his adult responsibilities and run after Paro after having rejected her. Although Dwij’s resistance is passive, it influences Dev’s decisions after he has reached the brink of self destruction.

Dev’s own traditional authority is countered by Chanda (Chandramnukhi), who can very well be categorised under charismatic authoritative personality. She holds a stronger reign on Dev’s life and decisions. The relationship between Dev and CHanda borders on a theoretical platonic exchange. The sense of loss and betrayal brings them closer, and Chanda’s charismatic personality puts her in a position superior in practice than that of Dev’s. Although based on Dev’s own characteristic disposition of authority, he primarily objects to the charisma of Chanda’s character, but slowly the essence permeates his own personality, giving rise to the culmination of Dev’s resolution. In an ideal typical paradigm, Chanda creates the atmosphere for the transition of Dev from a hopeless self-destructive man to a hopeful man who values his future ambitions. This is exemplary, as in most case, as Weber himself also argues, the ideal type does not exist, but in this case, albeit analogous in nature of formation, however, Chanda’s authority claims a higher position than that of Dev’s or for that matter anybody else’s in the film.

In fact, the entirety of the protagonist’s narrative is entwined with those of the women around him. in plain theory we may say, that Dev’s character is incomplete just by itself, it requires those of the women around him to formulate and act. To begin with, Dev’s mother was held responsible by his father to be the one who spoilt him – thus meaning that the initial phase of psycho-social development of Dev took place within the protective circle of his mother’s love, care and reproach. After this, his character grew in the space of being away from the women he desired, his mother and Paro, both for very different reasons, but based on the feeling of desire no less – the first, a desire for motherly love, and the second being more carnal in nature. Thus so far, we may argue, that Dev’s persona develops through the presence or lack of the important female roles in his life. Then, comes the crisis – where Dev rejects his own requirement of feminine love. Despite being a very strong character, Paro lacks the apparent masculine strength Chanda exudes. This is a transformation in Dev’s character, where after he feels he has been betrayed by Paro, he discards his relationships with the very women he eternally sought alliance with, his mother and Paro. He forms a sort of understanding of the good woman, as personified by his mother and Paro – being traditional and homely as well as loyal – and becomes attracted by Chanda’s complete lack of that exact element, she was the quintessential fallen woman – a prostitute, porn star, drug-abuser and very brute when it came to emotional interaction. This quality in Chanda attracted Dev, as it was completely in opposition to the kind of women he had sought so far. It gave him a sense of foreboding, fear and strangely enough security bought with money. He felt Chanda’s company could be bought with money, which left him with a sense of ownership as well as superiority that can be found in an employer-employee relationship. This particular variety of emotion helped Dev grow inside, into that traditional authority he had acquired from his father, it gave him the very same feeling of being in the main authoritative position, the driver’s seat. Even later, when he realises his mistakes and makes a decision to reach a resolution point in his life after all the mayhem, he is still driven by his attachment to Chanda, and not by single-minded determination. In other simpler and perhaps unacademic words, Dev’s character does whatever he does because of one woman or another, his life revolves around the relations he has with women, in this case his mother, Paro and Chanda.

Finally, I must add, that the most important part of the narrative of this film is its background score, used beautifully throughout the film, which helps create the tone and mood for the visual. The eighteen song sound track is responsible for the tremendous success of the film in the Bollywood Box Office. Anurag Kashyap quite brilliantly has lifted the basic structure of the story from Chattopadhyay’s novella, and has fitted it in a modern context, because Chattopadhyay wrote about his own times, yet it is timeless in its feeling and emotion. Kashyap has taken the courage to entwine the reality of the story and bring it to a cinematic form, and has made no excuses for doing so, which is perhaps why the film is so grounded in its understanding. And the most interesting fact being that, he has used the creative space of an ‘adaptation’ to give the story that much-needed ending that Chattopadhyay lacked courage to execute. Also, in a modern context, this particular ending is much appropriate, rather than a godlike disposition of the protagonist to pine away to death for a lost love. In fact, in Dev D, the protagonist is never really the quintessential ‘hero’, quite contrarily; he is the ‘anti-hero’. In the film, none of the characters are completely in one particular white or black idealisms, rather all of them have shades of grey, thereby providing a much bigger space for these personalities to manoeuvre their positions within the plot. The story of Dev D is essentially that of a coming of age narrative, based around relationships and the trajectories of these relations.



READING KALI AS A COMPARATIVE STUDY

According to David Kinsley, Kali is first mentioned in Hinduism as a distinct goddess, related to war, around 600 CE. Scriptures like Agni Purana and Garuda Purana describe her terrible appearance and associate her with corpses and war. The oldest mention of Kali dates back to Rigvedic age. The 'Ratri Sookta' in Rigveda actually calls her as Goddess 'Ratri' and regards Ratri as the Supreme force in the universe. In the Tantras, she is regarded as the Shakti (Power) of The Great Mahākāla (a form of Lord Shiva). Her portrayal on dead bodies in crematorium symbolizes her presence in the hearts of devotees who have killed their Earthly desires and want Supreme Consciousness in the lap of the Ultimate Mother, Kali. In another form, she is regarded as the destroyer, the Mahakali as Kali Tantra says-"kāli kālanāt" meaning Kali is the one who finishes. Kalika Purana depicts her as the "Adi Shakti" (Fundamental Power) and "Para Prakriti" or beyond nature.

Kali comes from the Sanskrit root word Kal which means time. There is nothing that escapes the all-consuming march of time. In Tibetan Buddhism Her counterpart is male with the name Kala. Mother Kali is the most misunderstood of the Hindu goddesses. The Encyclopedia Britannica is grossly mistaken in the following quote, "Major Hindu goddess whose iconography, cult, and mythology commonly associate her with death, sexuality, violence, and, paradoxically in some of her later historical appearances, motherly love."

It is partly correct to say Kali is a goddess of death but She brings the death of the ego as the illusory self-centered view of reality. Nowhere in the Hindu stories is She seen killing anything but demons nor is She associated specifically with the process of human dying like the Hindu god Yama (who really is the god of death). It is true that both Kali and Shiva are said to inhabit cremation grounds and devotees often go to these places to meditate. This is not to worship death but rather it is to overcome the I-am-the-body idea by reinforcing the awareness that the body is a temporary condition. Shiva and Kali are said to inhabit these places because it is our attachment to the body that gives rise to the ego. Shiva and Kali grant liberation by removing the illusion of the ego. Thus we are the eternal I AM and not the body. This is underscored by the scene of the cremation grounds.

Of all the forms of Devi, She is the most compassionate because She provides moksha or liberation to Her children. She is the counterpart of Shiva the destroyer. They are the destroyers of unreality. The ego sees Mother Kali and trembles with fear because the ego sees in Her its own eventual demise. A person who is attached to his or her ego will not be receptive to Mother Kali and she will appear in a fearsome form. A mature soul who engages in spiritual practice to remove the illusion of the ego sees Mother Kali as very sweet, affectionate, and overflowing with incomprehensible love for Her children.

Ma Kali wears a garland of skulls and a skirt of dismembered arms because the ego arises out of identification with the body. In truth we are beings of spirit and not flesh. So liberation can only proceed when our attachment to the body ends. Thus the garland and skirt are trophies worn by Her to symbolize having liberated Her children from attachment to the limited body. She holds a sword and a freshly severed head dripping blood. As the story goes, this represents a great battle in which she destroyed the demon Raktabija. Her black skin represents the womb of the quantum unmanifest from which all of creation arises and into which all of creation will eventually dissolve. She is depicted as standing on Shiva who lays beneath Her with white skin (in contrast to Her black or sometimes dark blue skin). He has a blissful detached look. Shiva represents pure formless awareness sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss) while She represents "form" eternally supported by the substratum of pure awareness.

By not understanding the story behind Mother Kali it is easy to misinterpret Her iconography. In the same way one could say that Christianity is a religion of death, destruction and cannibalism in which the practitioners drink the blood of Jesus and eat his flesh. Of course, we know this is not the proper understanding of the communion ritual. Attaching the idea of sexuality to Mother Kali has no basis in Her at all. There is nothing that associates Her with sexuality in the Hindu stories. In fact it is just the opposite. She is one of the few Goddesses who is celibate practicing austerity and renunciation.

From a Tantric perspective, when one meditates on reality at rest, as absolute pure consciousness (without the activities of creation, preservation or dissolution) one refers to this as Shiva or Brahman. When one meditates on reality as dynamic and creative, as the Absolute content of pure consciousness (with all the activities of creation, preservation or dissolution) one refers to it as Kali or Shakti. However, in either case the yogini or yogi is interested in one and the same reality — the only difference being in name and fluctuating aspects of appearance. It is this which is generally accepted as the meaning of Kali standing on the chest of Shiva.

Although there is often controversy surrounding the images of divine copulation, the general consensus is benign and free from any carnal impurities in its substance. In Tantra the human body is a symbol for the microcosm of the universe; therefore sexual process is responsible for the creation of the world. Although theoretically Shiva and Kali (or Shakti) are inseparable, like fire and its power to burn, in the case of creation they are often seen as having separate roles. With Shiva as male and Kali as female it is only by their union that creation may transpire. This reminds us of the prakrti and purusa doctrine of Samkhya wherein prakāśa- vimarśa has no practical value, just as without prakrti, purusa is quite inactive. This (once again) stresses the interdependencies of Shiva and Shakti and the vitality of their union. Thus, Kali as the goddess exudes powers that complete creation, it completes manhood. We can return from this point to our current discussion, of the film Dev D.

The few references that maybe drawn around the fictional and mythological characters of Dev D and Goddess Kali is between Chanda and Kali. Chandramukhi or Chanda represents a different dimension of femininity, as does Kali like we have already discussed. The different forms of Kali are the different personas of womanhood. Despite the book-view, Kali is not dominantly related to motherhood or the traditional roles associated with women, she is the creator and destroyer at the same time, she is dark, she is naked, and she is adorned by garlands of severed human heads. As we have already discussed, among the many possibilities of reading this mythology, one may definitely be argued to be as that of a warrior, which is why the dark skin – symbolizing war-paint, which is why the garland of human heads – symbolism of war-exploits. Though, this warrior’s war may not always be a mythical war, it may be symbolized to be the fight of every woman to stand equally beside her man.

Like Kali, Chanda is also a fighter, she has fought with her own predicaments as well as the opportunity for a better life. She has fought with her fate and won, which is why the complacent behaviour about being a prostitute, she is never shown to be repentant of her decision to become one, neither does she think her fate is responsible for her being a prostitute – she considers it to be a definitive decision on her part and is unapologetic about it. Although regret seeps in much later, when she realises Dev cannot be a part of her life if she continues with her profession – but then again, we can relate this to Kali’s usual persona of standing on top of her husband Shiva, tongue hanging out in shame. Like Chanda, Kali is not ashamed of her personality, she is a warrior, she resides in darkness, fights with the monsters of darkness, yet her bashful side comes out when she encounters Shiva on her path. This is symbolic of the fact that Kali as a goddess is peerless – in courage and achievement – yet her heart lies within the shackles of Shiva’s control; but then again, Shiva – like Dev – does not want to encage Kali’s persona within his own boundaries, he simply chooses to ignore these attributes until it becomes too much, which is its said Shiva is the only one who can control Kali’s rage. In Dev D, Dev turns out to be the turning point for Chanda as well, as it is for her love of Dev, that she walks out of prostitution, and set up a life where Dev may have a proper place. The image of Kali that we see, is that of the calm after the storm – i.e., Kali still in her warrior form, but becalmed by Shiva’s presence. Similarly, Chanda being the fighter that she is, is ultimately calmed down by her love for Dev. It is striking how mythology repeatedly bases itself in fact and fiction, because eventually cinema, despite being fiction, is based in facts of human experience and thought. So in Dev D, it is hard to tell, if Chanda’s character was otherwise based in mythology, but again, the eventualities are based within the twilight zones of fact, fiction and m,ythology. Thus Kali and Chanda are both women woven around their men, and their men are incomplete without them. Thus the mythological debate of creation bound in man-woman union, thus the ultimate twist-in-the tale of Dev D’s very different outcome in the end, in comparison to Sarat Chandra Chattopadyay’s novel of eternal love being synonymous with unrequited love. This particular feather goes solely on top of Anurag Kashyap’s hat, for it was he who formulated this eternal union of man-woman creation of the perfect self.





References:

Weber’s Theory of Authority (Economy and Society, Vol 1)

Kali (The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar) Elizabeth U. Harding, Nicolas Hays, 1993

Encountering Kali (In the margins, at the center, in the west), Rachel Fell McDermott, Berkeley : University of California Press, 2003

Shakti and Shâkta, Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe), Oxford Press/Ganesha & Co., 1918

....and many many blogs and newspaper film reviews, so Don't screw me over plagiarism. I have used so many articles, I am sorry to say I have lost track of most of them. If you find your words, inform me, I shall add to the reference list.

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