Film Noir re: Pandemics: "Panic in the Streets" & "The Killer Who Stalked New York"

Panic in the Streets (1950) starring Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance & Zero Mostel

This is a lesser-known movie from director Elia Kazan; it was made before his masterpieces: A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden. In New Orleans, an illegal immigrant feels sick and leaves a poker game while defeating the small time criminal Blackie (a young Jack Palance). He is chased by Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel- best known for Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway) and Poldi (Guy Thomajan), then shot by Blackie. His body is dumped in the sea and recovered the next morning by some beat cops.

A police surgeon notices something unusual when he cuts into the body. Lt. Cmdr. Clint Reed (Richard Widmark), a family man and doctor w/ the U.S. Public Health Service, is called in to to examine the body. He diagnoses a highly contagious disease- pneumonic plague- and declares that everyone who may have had contact w/ the dead man be found ASAP. The mayor supports his efforts, though some other civic leaders are doubtful. Reed estimates there are 48 hours before the disease begins to spread. He joins a gruff policeman- Capt. Tom Warren (Paul Douglas)- to find the killers.

In the scene where Palance hits Widmark on the head w/ a gun, the actors rehearsed it with a rubber gun, but when the cameras rolled, Palance substituted a real gun. Widmark, who wasn’t expecting it, was out for 20 mins! Widmark commeted: “Why did he switch? Who knows?” In an interview, Widmark recalled how Palance got into the mood of his character by beating on Zero Mostel (off-screen). Mostel had to go to the hospital after his first week on the movie!

…a simple story, but it is still effective and with a great villain. The engaging plot has not become dated… Jack Palance performs a despicable scum in his debut, and the camera work while he tries to escape with Zero Mostel is still very impressive.

You can feel, see and smell the New Orleans of 1950, thanks to Kazan, his cast and script.

The great thing about this movie is the Oscar winning script. The dialog in this movie is also absolutely magnificent and gives the movie a feel of reality and credibility.

Kazan’s work offers a contrast between the confusion, sickness and immorality of the streets with the modest, calm home life of the Reeds. Despite all the danger, ultimately he returns back to the bosom of his family justified and satisfied. The implication being that social balance has been restored, at least for the moment by his professionalism and curative skills.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Killer Who Stalked New York (1950) starring Evelyn Keyes, Charles Korvin, William Bishop, & Dorothy Malone

Columbia Pictures paid director/producer Allen H. Miner $40,000 for the rights to this story (based on a smallpox outbreak in NYC in 1947). Millions of New Yorkers were vaccinated against the disease. Robert Osborne (TCM) said that Columbia had to sit on the movie for about 6 months in order to let the similarly-plotted Panic in the Streets to leave the theaters. Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes) returns to NYC from Cuba carrying $40,000 worth of smuggled diamonds – and smallpox, which could start a devastating epidemic. A treasury agent loses her, but keeps on the trail, while Public Health doctor Dr. Ben Wood searches for the unknown person spreading the deadly disease. Sheila is concerned only with her husband Matt, who plans to run off w/ the diamonds… and maybe also Shelia’s younger sister!

Keyes (a prolific actress best known as Scarlett’s younger sister- Suellen- in Gone with the Wind) thought that studio head (Harry Cohn) cast her in this (un-glamorous) role as payback for rejecting his advances. She sued Cohn and the studio, settled out of court, and was released from her contract. Keyes’ hair was bleached blond and she had on unflattering makeup (making her look older than her 34 yrs.)

With the country presently in the mist of a viral outbreak that has the entire state under quarantine and the country on full alert, The Killer that Stalked New York is as pertinent today as it was when it was released in 1950.

What we have then is a gritty, somewhat newsreel sounding (and looking) film whose narrator walks us through all the ironies of modern urban epidemiology.

The anthrax attacks of 2001, the fears of weaponized smallpox being used by terrorists, the concerns about vaccinations and the amount and safety of vaccines, the inability of governmental agencies to work together and share information effectively all come to mind when one watches this film.

The biggest problem is the direction, which is also all over the place. With a story like this you’d expect some sort of tension or suspense but none never happens. Keyes is pretty good in her role but the screenplay really doesn’t do her any justice as our feelings for her character are never really made clear.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Mangal Pandey: The Rising” (2005) starring Aamir Khan, Toby Stephens, Rani Mukherji, & Ameesha Patel

Aamir Khan plays Mangal Pandey passionately with a complete conviction. All the scenes between Aamir and Toby are a delight to watch. Toby doesn’t fail to impress with his acting or his Hindi-speaking lines.

Stephens’ brief speeches about the ruthlessness of a private corporation pillaging a country seem all too relevant to our own time… The film is wildly entertaining, filled with the color and beauty of Bollywood- superb cinematography, epic sets and crowd scenes, music-and-dance numbers that pop out of nowhere, and a love story…

-Excerpts from reviews on Amazon.com

This is an epic set against the backdrop of what the British called the Sepoy Mutiny; for the Indians, it was the First War of Independence. It took two years to complete this film b/c of the research that went into its production. “Company Raj” (the British East India Company) had been plundering the country, treating the locals unjustly, and causing widespread resentment. During battle in one of the Afghan wars in the mid-1800s, Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan), an Indian sepoy, saves the life of his commanding officer, Capt. William Gordon (Toby Stephens- son of Dame Maggie Smith). He is indebted, even giving Mangal his pistol. The first act is focused on the friendship; historians have pointed out that this was unlikely. A few years later, the Company introduces the Enfield rifle, which comes w/ a new cartridge rumored to be coated w/ grease from cow and pig fat. This cartridge has to be bitten before it is loaded, which ignites resentment and anger among the sepoys; the cow is sacred to Hindus and the pig is forbidden for Muslims.

The film was offered to Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, but he declined (thank goodness). Director Ketan Mehta first thought of making this film in 1988 w/ Amitabh Bachchan. Hugh Jackman turned down the role of Gordon; this required Stephens to speak w/ a Scottish accent and also in Hindi. A very young Kiera Knightley was considered for the role of Emily Kent, who is new to India and develops a crush on Gordon. After Aishwarya Rai turned down the part of Jwala (due to contract issues), Rani Mukerji was given the script to consider taking the part. Mukherji, however, liked the character of Heera and asked if she could play her instead. Khan requested to cast Ameesha Patel as the young widow, Jwala, after he saw her on a BBC game show. Patel wears no make-up; this was Khan’s suggestion.

We only sell our bodies; you sell your souls. -Heera explains to Mangal re: the difference between her girls and the sepoys

The BJP wanted to ban the film, as it showed Pandey visiting a prostitute (though their scenes are platonic in the movie). As Lol Bibi (veteran actress Kiron Kher) points out, her house is only for white men (mainly the British officers). Though this is not a “typical” Bollywood film, it contains songs and dances. One number by Heera and other nautch (dancing) girls, Main Vari Vari, created controversy due to Mukherji’s outfit (where her cleavage was covered by transparent fabric). This song serves a dual purposes- to entice the British officers and to show how conflicted Mangal feels re: trusting Gordon (and biting the new bullet). A.R. Rahman was the music director on this movie; the music flows w/ the story. My favorite song is below- Rasiya.

In your Ramayana there was one villain “Ravana” who had ten heads, company has a hundred heads and they’re all joined by the glue of greed. -Gordon replies when Mangal asks re: the Company

I think this movie is a must-see, though it is uneven (particularly when it comes to editing). The narration (in Hindi) done by veteran actor Om Puri is repetitive; I think it was used to appeal to Hindi speakers who may not be fluent in English. There is a mix of English and Hindi spoken in this film, which I’m sure was accurate for the period. The bromance is much more stronger than both the romances. The relationship between Mangal and Heera was underdeveloped, but I could see the chemistry between the actors. I liked the wrestling scene and hand-to-hand combat between Mangal and Gordon. The sepoys and villagers confronting the British one night w/ their torches stood out to me. However, the scene where Gordon stops the sati (bride burning) looks disorganized. Mangal Pandey: The Rising was shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. The screenwriter is British of Parsi heritage- Farrukh Dandy- associated w/ black (as in minority in UK) and left-wing intellectuals and activists.

You have tasted a black man’s loyalty – now taste his fury! -Mangal declares to Gordon

On second viewing, I noticed how colonialism was compared to slavery (which we may associate w/ the American South and West Indies). Hewson beats a waiter and insults him w/ “kalla kutta” (“black dog”). One of the villagers near the cantonment, Kamla, works as a wet nurse for one of the British officer’s wives. When she gets home, there is no milk left for her baby. Perhaps the most direct correlation to slavery is made in the market scene; Emily is appalled to see an auction of men and women (incl. Heera). It turns out that the Company buys girls, too!

“Water” (2005) starring Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, & John Abraham

[1] The film is lovely in the way Satyajit Ray’s films are lovely and the best elements of Water involve the young girl and the experiences seen through her eyes. – Rogert Ebert (The Chicago Sun-Times)

[2] Not a dry eye in the house by the time the film ends! Unforgettable and grand in my view; a fabulous achievement for all involved!

[3] The beauty of this movie is the incredible acting. The performances are so touching and so eloquent that you are drawn into the story and the feelings of the women.

-Comments from viewers on Amazon

[1] Despite the bleak conditions portrayed in the movie, there are moments of wonder and comedy and great love. 

[2] The script articulates the tragedy and hypocrisy these women must bare, but it also illustrates the quiet revolution we must all experience in order to grow, in order to change. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Water (shot in both Hindi and English) was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 79th Annual Academy Awards. The Vancouver Film Critics Circle named Deepa Mehta (an immigrant from India) the Best Canadian Director of 2006. Many viewers have praised the look of the film. The natural beauty of the setting is captured by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, a Brit who won an Oscar for his work on Hell or High Water; he worked with w/ Mehta on her other trilogy films: Fire and Earth. The music (which adds to the story) was composed by A.R. Rahman; the lyrics were written by Sukhwinder Singh.

I would prefer to be known as a storyteller. I don’t set out to provoke reactions. I don’t even feel vindicated, but the irony does not escape me. It is like my father used to say: the two things you could never predict were the day of your death and the success of a movie. -Deepa Mehta (on Water‘s success)

Filming began on Water in 2000 with Akshay Kumar and two actresses who worked w/ Mehta before- Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. This film was stalled due to protests in India; sets were vandalized (in organized attacks from Hindu nationalists) and Mehta’s life and those of the actors was threatened. Production was restarted in 2004 in Sri Lanka w/ model-turned-actor John Abraham (before he hit it big in Bollywood), Seema Biswas (an indie/theater actress), and Canadian actress Lisa Ray (who was in Bollywood/Hollywood– also directed by Mehta). Ray studied to improve her Hindi, as it is not her first language; her mother is Anglo-Canadian and her father is an Indian immigrant to Canada.

The unknown girl who plays Chuyia (Sarala Karlyawasam) didn’t speak Hindi; she is Sri Lankan and never acted before this film! She does a great job, as everything comes across as natural and believable. Chuyia (only 9 y.o.) is a catalyst for change and the viewer’s entry into this ashram of widows; she doesn’t know what to expect either. There is a hierarchy among the women who live humble lives of poverty. Chuyia finds a mother-figure in the spiritual Shakuntala (Biswas); she tries to help the child adjust to this bleak life. Chuyia forms a friendship w/ the beautiful young widow, Kalyani (Ray). By chance, Kalyani meets a handsome young man, Narayan (Abraham), who is another change-agent. Chuiyia upsets the order of things w/ her spirited personality; Narayan brings in revolutionary ideas from Gandhi (incl. that widows should be allowed to remarry).

“Spartacus” (1960) starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons, & Tony Curtis

There is so much cool BTS info (trivia) re: this film! Kirk Douglas (who died at age 103 this month) wanted to play the title hero in Ben-Hur (1959), but director William Wyler wanted Charlton Heston in the role. Douglas was offered the antagonist role of Messala, which was eventually given to Stephen Boyd; he didn’t want to play second banana. Later, Douglas admitted that he made Spartacus to show Wyler and his company that he could make a Roman epic also: “That was what spurred me to do it in a childish way, the ‘I’ll show them’ sort of thing.”

In order to get the large number of big stars in supporting roles, actor/co-producer Douglas showed each a different script (written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo) in which their character was emphasized. Stanley Kubrick (known for his perfectionism, vision, and difficult personality) was brought in as director after Douglas (a real-life tough guy) had a falling out w/ the original director, Anthony Mann. According to actor Sir Peter Ustinov, the salt mines sequence was the only footage shot by Mann. In his autobiography, Douglas wrote that he replaced Mann b/c he felt he was “too docile,” esp. for the powerful actors dominating the cast. “He seemed scared of the scope of the picture.”

Kubrick (then only 31 y.o.) felt the script was full of moralizing; he wanted more focus on the Romans. He also complained to Trumbo and that the character Spartacus had no faults nor quirks, so was interchangeable w/ any other gladiator. Kubrick thought the “I am Spartacus” scene was “a stupid idea”(and said so in front of cast/crew)! Douglas promptly chewed Kubrick out. The disagreements between Kubrick and Douglas got so bad that the men reportedly went into therapy together.

Kubrick was a professional photographer who had shot some of his previous movies by himself. He did the majority of the cinematography work on Spartacus. When you see the way that Kubrick shot the battle sequences, you’ll be impressed! All the battle scenes were filmed near Madrid w/ 8,000 trained troops from the Spanish army (serving as Roman infantry). Kubrick directed the armies from the top of specially constructed towers. He later cut all but one of the gory battle scenes (b/c of negative reactions at previews).

A good body with a dull brain is as cheap as life itself. -Batiatus explains while examining the slaves in the salt mines

Kubrick spent $40,000 on the 10+ acre gladiator camp set. On the side of the set that bordered the freeway, a 125-foot asbestos curtain was erected in order to film the burning of the camp, which was organized w/ collaboration from the LAPD and Fire Department. 5,000 uniforms and seven tons of armor were borrowed from Italian museums, and every one of Hollywood’s 187 stuntmen was trained in the gladiatorial rituals of combat to the death. Modern sources note that this production used 10,500 people- wow! Richard Farnsworth (who moved into acting after 30+ yrs as a stuntman) and five other stuntmen worked for the entire filming; they doubled as salt mine slaves, gladiators, and generals in the slave army.

Gladiators don’t make friends. If we’re ever matched in the arena together, I have to kill you. -Draba tells Spartacus when he first arrives at the gladiator school run by Batiatus

This movie parallels ’50s American history, particularly the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, where witnesses were ordered to “name names” of supposed Communist sympathizers. This closely resembles the climactic (“I am Spartacus”) scene; Howard Fast was jailed for his refusal to testify and wrote the novel (Spartacus) while in prison. This film also has something to say re: race/segregation/civil rights, as I noticed on this viewing. The best fighter owned by Batiatus (Peter Ustinov)- Draba (Woody Strode, who is black)- sacrifices himself by choosing to attack Crassus (Laurence Olivier), rather than kill Spartacus. Not only is Draba the tallest and most handsome warrior, he projects a lot of dignity in his few scenes. There is no differentiation between the slaves of different races who train w/in the gladiator school and- later- serve in the army of Spartacus.

Who wants to fight? An animal can learn to fight. But to say beautiful things, and to make people believe them… -Spartacus tells Varinia (after listening to a story told by Antoninus)

Ingrid Bergman was one of several actresses who rejected the role of Varinia. Sabine Bethmann was then cast, but when Kubrick arrived, he fired her and offered the part to Jean Simmons. In the 1988 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Douglas explained to host Terry Gross that he was reluctant (at first) to have Simmons (who is English) portray Spartacus’ love interest. He had cast the English actors as aristocratic Romans, b/c he felt they “had a more elegant pattern of speech.” He explained: “All the slaves, like myself, were Americans… it’s just that Americans have a rougher speech pattern.” During the long shoot, Curtis allegedly asked Simmons, “Who do I have to f*ck to get off this film?” Simmons may have shouted back, “When you find out, let me know.”

I thought Simmons and Douglas had strong chemistry, so you can believe them as a couple. As w/ great actors of any time/place, the acting comes from the eyes; you don’t need dialogue to express yourself. As slaves who fall in love, Varinia and Sparticus don’t have the luxury of speech or much time alone. Others in the household notice that they care for each other, so try to put a stop to it. When they are suddenly reunited, they laugh (w/ a lot of joy) and embrace as free individuals. Of course, their relationship made me think of how life might’ve been like in the time of slavery in US.

My taste includes both snails and oysters. -Crassus tells Antoninus

Sir Laurence Olivier gave Tony Curtis tips on acting to improve his performance; Curtis gave Olivier tips on bodybuilding to improve his physique. The original version included a scene where Crassus attempts to seduce his body slave, the young Sicilian- Antoninus (Curtis). The Production Code Administration and the Legion of Decency both objected to the “oysters or snails” scene seen in the 1991 restoration. Since the soundtrack had been lost, the dialogue had to be dubbed. Curtis was able to redo his lines, but Olivier had died. Dame Joan Plowright, Olivier’s widow, remembered that Sir Anthony Hopkins could do a dead-on impression of her husband. Hopkins agreed to voice Olivier’s lines in that scene (and it’s seamless); he is thanked in the credits for the restored version.

You and I have a tendency towards corpulence. Corpulence makes a man reasonable, pleasant and phlegmatic. Have you noticed the nastiest of tyrants are invariably thin? – Gracchus comments to Batiatus

I liked seeing the evil side of Olivier; Crassus was very convincing as a powerful/tough/smart villain w/ a hint of insecurity. You buy him as a senator and as a soldier, unlike his wimpy brother-in-law Glabrus (John Dall). He is best-known as the villain in Hitchcock’s Rope; here Dall portrays an inept leader of the Roman forces. A lot of the light/humorous moments were given to Batiatus (Ustinov), the wimpy slave peddler who is a follower of the powerful senator, Gracchus (Charles Laughton). When Crassus and his family come for a visit, Batiatus rushes to cover up the bust of Gracchus. As w/ Olivier, Laughton gives gravitas to his character, but also humor. When Batiatus comments on the many beautiful women in Gracchus’ household, the older man laughs and comments: “Since when are women a vice?” Gracchus is considered eccentric (for that time/society), b/c he is a lifelong bachelor; he explains that away by saying he “holds the institution of marriage in too high a regard.” I almost forgot that the (also very handsome) John Gavin portrays Julius Caesar; he doesn’t get as much of a role as Curtis. Both Gavin and Curtis have shirtless scenes- why not!? Gavin co-starred in Hitchcock’s Psycho (also released in 1960).

“Devdas” (2002) starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, & Jackie Shroff

[1] The dance sequences are stunning

[2] I will start off by stating my bias….that I generally hate Bollywood movies because of their excesses, and their general lack of realism. In that light, Devdas is classic Bollywood.

[3] Devdas and Paro, or Chandramukhi and Devdas had a lot of emotions and feeling unexpressed in the original story. The love the three possessed was spiritual, not physical. That is why Paro loved Devdas for so many years without having seen him.

[4] One has to admire the technical execution of parts of the film, the sometimes stunning cinematography, the lavish sets and costumes. But the director forgets that form and content can not be separated, that more is not always more, that often less is more.

-Excerpts from comments on IMDB

This Bollywood movie is based on a Bengali romance novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. Despite being finished in 1900, the novel was not published until 1917 (due to Chatterjee’s hesitance over some autobiographical elements). He wrote it under the influence of alcohol and was embarrassed by it. According to Wikipedia: “he is arguably the most popular novelist in the Bengali language. His notable works incl. Devdas, Srikanto, ChoritrohinGrihadaha, etc. Most of his works deal with the lifestyle, tragedy and struggle of the village people and the contemporary social practices that prevailed in Bengal.” Due to lack of funds, he couldn’t attend college. Chatterjee wrote since his teen years and lived in Burma (Myanmar), working in the public works office. His first wife and son died due to illness. Eventually, he moved to Calcutta (Kolkata); he married his second wife, who he taught to read and write.

Devdas has been adapted for the screen 19 times in various South Indian languages. This version is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali; he later went on to make Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat. At the time of its release, Devdas was the most expensive Bollywood film ever, w/ a budget of $10.3 million. It was a commercial success in India and abroad, becoming the highest grossing Indian film of the year. Devdas was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was also submitted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was screened at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival- not something you hear often (or maybe ever) re: a Bollywood film!

In the early 1900s, Devdas Mukherji (Shah Rukh Khan- then 36 y.o.) is the only son of wealthy zamindar (landowner) of a Bengali Brahmin family. After 10 yrs of boarding school and studying law in England, he returns to his village, where his extended family prepares to welcome him. In the original story, Devdas comes back from studying in Calcutta. However, their happiness changes to shock when Devdas prefers to visit his childhood sweetheart, Parvati AKA Paro (Aishwarya Rai- in her most notable role at 28 y.o.) before paying respect to his mother, Kaushalya (Smita Jaykar). In the first song (Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka), we see Paro dancing w/ the diya (small lamp) which represents the life of Devdas. Then only 16 y.o. Shreya Ghoshal sang five songs for this movie as the singing voice of Paro.

When Devdas’ grandma, Badima (Dina Pathak), lays out her jewelry, his greedy/cranky sister-in-law Kumud (Ananya Khare) giggles and picks up an elaborate bangle. Badima says she can have it all, but not that bracelet, b/c she saved it for Devdas’ future bride. Devdas jokes w/ Kumud, but she gets mad and storms off. She is followed by Kaushalya, who wants to calm her down (b/c she’s pregnant). Later that night, Devdas gives Paro the bangle (Bairi Piya). Kumud watches them (w/ binoculars) and then shows this to Kaushalya.

Devdas’ mother isn’t keen on the match, as she tells her husband when they are alone. The father (a lawyer knighted by the British government) flatly says no way. Paro’s mother, Sumitra (Kiron Kher), tells her husband that Devdas will ask for Paro’s hand, but her father looks worried. Sumitra dresses up and goes next door to Devdas’ house, full of hope. We learn that Paro comes from family that had a tradition of being entertainers and accepting “bride price” (dowry) from the groom’s family. Sumitra explains that was a long ago; they plan to give Paro away (send dowry with her). Kaushalya says it’s settled; both sides will handle the costs of Paro’s wedding. Sumita performs a song and dance re: the love between two Hindu deities- Radha and Krishna (Morey Piya)- while Paro and Devdas frolic by a lake. I esp. liked the lighting in the lake scene.

After her (emotional/dramatic) performance, Sumitra learns the bitter truth- her friend/neighbor thinks Paro- and therefore her family- beneath them. Sumitra explains that their children are deeply in love and pleads w/ Kaushalya to allow them to marry. Kumud (a one-note villain) makes a nasty remark, insulting Paro’s character. That’s the last straw for Sumitra; she declares (in tears) that this decision will lead to the “ruination” of Devdas.

Paro still holds out hope for marrying Devdas (after her mother has been insulted). In a bold move, Paro sneaks into Devdas’ room and declares her love for him. He is nervous and tells her that his father is opposed. Paro (not thinking of her reputation) says they can change his mind. Devdas says he will escort her home, but they run into his father, Narayan (Vijay Crishna), who insults Paro (and her mother). She runs away in tears. Devdas gets mad at his father; he gets slapped. After their big argument (which I thought could’ve been acted better), Devdas leaves home w/ the shawl that Paro dropped. Paro runs after his buggy, but is left in the dust. As I noted before, this director is not a fan of subtlety. After the first 45 mins-1 hr, the film becomes slower.

As journalist Rajib Kanti Roy noted (in an article published on September 14, 2018 in Daily Sun): According to Sarat Chandra, pure love of a woman is a treasure for the world. That is why he has made no mistake in highlighting true love of Bengali women in his fictions. The character of Parboti in Devdas is a classic example of that. A girl of strong willpower and passionate feelings, Paru (Parboti) is not dependent on Devdas. When confronted with the practical choice of marrying a rich man to save her family name, or pining for a fickle lover who changes his mind on the whim, Paru chooses the former.

Devdas writes a letter to Paro, saying that he doesn’t love her, but sees her only as the “girl next door/friend.” We realize that he doesn’t want to go against his father. Devdas stays w/ a friend from college who drinks and lives a life of debauchery, Chunnilal (Jackie Shroff). When Devdas looks “stressed,” Chunnilal (who some viewers consider annoying) tells him to relax and offers him a drink. Devdas says no, as he never drinks alcohol. The men go off to “escape” in the next scene; Devdas meets a courtesan named Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit- then 34 y.o.) She and her fellow dancing girls perform (Kaahe Chhed Mohe). This song (by Kavita Krishnamurthy, Dixit, and Birju Maharaj) carries on the Radha-Krishna romance theme. Before the number ends, Devdas gets up to leave; he regrets that letter and wants to go to Paro. Chandramukhi stops him; he advises her to do something else w/ her life (giving her his wallet). Suddenly, she goes from flirty to very serious; she has fallen in love w/ Devdas. I thought Dixit did as well w/ this clunky dialogue; her eyes expressed much.

As Roy noted: Chondromukhi is a prostitute who stands out for her assertiveness and independence. Though repeatedly scorned by the man she loves, her body and mind remain free from the societal control that women are subjected to. She stoops only to love and that too out of her own choice.

Sumitra (w/ in a week) arranges a marriage for Paro; she helps dress and adorn her daughter as Devdas returns. We take notice of their big argument; Paro stands up for herself and the pride of her family. Devdas (who is spoiled and temperamental) thinks it’s not too late, but she is headed for a new life (where she will be “an aristocrat”). About 12 yrs ago, I met a young Indian-American woman at a literary event in NYC; she was writing a PhD dissertation on domestic violence in Hindi cinema and discussed the next scene. Devdas calls Paro “vain,” grabs a heavy pearl choker, and hits the top of her forehead. Though he claims this is “the mark of his love,” we see that it is physical abuse. The saddest song of the movie follows (Hamesha Tumko Chaha) as Paro leaves home; the two voices are Krishnamurthy and Udit Narayan. One of the main things here is that before touching her parents’ feet (sign of respect), Paro crosses the courtyard to touch Devdas’ feet.

Bhuvan Choudhry is a widower w/ a large estate; his white-haired mother introduces Paro to his adolescent son and daughter (who will call her Choti Ma- “little mother”). We also hear of an older daughter who is not happy about having a stepmother. After the wedding night, some giggling maids reveal that the bride and groom slept apart. Bhuvan explains that he married only b/c he needed a “lady of the manor and a mother for his children.” He shows Paro a picture of his late wife, saying that he will remain loyal to her memory. The look on her face is hard to determine- maybe she is a bit surprised and relieved.

We learn from Chunnilal that Devdas (very distraught) was taken care of for two nights by Chandramukhi. When Devdas cuts her down and offers her money, she retorts that he already paid her. We see that she wants to dance for him. She waits for his arrival, which annoys Kali Babu (an impatient patron w/ a thick mustache). As Devdas watches this song/dance (Maar Dala), he pours out some drink. (SRK actually drank alcohol while shooting some drunk scenes, so had to do many retakes.) He admits to Chandramukhi that he’s drinking to forget memories of Paro that haunt him- yeah, no kidding! I never got the feeling that SRK was losing control here, or in the following scene (where he cries, yells, and displays self-pity).

Back at her mansion, Paro is handling things quite diplomatically. She isn’t intimidated by a formidable guest (mother-in-law of Yashomati, Bhuvan’s oldest child). Since they are close in age, Paro explains to Yashomati that they can relate to each other as mom and daughter or friends. Yashomati (also a new bride) is very touched and gives her a hug. Then the groom enters to touch Paro’s feet- it’s Kali Babu- the creepy guy we saw earlier.

Paro goes to visit her family and sees that many people of the village are flocking next door. Sumitra explains that Narayan is at death’s door. Paro (being forgiving/kind-hearted) insists that they go to pay their respects, too. The old man weakly calls out for his son, but finds Paro instead. Kaushalya weeps, recalling how Paro used go find Devdas when he’d run off. Now, the family doesn’t know where to look for him.

Devdas is staying w/ Chandramukhi, but they are not together; he won’t let her touch him. She continues to listen to him go on… and on… Suddenly, Dharamdas (a loyal servant from his house) comes w/ a message- his father is dead! At the funeral, Devdas is falling-down drunk in front of his relatives and other mourners. I liked this next scene- both actors played it well (and it wasn’t too over-the-top). He opens a small treasure chest filled w/ items which belonged to her- anklets, a water pitcher, and the shawl (from when they were last alone). Paro (again in tears) insists that he stop drinking, but he refuses. She can’t bare to see him in this condition. Paro says she wants to take care of him; Devdas asks her to “elope” w/ him that night. What a clueless man- that’s what some viewers were thinking- no doubt! We see that Paro has matured, but Devdas is still a little boy.

Devdas finds Kumud (who holds a big ring of keys) and his older brother plotting to steal all the inheritance. He comments that Kumud doesn’t know re: the “crazy” side of his family, then sets a fire in his father’s office. For six mos. after he’s kicked out of the house (by his mother), there is no sign of Devdas. Paro finds an excuse (Durga Puja) and goes to check out the brothel (having learned of it from Dharamdas). Chandramukhi is no longer a courtesan and keeps praying for Devdas’ return. We see an altar, some of his possessions, and a diya which she lit for him (a recurring motif). Paro realizes that this woman also loves Devdas; Chandramukhi says she “worships” him. Before Paro leaves, she presents the bangle (which Devdas gave her) to Chandramukhi. They meet again at the Durga Puja, talk, and dance together (Dola Re Dola). This has a mix of Indian classical dance forms w/ steps that come from Kathak and Bharatnatyam.

As an Indian viewer noted (on IMDB), it is unlikely that a conservative Hindu woman (like Paro) would’ve visited a brothel or danced at a gathering (even in her own home). When Kali Babu reveals who she is, Chandramukhi is not bowed- she gives some strong retorts (calling out the hypocrisy of the aristocrats). I enjoyed that scene- she’s a badass! As he leaves, Kali Babu apologizes for what he did, but also tells Paro that her husband and mother-in-law now know of her er “friendship” w/ Devdas. When Bhuvan asks re: Devdas, Paro replies that he’s her “first love” (just as his dead wife). Bhuvan decides that she will not be allowed to step outside the manor, and she accepts his punishment. When the old lady tries to put out the diya (“fire in own house”)- Paro quickly stops her. I think this was a kind of gutsy scene- I hadn’t remembered from previous viewings.

At a bar, then on the streets, Devdas and Chunnilal drink (Chalak Chalak). Some women join in, incl. Chandramukhi (who is very happy to see Devdas again). Some viewers commented that they liked this number (sung by Ghosal, Narayan, and a few others). It starts out humorous, then becomes more frenzied/unsettled. We see that Devdas’ health has deteriorated; a doctor says he’s in a “treacherous” state. This is basically a drawn-out form of suicide. Devdas (finally) tells Chandramukhi that he loves her! He also tells her “if they meet again in Heaven, he will not be able to renounce her.”

Devdas travels by train w/ Dharamdas watching over him; Chunnilal finds him and they drink to friendship (not a good idea). His friend learns that Devdas is “incurable.” Devdas gets off at a station and travels to Paro’s manor, as he promised. Paro hears his voice (in her mind) and wakes up in the middle of the night. In the early morning, there is a crowd of men gathered around Devdas sleeping on the lawn just outside the manor’s gate. Paro runs through the house, evading servants and family, but her husband orders the gate to be shut. Devdas dies and the diya’s fire is blown away w/ the wind. This last sequence is well done and very intense, even to those of us who know how it ends.