“Feminist” is probably the last term we would associate with Ekta Kapoor. I mean, this is the same woman who set us back by a generation or two with her soapy, over-the-top, dramatic saas-bahu serials. She is also responsible for the creation of some of the crassest adult movies of recent times, such as the Kya Kool Hain Hum series, that survives only by objectifying women. And then there is the fact that she tried to pass off the lyrics to the song ‘Oh Boy’ from Kya Kool Hain Hum as feminist, saying it gave the woman an “upper-hand.” So when someone says that Ekta Kapoor has made a show that is about an empowered woman, I know to take it with a pinch of salt, and so should you.
Earlier this year, Ekta Kapoor’s new endeavour, AltBalaji — meant to be India’s answer to Neflix — hit the internet. She produced several original series, all catering to a young online audience, as opposed to the traditional TV audience. So of course, there has been a shift from the old soapy saas-bahu cry fests, to perhaps a ‘modern’ take on life. Dev DD is part of this collection.
The series is screenwriter Ken Ghosh’s adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas with a twist. Here, we have a female protagonist named Devika Dharam Dwivedi (aka Vicky), played (quite badly I might add) by Aasheema Vardhan. Devika is supposed to be a rebel who does not bow down to patriarchy. She has comebacks ready to roll off her tongue, and an ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude to fend herself from those who try to put her down or force her back into the fold. So far, so good?
But don’t get carried away. While the idea behind the series might have come from a good place, Kapoor and her co-creators have missed the idea of feminism by a mile. As someone who does swear like a sailor, I caught myself wishing on several occasions that Devika needed to wash her mouth with some industrial-duty soap. Also problematic is the idea that she is ‘progressive’ because she swears. Of course, there are interesting bits – for instance, when she chides the pharmacy uncle for putting sanitary pads in a black bag, or when she goes to purchase condoms. But I felt that these could have been more powerful as understated events instead of being overblown performances. However, I guess, anything is fair in the name of humour.
While for once it is interesting to see an Indian serial where the woman is open about her sexuality, or where sex scenes don’t just fade off into nothingness, Devika is far from being a true feminist. In fact, the only reason she might seem progressive is because she is surrounded by clichéd, regressive characters such as her airhead cousin, Aruna. However, for someone who tries so hard to tell the world to not judge her, Devika seems to have no qualms in dissing her cousin’s choices. She is also a terrible friend with no sense of boundaries, throwing one out of her own room so she can have sex, outs her in front of her mother (albeit unknowingly), and almost ruins her best friend’s relationship.
Ultimately, the heroine falls in love with a guy who also seems to be ‘progressive’ because he is okay with casual sex, dirty jokes and swearing. It is all rosy until things get real, and the marriage-card is on the table. Suddenly, her love interest, Parth, turns into a mama’s boy who wants a woman who can compromise, stay at home, and do his bidding. Props to the makers for this one shot at reality, when Devika slaps back at Parth saying, “Jab girlfriend chahiye thi, tho hot pataka, aur ab biwi chahiye tho sati savitri?” (When you wanted a girlfriend, she had to be a firecracker, but you want a wife she has to be devoted wife?), which pretty much sums up the attitude of a large part of our country’s population.
Following the break-up, we see Devika fall into a never-ending pit of self-pity and alcoholism. While I understand that the series is meant to keep in line with the original Devdas, I resent how her character is made out to be a bawling baby who can’t deal with a break-up. Sure, lick your wounds, but maybe try not to drag your family into it? She has her dad bail her out of really embarrassing situations more than once, while she uses the excuse of her break-up to get away with really bad behaviour. She drinks till she pukes, and makes a fool out of herself and her family, and when her family decides to put their foot down, she runs away.
The second half of the season follows her journey through Mumbai, where her best friend now lives — thanks to Devika outing her, and then helping her run away. Their fall-out causes her to land on the streets. A life of never-ending partying makes her broke, and she ends up trying to be an escort, at which point, she realises she has hit rock-bottom.
Of course, here enters Anurag Rana, her knight in shining armour, because which woman does not need a man to save her? He is a rich business tycoon who offers her a job even though he has no idea what her credentials are — but then again, who needs qualifications when you are pretty and know how to make a scene and shed a few tears? Devika, of course, winds up falling in love with Anurag, and this prompts the viewer to wonder if she loves who he is, or if she simply enjoys his attention (Anurag himself on several occasions points out that she is an attention-seeker and a child). There is no dearth of drama in the second half, with drunk confessions, a failed reunion between Devika and her family, the return of the wayward ex whom she finally sends packing, a declaration of love between Anurag and Devika, and the shocking revelation that Anurag is Devika’s best friend’s dad.
I think the only actual feminist in the show is Devika’s father who sees that his daughter is her own person, capable of making her own choices. In a heart-to-heart after her breakup with Parth, he tells her, “You are not the girl jo shaadi karke kisi ghar ki glorified maid bane. You have a mind of your own, and men find it very scary… Beta, agar hamari society mein ladka ek no-nonsense type ka hota hain na tho usko hero man liya jata hain, lekin agar ladki wiaisi ho tho, troublemaker. And you are a troublemaker, I raised you to be one.” (You are not the kind of girl to get married and spend the rest of her life as a glorified maid…child, in our society, a no-nonsense type of guy is seen as a hero, and a girl of the same kind would be seen a troublemaker…”)
Sure, I had to go through half the series to actually find someone who had some sense of feminism in this entire show, but his understated, wise old man narrative makes you want to forgive the rest of the show.
The show has its moments, but for the most, it is something you have to power through if you turn off your brain. The weak storyline is further wounded by terrible actors – the exceptions being Sanjay Suri (who plays Anurag Rana), Suneel Sinha (Devika’s father) and Rashmi Agdekar (who plays Chandini). My conclusion is that Dev DD is an uninspired rhetoric about a rebel without a cause, and would probably do much better if the protagonist had more serious problems to deal with than a heartbreak.