DEV (Govind Nihalani, 2004)

Born in Karachi, in what was British India and is now Pakistan, Govind Nihalani has directed and cinematographed Dev, a tremendous, sweeping, heart-walloping melodrama about India’s Hindu-Muslim riots, which (contrary to what a good many reviews declare) were still going on in India at the time of the film and after, although India’s government suppressed news about these events. A Hindi film, Dev nonetheless provides a complex view of these communal eruptions of tension and violence.
     There are three protagonists, two of them Mumbai police commissioners, Dev Pratap Singh, who is duty-driven and incorruptible, and Tejinder Khosla, who is loyal to Chief Minister Bhandarker’s political concerns rather than the Constitution. This sets the two longtime friends on a collision course as the state wars on Muslims at the behest of a powerful right-wing politician, burning homes and slaughtering members indiscriminately, making the entire community pay for its small fanatical element. The other main character, younger and Muslim, is Farhaan, a just-graduated law student, whom Dev befriends but the police murder of whose father has radicalized, making him susceptible to the influence of a corrupt Muslim politician.
     To pursue his theme of justice and religious tolerance, Nihalani has thus had to schematize the political context as well as refrain from showing anyone, on either side, engaged in religious activity. Once one accepts such compromises, the film shines with import and entertainingly speeds down its narrative course—without nitwit insertions of musical-comedy outbursts. A murderous police rampage, which Dev, on the scene, is ordered to let continue, rivets; the resolution of the Dev-Tej quarrel compels, with Om Puri, as Tej, giving the film’s best performance.
     Perhaps the weakest aspect is taken up by Farhaan’s romance with Aaliya, a role for the most part ineptly enacted by Kareena Kapoor.

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