Devasuram – A Malayalam Classic with masterful performances by Mohanlal and Revathi
Devasuram [The God Demon] was recommended as a classic must watch Malayalam film from 1993 — one of the best of Mohanlal’s career. It’s also considered one of the finest of director I. V. Sasi. The film was written by Ranjith who based the character of Mangalassery Neelakantan (Mohanlal) on his friend Mullasserry Rajagopal. Rajagopal, bedridden for years, had a passion for music, and his wife was devoted to him. He evidently joked that “Ranjith had not managed to show even half of what he did in his life.”
Mohanlal is Neelan, running through his inheritance from his father, a bit of a rowdy and a womanizer, but known for his love for music and the arts. He has a devoted land manager/servant who is really a father figure to him, and a small group of rowdy friends. The rowdy friends try to be loyal to him, but end up getting him into touchy situations.
This film really has it all. Mohanlal is this macho manly figure, not afraid to leap into a fight, but who has the soul of an artist. He has a feud with a rival family that is revenge after revenge back and forth. There’s a fantastic hate-to-love romance with Revathi, a young woman who is ready to start a career in professional classical dance. (And we have established how much I LOVE the hate-to-love trope.) Revathi is off the charts amazing as Bhanumathi, daughter of a feckless drunkard father. She is so arrogant and proud, and she explodes at Mohanlal’s rowdies, who have come to ask her to dance at a temple event Mohanlal is sponsoring and help her fall down drunk father home after they find him in a ditch outside the house. She assumes they are the ones who got him drunk in the first place, and yells at them to leave her property.
That sets up the whole course of events to follow. Mohanlal seems to apologize to the father and make peace, but instead tricks them and the performance is to be for him and his friends at his house. Her first dance performance should have been an auspicious event at a temple, and he treats her like a courtesan. Her father cannot pay back the performance money, so she must dance. This scene I have watched over and over and over again. It is simply amazing.
Revathi’s classical dance performance is full of fire and anger. The expressions she gives! I’ve just started taking an Indian dance class, and while I’m no expert judge I think Revathi is an exceptional classical dancer. The whole dance is a battle of wills. He winks at the accompanying singer to try to trip her up, then he sends one of his friends to offer alcohol to Revathi’s father in the middle of the dance, and Revathi just glares and shakes her belled foot. Then at the end Mohanlal motions to a cymbal player and another drummer to increase the tempo faster and faster, but nothing fazes Revathi and she just swirls and pounds her feet like a whirling dervish by the end. She finishes the dance to acclaim, as she is left pouring with sweat and panting for breath.
The clip above has no subs, but she says to him, “You think you’ve won?” He replies, “I always win.”
“You are not worth my dancing bells. You’re an insult to my art.” And then she takes off her bells from her ankles and throws them at him, vowing to never dance again.
She has cursed him, and suddenly all sorts of horrible things happen to Mohanlal. Revathi and her family don’t fare much better. They lose their home, and still she is too proud to take Mohanlal’s servant’s offer for help. But when she is almost sexually assaulted at the home they are staying in, she finally gives in and they move into Mohanlal’s huge mansion house.
Mohanlal and Revathi avoid each other, but she can’t help see the depression and changes he undergoes at the death of his mother (and she overhears him rage in the rain one night, learning that he discovered he is a bastard at his mother’s deathbed.) He tries to get her to dance again, and take up her career, but to her that would be losing and letting him win. She is so full of pride!
One night he is beaten horribly by his rival and his goons, and he ends up paralyzed on one side. Mohanlal’s character goes through so much in this film! Revathi is chastened, and feels that it was her harsh words that did curse him, so she prays at the temple for him to recover.
The romance grows slowly. As he reforms, he’s a redeemed rake that doesn’t think he is worthy of Revathi. He is determined to see her dance again, and to give her the career she should have had. She retains her pride for a long time, not wanting to “lose” to him again. Once he is nearly bedridden, he begs her, “You said you would only dance again when I was dead. I’m nearly dead, please let me repent this one sin before I die.” She dances joyfully for him to give him a moment of happiness, and that’s what starts his recovery. Both characters are so full of charisma, each with their own deep flaws. They both need their own redemption, it’s not the usual one-sided story.
The film ends with an absolutely riveting confrontation between Mohanlal and his rival Shekaran. If he fights back, they will harm Revathi who has been kidnapped. So Mohanlan takes blow after blow until he sees she is safely rescued. Then, this man who had been handicapped, comes roaring back like a lion.
I don’t know which actor I loved more. Revathi was such a little spitfire in Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Mouna Ragam. But here, she was even better, plus she got to show off her classical dance training. Mohanlal is the heart and soul of the whole film. It is his master performance. The supporting characters are particularly good, too, especially Innocent as Mohanlal’s father figure servant and Nedumudi Venu as Appu, Revathi’s (Bhanumati’s) father. Napoleon, who plays Shekaran, is quite the villain — with a notable scene pinning down the paralyzed Mohanlal on the floor with his foot — “Get well so I can cut you into pieces next time!”
I’m so glad I bought this one on DVD so I could watch it with subtitles. This is a movie I’ve already rewatched multiple times, and just that dance sequence alone many times. Each time, I see something I didn’t see before.
This is justifiably a true classic, not just of Malayalam film, but of all Indian cinema.
The whole film is available on Youtube, but without subs (but you can overlay a subtitle file through a Chrome extension.)
There’s also a great discussion of the film on Don’t Call It Bollywood.