Dev feels like it’s made by a fan of Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vaaranam Aayiram. Consider the following parallels. The GVM movie stars Suriya, who plays a passionate, happy-go-lucky guy that lives his life to the fullest. Here, our protagonist, Dev is played by… Suriya’s younger brother, Karthi, a passionate, happy-go-lucky guy that lives his life to the fullest and tells his friends to do so too. In both movies, the dad characters (there, Suriya in a double role; here Prakash Raj) are calm, composed and laidback individuals who support their sons in all their pursuits.
There, the movie opens with the Suriya character in a military chopper on route to Kashmir for a mission. A tragedy then takes the film to a flashback about kinship and doomed romance. Here, we start atop Mount Everest. Unforeseen circumstances kicks us back many, many moons ago, where we witness a story about friendship and… doomed romance.
This isn’t a critique or judgement, by the way. I’m merely pointing out the uncanny similarities between both these films. When it comes to film, the stories matter less than the storytelling. But the storytelling (mainly the writing) here, by Rajath Ravishankar, is quite often baffling. When we first meet Dev, we fall in love with his spiritedness. He loves travelling, cliff dives without thinking and firmly believes in making a career out of his passion. He tells his best friend to stop worrying about money, forget about engineering and focus on his talents. He brought back memories of the Aamir Khan character in 3 Idiots.
But the thing is, slightly later in the film, we learn that Dev comes from an extremely wealthy family — and unlike Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal, he lives off his daddy’s money. He’s just out of college but already drives a convertible. He also has more swanky sports bikes than I do clothes. Now we’re judging him. It’s easy for a guy who has all the money in the world without needing to lift a finger to say “stop worrying about money.” His personality isn’t a product of self-discovery, he’s just a carefree RKOI (Rich Kid of Instagram).
What about Dev’s romantic pursuit? In Vaaranam Aayiram, Suriya and the Sameera Reddy character hit it off in the train. There’s actual sexual chemistry between the two. They go on dates. Only then does Suriya drop everything and run to the US to woo her. Here, Dev sees her (Rakul Preet Singh’s Meghna) profile on Facebook and starts stalking her. When she shows disinterest, he buys a bunch of helium balloons that spell out her name and lets em fly outside her office window, as a grand gesture. When she’s still not interested, he persists. All of this would be fine if the film came with a woke twist ala 500 Days of Summer or Vinnaithandi Varuvaya, but it doesn’t, so we’re left feeling like it’s 1995.
But then Rajath Ravishankar does something unexpected. He cheekily flips the script and reverses the traditional gender roles. Without us realising, Dev becomes a movie about an arm candy dude who’s in love with a self-sufficient, heel-rocking, coat-suit wearing, big-time entrepreneur who’s ferociously sexy. She wants him to drive her around, to always be there when she gets home from work, to essentially ‘cook and clean’ for her. And he’s more than willing to do it.
This could be a fun satire, I thought to myself. But even this interesting conceit is undercut by writing that is just plain mystifying, as Meghna is slowly turned into an insufferable vamp and the film becomes one about obsession. Meghna’s obsession, though, isn’t gradual or nuanced, rather it’s overt and outright ridiculous — it actually made me chuckle.
Dev also follows the Vaaranam Aayiram template and drops a sombre bomb which eventually leads to our protagonist on a self-actualising journey (there, Suriya builds his body and joins the military; here, Dev decides to climb Mount Everest). The difference is, the Gautham Menon movie deals with the shocking and depressing death of Saamera Reddy’s Meghana (holy shit! I just realised the similarity between both the love interests’ names) which causes Suriya to spiral out of control and become a drug and alcohol addict. The sequences are painful to watch and Suriya delivers one of his best acting performances in the Ava Enna song which brings tears to my eyes to this day.
Here, the bomb is less impactful — a grenade compared to Gautham Menon’s nuclear. In fact, when the “big moment” happens, you kinda feel it’s best for both parties. Rajath Ravishankar also doesn’t give enough room for the sadness to simmer. He just rushes through it (perhaps it’s for the best, considering how little we’re invested in any of these characters at this point). As a result, our fist isn’t clenched and blood isn’t pumping when Dev trains to scale Everest.
But Dev does have its charming moments. Both Karthi and Rakul Preet Singh have more than enough charisma between the two of them to get us through most of the first half and some parts of the second (I do find enjoyment in romance movies centred around good looking people). There are also some brilliant moments of humour that caught me off guard — the scene in the car where Karthi calls the girl “sister” comes to mind.
But watching the film, I couldn’t help but wonder why the need for over the top mass-y fight sequences in an unmass-y film? Why does a romantic pursuit of a woman need to include a poorly cut, thrill-less ‘fast & furious’ sequence? And how — dear lord HOW — is Dev scaling the steepest part of Mount Everest without any equipment? Thank you, next!