Saturday, January 01, 2005

RAINCOAT - Love & Longing in Kolkata

At the outset, let’s set the record straight on what Raincoat is NOT.

As is apparent, there are no muscle-flexing heroes and demure heroines. There are also, no dangerous liaisons, no gun-toting villain and no item numbers. Not even one lusty exhalation. So, a lot of people are likely to be sorely disappointed and are better off missing the movie entirely.

Ash in a de-glamourised get up, is a topic that’s been done to death. Believe you me, that is not reason enough to watch this movie - it’s something you’ll outgrow within the first half-hour into the movie.

At its most basic level, Raincoat is slow & sensitive. If you must, watch it for Mannu, Neeru and the ambience of a rainy afternoon.

Mannu (Ajay Devgan), travels from Bhagalpur to Calcutta to get seed capital from his friends, for a business he wishes to begin. Right through the movie, Mannu’s character is devoid of bravado, but is self-assured in his own way, with just that hint of naivete. He stays with one of his friends (Sammeer), whose wife (Mouli Ganguly), is empathetic to Mannu’s predicament and is intuitive about his feelings for an old love, Neeru, whom he wishes to drop in on while in Calcutta. Six years ago, circumstances had pulled Mannu and Neeru apart, with Neeru marrying a person of her parents’ choice.

The movie is centered on Mannu’s visit, on a rainy afternoon, to the house where lackadaisical Neeru (Aishwarya Rai) lives, in South Calcutta. Through the short flashbacks, we are let in on their relationship, the contrast between who she was and who she has become. The Neeru that Mannu loved, was a sprightly lass with a tad of mischief in her. The Neeru he sees now, has aged prematurely, with dark circles under her eyes and is completely oblivious of her appearance. There is an aura of hopelessness that seems to hang over her, despite her assurances of being happily married. Aishwarya Rai deserves appreciation in the way she has subtly used body language and mannerisms to transform herself into Neeru. Ajay Devgan is at times the helpless failure, complete with stoop and sometimes, in front of Ash’s character, he does an excellent make-believe of the now-successful man she lost out on.

There is no rekindling of romance between Mannu and Neeru. But there’s a refreshing innocence in their relationship with both characters building a house of cards with regard to their respective lives. It takes a visitor (Annu Kapoor), with his revelations, to upturn it. And in the midst of all this, the said raincoat plays a small but pivotal role.

Sammeer is adequate in his role of Mannu’s friend. Mouli Ganguly lends subtlety to her role as his wife. Surekha Sikri, as Mannu’s mother, has a very short but adequate role. Annu Kapoor brings a certain zest to the otherwise dank atmosphere.

As for music, there are no sequences dedicated to song, only snatches that waft in and out of the scenes, like the varying intensity of the monsoon. It’s interesting to see how the music has been incorporated in the scenes, without drowning out the dialogues. Shubha Mudgal gently sets the mood with soulful rendition of songs written by Rituparno Ghosh and set to tune by Debojyoti Misra.

The narrative is sedate, reminiscent of Bengali cinema of the Ray genre, but it’s really fine even if you haven’t seen Bengali cinema before. There’s no major twist in the end, and halfway through the movie, many will guess the short story that inspired this movie. But hang on, and watch it. It’s not every day that we watch a truly inspired movie, sans the double apostrophes.

Raincoat is like a monsoon raaga, replete with tender longing, yet righteously understated in its treatment.

TRIVIA: Rituparno Ghosh made his first movie at the age of 23, and his first full length feature film, Unishe April, won many awards. More recently, he directed the much-acclaimed Chokher Bali. What’s interesting is that Raincoat is his first movie in Hindi, and he has managed to create an interest in Bengali Cinema by capturing its pace and ambience.

(edited version published on January 1, 2005 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai)

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