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Ram Gopal Varma
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
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An unemployed Manoj (alias Manu) is told by his mother that they need some money for his sister's forthcoming marriage, and he sets out to find some. For this purpose, he visits his former Calcutta-based girlfriend, Neerj alias Neeru, whom he was to marry, but who preferred to marry someone wealthier, in Calcutta. He rings the doorbell, and the door is answered by Neerja herself, and he is invited inside. They talk and update each other on their lives. Neerja puts on Manoj's raincoat, so she could go out and buy something to cook for him. She warns him not to open the door nor let anyone in. After Neerja leaves a man knocks on the door, and requests entry into the house to use the toilet. Manoj opens the door and lets the male use the facilities. When this male finishes his business, he refuses to leave, and sits and talks with Manoj. It is during this conversation that Manoj finds out the stark truth behind Neerja, her husband, and their married life. Written by
William Sydney Porter aka O Henry, a master of surprise endings, is arguably the best short-story writer that has ever lived. But strangely, unlike the Kings and Grishams, his stories haven't been much accessible to the cinema-going audience. It probably takes a genius to recognize a genius. So enter Rituparno Ghosh- a nonconformist young director sans any apprehensions of clinging to established traditions. Mix this hot bundle of talent with the best work of the former, and what you get is a delectable piece of cinematic magic called 'Raincoat'.
'Raincoat' is a poignant story about the pretensions that we put on while affected with occasions that we prefer not to confront but want to. Manoj(Ajay Devgan) is in Calcutta in a desperate attempt to accumulate some funds from friends whose faces he doesn't remember- "It doesn't matter", says one of his close pal, "Even they must have forgotten what you look like". Manoj calmly replies that it does matter when he is the one asking for financial aid and they are the ones providing it! Such practical and nonchalant conversation between the characters is what separates this movie from the regular fare of Bollywood. Ghosh is a master at story-telling, and this movie is a similar exercise. The narrative thus smoothly takes Manoj to a visit at his childhood love and now married Neerja(Aishwarya Rai). On a rain-soaked afternoon of Calcutta, a meeting between two estranged lovers is the crux of this movie. Stagy? Yes. Tedious? Maybe, depending on your taste(don't come to see this after having watched 'Dhoom'). Uneventful? Definitely not! 'Raincoat' is anything but run-of-the-mill. Never in the history of Bollywood cinema(and it's a long one) has there been a story told with such serene meditation. The encounter between the two principal characters is a study in human nature. Both Manoj and Neerja are in a state of derelict. But both make attempts at concealing this from each other. Their façade is not so much a show of pomposity as much a sacrifice that they are willing to make just to ensure that the other person isn't bothered with their own condition of ruins. So while Manoj plays as a successful TV serial producer, Neerja makes stories of her grand lifestyle with servants, chauffeurs, an ever-touring husband et al. Ghosh succeeds at making their dialogues at once, both comedic and dramatic. The thin line between humour and pathos slowly begins to vanish until they absorb into one.
Credit goes to Ghosh for his ingenuous style and attention to detail. In my review of Swades, I had written that Gowariker managed to create a picture of India because of his attention to detail. Well, Ghosh does pretty much the same thing, albeit at a micro level. Whether it is Manoj's ignorance to using a cell-phone, Neerja's biting on her chain or the casual way in which her bra-strap shows- Ghosh splendidly achieves capturing mannerisms. Also note the credit titles which rechristen cinematography as image and editing as montage. Novel and a masterful stroke! 'Raincoat' is furthermore about wonderful performances. Ajay Devgan in the past three years has portrayed memorable characters(Company, Gangaajal and Raincoat) and with 'Raincoat' he emphasizes once more just how comfortable he has become with the camera. Here is an actor who essays roles without ever allowing the camera to catch him unawares. Aishwarya Rai has always been a director's actress. Like Bhansali, Ghosh manages to extract from her a perfect balance of poise and restlessness. The fact that her character basically plays out her part also helps. And finally this movie review will be incomplete without the mention of one Mr. Annu Kapoor. Kapoor plays his part of a landlord with such effortless ease that he reminds us of what a great talent he is and how we have wasted him. There was another Kapur this year that made us do the same thing- Pankaj Kapur in Maqbool. Due mention must be given to Bishwadeep Chatterjee's work on the sound and Shubha Mudgal's vocals in the background. One can argue that she could have been used with more discretion, but that will tantamount to nitpicking! 'Raincoat' is an elegiac tale told with earnestness- Ghosh's gift to an intelligent audience. Watch it and be overwhelmed.
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