Raincoat Hindi Movie

Feature Film | 2004
Jun 9, 2004 By Subhash K. Jha

'Raincoat' lacks chemistry, but evokes nostalgia

When Mouli Ganguly, playing the Bihari hero's hostess in Kolkata, overhears her houseguest sobbing in the bathroom, she smilingly rebukes him.

"Next time you cry in the bathroom don't forget to turn on the shower...There are some things that you can learn from women."

The dialogues, so sensitive and supportive of the director's dramatic yet naturalistic narration, say more than what words generally convey in our films.

Catching the rhythms and patterns of everyday life, taking the male protagonist Manoj (Ajay Devgan) from the dusty little town of Bhagalpur in Bihar to the doorstep of his long-estranged beloved in Kolkata, Rituparno Ghosh's first film in Hindi journeys from the coasts of the present into the deep bowels of nostalgia to ferret out moments of great expectancy and articulate narrative patterns.

It's a character study of two derelict lives playacting for one another's benefit. The plot and its unfolding are extremely Chekovian.

So who's fooling whom? Is it Niroo (Aishwarya Rai) with her tales of an affluent marriage while legacies of her life's wreckage stare into Manoj's face?

Or is it Manoj with his wildly made-up yarn about life as a serial maker - a bit of constant playacting that gives Ghosh a chance to take naughty pot-shots at our primetime serials and soaps.

Ironically, average audiences today would much rather stay at home to watch those very soaps that Manoj pretends to make for a living.

"Raincoat" is a film that must find an audience. It harks back to the golden era of art house cinema during 1975-1985. If Ghosh had made the film then, he would've quite obviously cast Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah who would've slipped into character without a whimper of protest.

In fact the theme of desolation and dereliction that ran across Mrinal Sen's "Khandhar" resurfaces in "Raincoat" as Aishwarya Rai in her most accomplished performance after "Devdas" and "Chokher Bali". Her clothes, girth, body language, all suggest a keen desire to perform more than a commensurate performing ability.

Normally an actor shouldn't be caught by the camera or the audience giving a performance. Ajay Devgan doesn't get caught acting. Aishwarya does. That's partly because her character needs to act on two levels -for her surprise afternoon visitor and for the audience.

She achieves a remarkable level of one-ness with her character. After a point we begin to see Niroo's verbose delusions of marital grandeur as both tragic and funny.

She is especially effective in the last quarter of this chatty chamber-piece when she serves her guest a meal. Her entire demeanour in this stage of the storytelling suggests a dignity in desperation.

It's hard to say what another actress would've done with Niroo. Aishwarya gives her a certain postural poignancy bordering on hysteria. Her character holds the film in place, just as Abhik Mukherjee's camera tries to seek out sources of tentative light in the bleakly lit, nearly extinguished world that's Niroo's home.

But the one truly outstanding performance comes from Annu Kapoor who drops into the film's cloistered setting after the interval and seems to understand the protagonists' drab lives far better than they do themselves.

The verbal sparring between Niroo and Manoj is not too expertly inter-cut with flashbacks from the past when we see the couple's small-town affair fizzling out in the face of Manoj's lack of assertion and motivation.

Moments from the couple's past convey echoes of "Devdas". Unfortunately the poignancy of the past is not fleshed out enough for it to affect the audience. In fact we remain strangely and largely disaffected by the couple's thwarted love affair.

Ironically Sameer Dharmadhikari and Mouli Ganguly who play Ajay's hosts look more comfortable together than the leading pair. Ghosh deliberately supplants longevity in the fringe relationships. He leaves the

Subhash K. Jha