Monday, 22 July 2013


“Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow.” - J.M. Barrie

We watched an Indian film at the weekend, loosely based on O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi”. This short story tells of a young impoverished couple who love each other very much, and at Christmas give each other gifts that neither of them can afford, or in the end, neither needs anymore. It is nevertheless proof of the immense love they have for each other. The film was Rituparno Ghosh’s 2004 production, “Raincoat”, starring Ajay Devgn, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and  Annu Kapoor.

Mannu (Devgn) lives with his mother in a village outside Calcutta and has become unemployed as the jute factory he was working at closed down. As the money runs out, he decides to travel to the big city in order to borrow some money from his old (and now successful) school friends in order to start his own business. He stays with friends in Calcutta, and the wife (Mouli Ganguli) in particular, understands his difficult situation and tries to help him. Mannu has another reason for visiting Calcutta. It is to visit his former girlfriend, Neeru (Rai Bachchan), whom he was to marry, but who preferred to marry someone richer from Calcutta.

The two former sweethearts have not seen each other for years and during a rainy afternoon in Neeru’s old house, in a room filled with antique furniture and bric-a-brac they talk about their lives. Each of them tells a false story to save their pride. Neither of them is happy and they wish to conceal that from each other, and while the afternoon drags on, they remember the past with nostalgia and remorse. At one point, Neeru puts on Mannu’s raincoat, so she can go out and buy something for him to eat as she is fasting. She warns him not to open the windows nor to let anyone in. Nevertheless, when alone, Mannu opens the windows and a man approaches, requesting entry into the house to use the toilet. Mannu lets him in, and afterwards the two begin to converse. It during this conversation that Mannu learns the truth about Neeru, her husband, and their married life…

The film is a poignant romantic story, slow-paced and intimate. While the central theme is taken from O. Henry’s story, Rituparno Ghosh (who wrote the scenario as well as directing) very definitely makes it his own and contextualises it to highlight some of the problems of contemporary Indian reality. The rain that forces Mannu to borrow a raincoat from his friends and the same rain that causes Neeru to wear it when she exits the house, is catalytic in dissolving the web of lies that the two former sweethearts have constructed. The darkness of the old house, the crowded room and the candlelight (so important in highlighting Neeru’s state of affairs) make for a look that has the dull glow of silver covered by the patina of time. The exquisite music and poetry of the film add to the mystery and pathos of the situation.

The dialogues in the script are insightful and packed with numerous details that hint at the reality behind the sham, the essence beneath the façades that each of the characters builds. There is much talk in this movie and not much action, however, the dialogues are engaging and poetic, revealing and filled with a rawness of emotion that immerses us in the predicament of the two leads. At one point, the narrator reciting some poetry epitomises the desperate situation that the two sweethearts currently find themselves in.

All of the actors play with conviction and make the most of their lines. Both Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan immerse themselves in the pent-up emotions of the characters they play and although there are many raw, unspoken feelings, we are aware of the characters’ inner turmoil and infinite regrets they have. They play with great restraint and elegance, making the most of the seemingly casual lines they often deliver, their faces showing us the reality neither of them will admit to.

This film is mellow and bitter-sweet, well acted and directed, with wonderful dialogue, costumes and sets. Its music complements the action well and the whole production is amongst the best I have seen in Indian films. It is definitely worth seeing, however, don’t expect action and thrills, but rather a piece from the heart for the heart. The star-crossed lovers and their sacrifices are touching and poignant, the film is intelligent and visually satisfying, as well as beautiful on many levels. Well worth seeing…

On 30 May 2013, the director Rituparno Ghosh suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away in Calcutta at the age of 49. He was suffering from pancreatitis.  Rituparno Ghosh was first acknowledged in the 90’s when he made films in Bengali with strong and sensitive subjects. He went on to direct some Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in major productions. Ghosh won many national awards and his film “Chokher Bali” starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Raima Sen was nominated for Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 2003.

1 comment:

  1. Haven't seen many indian movies, but this sounds good. Wonder if I can get it to watch?