THE RAINCOAT (Rituparno Ghosh, 2004)

Measured, profound, Raincoat is Bengal writer-director Rituparno Ghosh’s first film in Hindi. (He has since made a few more, usually combining Hindi and Bengali dialogue.) Ghosh wrote the original script in his own language, and Usha Ganguly translated it into Hindi, adding material to deepen its Hindu realism. The film is sober and serious; there are no gratuitous outbursts of song and dance.
     A jute mill lock-out has cost Manoj his job; desperate for money, he travels from Bhagalpur to Calcutta to beg help from friends he hasn’t seen in 17 years. His predicament, which resonates with his victimization by circumstance, also pricks his nostalgia; what about Neerja, the girlfriend who that many years ago married someone else? He visits her, convinced that this, too, was something “done to” him. However, “Mannu” must confront the role he has had in his own life.
     Much of the film centers on Mannu’s visit with “Neeru.” Mannu has borrowed his host’s raincoat to venture out into the dreary rain; he lies to Neeru, giving this host’s job (as the producer of television soap operas) as his own. It is exceptionally dark inside Neeru’s home, correlative to the lies that both tell, in Neeru’s case, regarding the state of her marriage. Neeru’s face seems especially enrobed in shadows. Flashbacks to their past together aren’t bright, as some reviewers claim; rather, they are somewhat brighter because potentially more hopeful at that earlier time although inextricably connected to the dark outcomes in the present. Ghosh and his color cinematographer, Aveek Mukhopadhyay, orchestrate the lighting with both subtlety and virtuosity.
     Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai play the lead roles; neither is particularly adept, and each sometimes emotes rather than acts. Raincoat won Ghosh India’s National Award for the year’s best Hindi film.

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