Raincoat - Relationship and roots, revisited

Aishwarya Rai and Ajay Devgan in RaincoatA lazy rain-washed afternoon, two lonesome souls, snatches of a shared past. Ajay Devgan’s brooding look and Aishwarya Rai’s eloquent eyes seem to tell a tale of love and longing. But what does a raincoat have to do with it? Well, that’s a well-guarded surprise slated to unfold this Friday when Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat releases across the country and beyond.
For his foray into Hindi films, Rituparno has based his plot on an American short story that he had read in childhood and had often toyed with the idea of making it into a film.

The story unfolds as Manoj (Ajay), an old friend from Bhagalpur, finds his way to the Calcutta home of Neerja (Aishwarya), married for six years, one rainy afternoon. The scene is set for a rendezvous with the past, between two “ordinary people” bound by a past, now meeting in an alien present.

For the glamorous Lalita of Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice romancing the dashing Will Darcy in America, Neerja is a distant call to the world of romance in a small town of India. And the one reason behind casting Aishwarya as Neeru (that’s what Manoj calls her in the film) is her vulnerability, says Rituparno.

“I got acquainted with her vulnerability while filming Chokher Bali, but I could not explore it fully then, because she was Binodini,” explains the director who has made Aishwarya look refreshingly earthy with ruffled hair and crumpled sari in Raincoat.

“As far as Ajay is concerned, he came across as someone innately shareef, despite his angry man image. He has a quiet intensity with a certain sensitivity,” adds Rituparno.

“A relationship revisited involving two ordinary people” is how the director prefers to describe his film. “But there’s a subtext of rootlessness. For both of them are alien to Calcutta, and share the same language and the past. The bond is enhanced as both of them are in a sense rootless,” says Rituparno, adding that the narrative is “simple and heart-warming with a surprise gift at the end”.

Though the monsoon had no role in the American story, Rituparno has crafted his narrative against the backdrop of the rains to reinforce the predominant theme of “biraho”. The passion between the lovers has been accentuated by the use of muted or moss green light by cinematographer Aveek Mukherjee.

The lilting soundtrack, composed by Debojyoti Mishra to lyrics penned by Rituparno, brings back a whiff of the radha-krishna leela.

“But 75 per cent of the two-hour film has been shot in one room. And so, the biggest challenge would be to hold the audience throughout,” reveals Rituparno, who canned the better part of Raincoat indoors, at the Tollygunge studios.

The producer of Raincoat, Shree Venkatesh, which had also financed Chokher Bali, has released 150 prints in India and 70 abroad, including the UK, the US, Canada and “all territories where Hindi films are screened”.

The official budget estimate is Rs 3.5 crore, but the costs are likely to soar with the publicity blitz.

“Raincoat had travelled to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Moscow early this year. The Chicago and London Film Festivals had invited the film as well, but we didn’t want to take a chance because of piracy,” said Shrikant Mohta of Shree Venkatesh, distributing the film in Bengal.

The Calcutta-based producers have targeted multiplexes and A-class single screens across the country. PVR Pictures is distributing the film in Delhi, Bangalore and Mysore, while Venus is taking care of the overseas beam.

“I just hope the audience doesn’t go with the expectations of an Ash-Ajay blockbuster,” says Rituparno on the eve of his first Hindi release at Priya, Mitra, Globe, INOX and 89 Cinemas.

- The Telegraph