Shifting from the Bengali milieu
"Raincoat" is Rituparno Ghosh's first Hindi feature. From "Unishe April" to the current one, he has steadily created an oeuvre in his own style. He talks to GOWRI RAMNARAYAN about the film.
"Raincoat" ... a rain-drenched film on a small canvas.
THE INDIAN Panorama at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI 2004), Goa, had missed Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh's first Hindi feature. His "Raincoat" is scheduled for commercial release today. The IFFI had to be content with his earlier "Chokher Bali," based on Rabindranath Tagore's novel.
Hailed for his sensitivity at age 23 when he made his debut with "Unishe April," and for his intensity in "Dahan," Rituparno Ghosh has been steadily creating an oeuvre in his own style.
He makes ``too many, too fast,'' his critics say, believing that he has not fulfilled his promise, or that he fritters it in forgettable "Titli"s.
Others admire his inventiveness on a small canvas, though "Chokher Bali" showed that he could handle a layered and nuanced theme with assurance and empathy.
Director Rituparno Ghosh makes his Hindi feature debut with "Raincoat."
In that film he certainly went beyond authenticity of setting and detail. Though Bollywood's Aishwarya Rai did not impress as much as Rima Sen did, Ghosh got excellent performance from his cast.
"Raincoat" has him turning to Bollywood again with Aishwarya Rai and Ajay Devgan, only to turn them out of their star mould to play ordinary middle class persons. The lovers meet again after six years of separation. The woman is married when they revisit their relationship.
The rains drizzle and lash around them, monsoon ragas hum and wail. The story has a tight setting. Except for a sequence at the start before the credit titles, it unfolds in a single room, framed within a few hours.
Here Rituparno Ghosh talks about the new experience of making a film in Hindi, his first with non-Bengali characters, migrants in his home city Kolkata. Excerpts:
Did some personal memory of a raincoat trigger this film?
N-n-no. May be it is the monsoon literature of India. Think of all the poetry, Kalidasa and Jayadeva, the Cloud Messenger (Meghdoot), Radha-Krishna myths, Kangra paintings, and the monsoon ragas, especially thumris. The feelings they evoke are quite different from any western approach to the rainy season.
Cinema comes from the West but though we have made it our own we hardly ever use Indian idioms to express emotions on the screen. Commercial cinema comes closest to it with song-and dance under the rain.
We've seen it all from Padmini to Preity Zinta. But isn't their getting drenched more titillation than romance?
There's a flip side to everything. What started as creating rasa degenerated into overt sexuality. But remember Bimal Roy's "Parakh" and Basu Bhattacharya's "Anubhav?"
Hindi cinema has certainly used monsoon ragas from classical and folk traditions. What about you?
For the first time I have used songs in my film. I composed the lyrics in Maithili and Brajbhasha.
You had Usha Ganguly translate your script, but knew enough of these old Hindi dialects to compose songs?
I know them academically. I mean, from the traditional padavalis. I use the Radha-Krishna image as the leitmotif. I'm fond of music, but no connoisseur. I know exactly what kind of music I need for my films. I'm a patient and critical listener, an alert judge of the music that suits the tempo, pace, tenor and mood of what I want to convey, what meshes with the visual and its import.
Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai play the de-glamorised, nondescript characters.
Your tone suggests that you have attempted to do something different with the music in "Raincoat."
Yes. Shubha Mudgal has not only sung the songs for "Raincoat," but her voice is part of the back score, it even underlines the dialogue.
Isn't it tricky to underline the words with vocal music? The result can be a distracting jumble of sounds.
(Laughs) Yes. And your loyalty can get divided do you listen to the music or to the words?
With a voice as riveting as Mudgal's, is there a choice?
It did create a problem but Bishwadeep Chatterjee, my sound designer, did a wonderful job.
We also have an aural pattern of every kind of rain from downpour to drizzle, sudden silences between the showers, and the rumble of thunder. The entire film is rain-drenched, it has to create a feeling of being washed away.
Did you de-glamorise the Bollywood stars to play nondescript middle class characters?
I object to the way the question is phrased. It did not happen at my command. Ash and Ajay knew that their roles demanded ordinariness. They could not project glamour if they are evoking vulnerability, as they both had to do.
Are you saying that dazzling make up and costumes are a bar to vulnerability?
True, you never saw Meena Kumari or Waheeda Rehman without eyeliner and eye shadow, sometimes with elaborate hairstyles, still looking extremely vulnerable. But in general I'd say that when a beautiful woman is prettily dressed there is no gap for vulnerability to seep in. You need a sense of incompleteness for that.
Was it a challenge as a director to create characters with mild, imperceptible strokes? You had worked with Rai before, but was it difficult to get Devgan to shed the macho, stereotypical Bollywood hero image?
Definitely a challenge. I cast Ajay because I sensed that he could play a mild-mannered romantic role with skill and finesse and he has done a wonderful job.
For Ash it was a return to a familiar unit, but we worked hard. I'm not bragging, but I think her performance in "Raincoat" is her best to date.
Did you act out the roles for the stars?
With Ash yes, to an extent. She was a patient listener too, sometimes coming up with her own interpretations. Ajay had to be just told and he'd do it. He knows Hindi well and had a way with the dialogue.
I must mention Annu Kapoor. Brilliant! It's a cameo role, but I've never seen a better transformation on the screen of any character I've created.
So you're satisfied with your on work in "Raincoat." Isn't it your own story?
Yes, but based on an American short story, I won't tell you the name, see the film and find out! I'm self critical, I only see the flaws, can't work up the distance to be objective about my films.
I think "Raincoat" is intimate, subtle and has emotional appeal. Watch out for the plot twist in the end.
So how was it to step out of the familiar Bengali milieu and make a film on non-Bengali immigrants, uprooted from Bhagalpur?
I realised just how ignorant I am about the rest of India, its rich, diverse multicultural traditions. Living in Kolkata it is easy to delude yourself that you are cosmopolitan. But what do you know about the simplest aspects of other communities and their lifestyles? A lesson!
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