The idea of entertainment in films is unquestionably subjective. While for European audience it’s immersed in realism, Indian audiences find it in heightened emotions and escapism. I personally have grown on to love entertainment in both forms without biasing myself for or against any. In the world of Indian cinema, where the types of movies made are governed more by commerce [Read: 100 crore benchmark] than anything else, it’s hard to imagine a film like ‘Raincoat’ to be ever made again. Well, at least not in near future. Being the biggest fan of Before series of films, in particular ‘Before Sunset‘, I can proudly say ‘Raincoat’ is the closest to what Bollywood can get to them — in terms of sharing similar pathos and the same conversational structure.
Inspired from short story “The Gift of Magi” — which I remember reading in school and loving it — Raincoat adds rich layers of diverse emotions while maintaining the same simplicity, warmth and pain of its inspiration. Oddly funny and intimately affective, Raincoat is one of those rare films that lingers on your mind long after the credits have rolled, and might even make a reappearance in your sub-conscience months or years later. Both the lead characters in the film, Manoj (Ajay Devgan) and Neeru (Aishwarya Rai) are definitely made of flesh and blood, carrying as much imperfections as goodness in them. While they are busy creating their make-believe world out of nothing, you might feel uncomfortably amused witnessing the pile of lies the two of them tell to each other. But under that pile of lies, lies a foundation of love. A love that resides more in the happiness of the other than themselves; something which both know, yet pretend not to know.
The beauty of the film is that director/writer Rituporno Ghosh never sympathizes with his two characters; he just lets them be. And if that means there is no happy ending to their story, then so be it. Boy doesn’t get the girl, nor the girl wishes to run away with the boy. It’s real. We never see how Manoj departs from Neeru’s house, and that’s precisely done with an intention of not causing any unintended sympathy towards either of the two characters. It is these fine touches to the story that will move you, especially the climax, which leaves you with a feeling of emptiness, and an inquisitive desire to know more about Manoj and Neeru, and their future. Will Manoj come back to get Neeru, or will he just be happy clearing the debt her family is in?
The answer to the above questions we may never know, but one particular scene may provide some clue. When Neeru asks, “Who will open plane’s bathroom door?”, Manoj immediately replies “I will”. Manoj may have said that just to empathize, but it also reveals what he ultimately wants to do: set Neeru free. Also, the fact that Manoj hasn’t married even six years after Neeru’s marriage suggests he still hasn’t given up all his hopes of spending life with Neeru.
‘Raincoat’ is a story that is layered with subtleties and nuances. The most consistent and clear theme of the film, though, is the different facades that we wear to hide our real selves. It’s strangely funny in a way that we wear facades to show love as well as to hide it. And sometimes, we wear facades while being affected with circumstances that we prefer not to confront, but somewhere deep down, we want to. Neeru, obviously, is painfully embarrassed by the conditions in which she lives and doesn’t want Manoj to know about it. But deep down, her love for Manoj hasn’t died, and there are moments in the film where she tries to awaken, and sometimes, even challenge his love for her. Similarly, Manoj’s facade of well-being is seen crumbling down when he comes to know about the actual state of Neeru; though he still maintains the facade in front of her, only so that her facade does’t come off, which would have deeply embarrassed her.
In the end, ‘Raincoat’ tells more about love — and human nature in general — than most of the romantic films that you might have ever seen. It tells us that forgoing love is difficult. But what is even more difficult is confronting the pain that comes afterwards. Overall, ‘Raincoat’ is quite simply one of the greatest romantic films made in India. Original love stories don’t come in better form or shape than this.