Friday, February 04, 2005
Rituparno Ghosh's Raincoat: The Impersonation of Middle-Class Life
After he won some broad recognition for Chokher Bali last year, Rituparno Ghosh is India's hottest art film director. Raincoat is his first film shot in Hindi.
Chokher Bali, based on Rabindranath Tagore's novel, was "important," but sometimes maddening to watch; one walked away more confused than anything else about the point. What is either Tagore or Ghosh trying to say about the fate of widows in traditional Hindu culture? (I admit I was more positive on the film when I first saw it a couple of months ago.)
Rituparno has also done quite a number of films in Bengali, the most well-known being perhaps Bariwali, from 1999. I have to admit I haven't seen them.
Given Ghosh's status as an art-director, and as a maker of Small Films With Dark Themes, it was shocking to see that Raincoat turned into a bit of a commercial success in India last month, momentarily edging out some big commercial blockbusters. No doubt it has more to do with Aishwariya Rai's and Ajay Devgan's names than Ghosh's, but it's still something -- Indian audiences are pretty allergic to depressing art films.
Viewers looking for more of Aishwariya in a blouseless 'traditional' sari will be disappointed; here, she's playing against type as a depressed housewife. On the other hand, both she and Devgan are forced by the minimalist scenario to demonstrate an ability to act. And they do; both put in strong performances.
The success of Raincoat is shocking, since this is also a deeply depressing film, one of the most unforgiving I can remember. The strength of it -- its watchability -- is perhaps in the film's central gimmick, which I won't give away, except to say that what we see is the impersonation of middle-class Indian life. If audiences are seeing it as poignant, it's because Ghosh points to the elusiveness of the dream of various post-liberalization middle-class status symbols (which are all enumerated in the film in a bizarre, almost ritualistic way: cell-phone, car, air-conditioning, international air travel...).
But did I like the film? Yes, but.
Planet Bollywood is pretty ecstatic.
Now Running is a bit more measured; the reviewer makes some good criticisms.
Outlook India didn't like it, but then, who reads film reviews in Outlook?