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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

In thunder, lightning and in rain...

When the monsoon was built up as a character in our films

art-and-culture Updated: Jun 28, 2019 16:05 IST
Yasser Usman
Yasser Usman
Hindustan Times
A typical Rajini action scene in Kaala in which he single-handedly beats up his assailants using only his umbrella.
A typical Rajini action scene in Kaala in which he single-handedly beats up his assailants using only his umbrella.

There is poetry in rain and the human mind remembers poetry in motion easily. Perhaps that’s the reason rain songs linger on in our collective conscious eternally. What remains at times overlooked are beautiful scenes enacted under rain. There often come at critical junctures in a Bollywood film – sometimes used as a crucial device changing the arc of the storyline completely.

Recently, while watching Rajinikanth’s Kaala (2018) on one of the OTT platforms what struck me was the spectacularly choreographed fight sequence taking place on Marine Drive in a heavy downpour and the brilliant background score. Though it’s a typical Rajini action scene where he single-handedly beats up an army of assailants (using only his umbrella). Yet it’s the dark, broody atmosphere, grey clouds and the heavy rain that makes it truly memorable.

So looking back, I list my favorite scenes where rain is almost an unruly supporting cast – creating an overwhelming deluge of feelings - passion, loneliness, mystique, happiness, salvation or more commonly predicting an impending disaster. Here’s my list:

He asks her, Aap apna garm coat kyon nahi laayin? She replies, Zukaam muft milta hai, garm coat ke paise lagte hain....
He asks her, Aap apna garm coat kyon nahi laayin? She replies, Zukaam muft milta hai, garm coat ke paise lagte hain.... ( File photo )

Kaagaz ke Phool (1959): Filmmaker Suresh Sinha (GuruDutt) is returning after a not-so-good meeting with his estranged wife and there’s a storm inside him and of course outside. He finds shelter under a huge banyan tree and realises there’s a poor, young girl (Waheeda Rahman) sneezing and shivering with cold. He asks her, Aap apna garm coat kyon nahi laayin? She replies, Zukaam muft milta hai, garm coat ke paise lagte hain. He smiles and before leaving, puts his overcoat around her. It’s their first meeting. There’s no romance but you know that this meeting is going to change the course of their lives.

Now just change the actors in this scene and replace them with Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se (1998). It’s a deserted railway station on a cold, bleak, stormy night. Amar (SRK) is looking to light his cigarette when he notices someone at a short distance. Suddenly a strong gust of wind reveals the face of Meghna (Manisha). Amar is instantly attracted and begins a one-sided conversation. The girl is totally disinterested and in an attempt to dissuade him asks for a cup of tea. As Amar leaves, she boards the train quietly. ShahRukh returns with raindrops falling into the cup of tea. He smiles and calls it, Duniya ki sabse chhoti prem kahani…. We the audiences know it isn’t. Also, this scene is immediately followed by the blockbuster Chaiyya Chaiyya song. People remember the song and forget this beautiful scene preceding it.

Rain leitmotifs have been widely used to predict impending doom in Hindi films. The iconic scene of Yash Chopra’s Mashaal is my absolute favourite. Dilip Kumar plays an honest journalist who has lost both his home and office. Then there are Mumbai rains. It’s late night, the rain has left everything cold and bleak in its wake. The couple (Dileep and Waheeda Rahman) is walking slowly on the wet, gleaming, lonely road when suddenly the wife experiences severe pain. The husband desperately shouts for help. There’s no one on the streets. The silence is deathly. No one stops to help. It’s a heartbreaking scene and has the same disturbing effect even after multiple viewings. This is the scene that became synonymous with signature Dilip Kumar scene

Allah megh de, paani de (Guide, 1965) in the mellifluous voice of Dada Burman gives voice to the desperate prayers of the villagers. Finally blessing comes down in the form of long-awaited rains quenching the thirst of the drought-ridden village and metaphorically leading to the salvation of the guilt-ridden hero. I know you are thinking about Rosie (Waheeda Rehman) running back to the old temple and asking Raju Guide (Dev Anand) to open his eyes to feel the pouring rain.

Shakespeare has widely used the imagery of rain, thunder and lightning to foretell the catastrophes that would change the arc of his plays. So when Vishal Bharadwaj adapts Macbeth as the Mumbaiya Maqbool (2003), he retains the rain, thunder and lightning to make eerily memorable the scene where Abba ji (Pankaj Kapur) is murdered. The two policemen predict rain adding that it’s unusual for the time of the year. An old woman adds, “I’ve never seen it rain in this month in seventy years...lord have mercy...”

Rahul Rawail’s Arjun (1985) has one of the most memorable chase and murder sequence in rain. Rawail captured the dramatic scene in top angle under a canopy of black umbrellas. The assailants navigate through numerous black umbrellas. There’s a sea of men but their faces are not visible. You can only see swords appearing between the crevices of the packed crowds. It’s a chilling scene with outstanding background score and camerawork.

Aradhana: Getting close on rainy nights
Aradhana: Getting close on rainy nights

And then there’s rain that’s just pure romance. Gulzar’s masterpiece Ijaazat begins on an isolated countryside railway station and the song Chhoti si kahani se, baarishon ke paani se. An estranged couple (Rekha and Naseeruddin Shah) has a chance encounter in the waiting room of the railway station. The rains keeps the night long and lonely … and as the story unfolds, rain here almost becomes a character in the story.

What’s a heartbreak without rain? The tomboyish Kajol is criminally friend-zoned by ShahRukh for the mini-skirt clad Tina in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). Anjali runs to the hostel matron bawling, Mera pehla pyaar adhoora rah gaya Iffat bi - followed by rain as the skies cry with her. The audiences are raining tears too at this point.

And finally, the rain of passion is a real thing in Bollywood. Remember Aradhana (Roop tera mastana or Ek Phool Do Maali. The rain, the boy and the girl in a deserted place followed by a loud thunder, awkward hug and then Mai tumhare bacche ke ki ma… dialogue. The girls always ended with a kid. But hey! You can’t blame rains for that. Can you?

Rain sightings in regional cinema

Yasser Usman is a TV journalist and has written biographies on Rekha and Rajesh Khanna

First Published: Jun 28, 2019 15:37 IST

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