Regional rain sightings
Pather Panchali (1955) Satyajit Ray’s debut masterpiece has one of the most poetic depictions of the monsoon in cinema. Sarbajaya, the mother of Apu and Durga, receives a letter from her husband, telling her that he’s finally got work. As if on cue, nature promises hope and happiness. Rain clouds appear on the horizon; lotus fronds wave in the breeze; a man opens his umbrella and is surprised when drops of water fall on his bald pate; Sarbajaya rushes to bring in the washing; and a dog takes shelter in their hut, shaking himself vigorously. As always, Ray is economic but deeply moving in constructing the scene. Ravi Shankar’s mellifluous background score picks up tempo as Durga dances in the rain, hair down, face lifted up in abandon, sticking her tongue out at her brother who watches from under a grove. It’s the children’s last burst of joy before tragedy strikes -- Durga falls ill as a result of the thorough drenching, and dies.
Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960) The rain features in a prominent scene in this landmark Ritwik Ghatak film. The family of Neeta, the protagonist, has found out that she has tuberculosis and her father asks her to leave – “Your breath is poison,” he tells her. It’s the last cruelty in a long line of betrayals for Neeta who has sacrificed everything – her studies and her prospects for a better job; her lover and all hopes of marriage -- so that her siblings can pursue their dreams. But Neeta’s expression, as she steps out of her room, is not one of sorrow or anger – she smiles, widely and beatifically, as if at peace with the tumult of nature. It’s heart-breaking and drives home her tragedy far more than tears or anger could have done.
Teenkahon (2014) Pouring rain provides the frame for Boudhayan Mukherji’s triptych of dark love. In the first set, ‘Boy meets Girl’, a rained in Kolkata evening is the aptly gloomy backdrop for the story narrated in flashback of an eight-year-old boy’s warped, yet innocent love for a 16-year-old bride newly arrived in his village, and his desperate bids to drive her husband away. The second, ‘Boy Loses Girl’, has a similar setting. Heavy rains have brought the city to a standstill but it doesn’t stop a man from making his way to the apartment of his wife’s lover. His wife had committed suicide the night before and he wants to confront him. And so, as the elements rage outside the room, so do the men inside - who had failed her more?
It always means something when it rains in a film. In the classic Malayalam romantic drama Thoovanathumbikal (Dragonflies in the Spraying Rain; 1987), starring Mohanlal and Parvathy, it rains each time the protagonists meet. Well, two of the protagonists.
The film follows the complex relationship of Jayakrishnan with an escort, Clara, whom he cannot marry, and with a distant relative, Radha, whom he marries. The movie uses rain as a metaphor for love. Each time Jayakrishnan meets Clara, it pours. Swings of mood and twists in their tale are accompanied by overcast skies and a drizzle. At their last meeting, it does not rain.
Another Malayalam film that portrays an intimate relationship between a state and a season is Shaji N Karun’s National Award-winning Piravi (The Birth; 1989). Rain acts as an enduring metaphor as a father sets out to look for his son who has been missing since he took part in a political protest. In Karun’s words, the monsoon always represented for him a season of birth and rebirth. It is also, he has said, a season when one’s sense of time is blurred. And this coincides with how the father’s wait drags on.
More recently, the Tamil film Minnale (2001), starring R Madhavan and Reema Sen, has become iconic for its scene of Sen dancing in the rain. The downpour engulfs everything to create an otherworldly atmosphere, where Sen’s character loses herself as she celebrates the season with children dancing in the street.
The story is a quintessential romantic drama about a man who pretends to be someone else to get close to the woman he loves. He later admits his deception, she gets mad, severs all ties, but eventually forgives him.