Bombay Showcase

The many moods of rain

Relief:The rain in The Shawshank Redemption symbolises unmitigated joy, a cleansing of the dark memories of prison.  

Haan mere dost, wohi baarish

Wohi baarish jo asmaan se aati hai

Boondon mein gaati hai

Pahaadon se fisalti hai

Nadiyon mein chalti hai

Nehron mein machalti hai

Kuein pokhar se milti hai

Khaprailon par girti hai

Galiyon mein firti hai

Mod par sambhalti hai

Phir aage nikalti hai

Wohi baarish

This lovely little bit of poetry by Kamlesh Pandey is a conman’s spiel — an eloquent conman who’s trying to sell rain to a parched town in the 1990 movie, Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaayen. At the end of the film, expectedly, the heavens open up, but the rain isn’t just about cloudburst — it’s shaded with meaning and metaphor, as much about life as life-giving water.

Rain, as an element, is a surefire enhancer of the cinematic frame. Beyond its purely visual effect (always stunning), it helps in the creation of a myriad moods: sombre, joyful, romantic, mysterious, terrifying, dramatic. All of us can recall the palpable emotion that the use of rain has evoked in many films — elation, of course, for what is cinema without happy rain scenes and songs? — but also other feelings that are far removed from the positive. Horror ( Jurassic Park, where Steven Spielberg uses rain’s siblings, thunder and lightning, to enhance the already terrifying ambience); amped-up drama ( Awaara, where the pregnant wife of a judge is turned out and gives birth on the roadside in pelting rain); or a terrible, terrible grief when a crying infant crawls out of his house and falls into the pouring night even as his deaf-and-mute parents sleep the sleep of the dead ( Koshish).

Cinema has a kind of weather-and-time equation for the use of rain: night plus rain equals mysterious or frightening (the woman-in-white-on-a-deserted-street sub-genre) or tragic. Even a hint of rain can lend an edge to tragedy — in Mashaal’s famous scene where Dilip Kumar pleads with passing motorists to take his sick wife to hospital, there’s no rain but the empty roads are gleaming wet under the street lights, emitting an eerie, uneasy aura. Take away the night, however, and rain changes its countenance magically — now it’s about romance, joy and hope, as dozens of Hindi film songs testify.

One use of rain that’s virtually becomes a cliché (though none the less effective for it) is its presence in the all’s-well-that-ends-well climactic sequence of a film. In The Shawshank Redemption, the wrongly convicted prisoner, who’s crawled through the foul sewers of jail to emerge into the outside world, takes off his shirt, opens his arms to heaven and feels the rain beating down on his bare body. The rain here is unmitigated joy, freedom, a cleansing of the 20-year dark memories of prison. In Monsoon Wedding, it’s catharsis and renewed hope; and in romcoms like Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Four Weddings And A Funeral or Hum Tum, a brand-new beginning for lovers in a chequered romantic relationship.

Two movie climaxes with rain, each amazing in their own way, are those of Guide and Lagaan. In Guide’s quasi-spiritual end, which never fails to move me, the long-awaited rain comes down on a crowd of jubilant villagers even as the fasting ‘godman’ breathes his last inside the temple; a parched village slakes its thirst and an imposter attains salvation. In Lagaan, on the other hand, the arrival of the monsoon, the peg on which the whole film is based, is so casual, it’s virtually like an afterthought. As an audience, one has almost forgotten the core issue of drought and is revelling in Bhuvan’s team’s win when the first droplets fall unexpectedly like manna from the heavens. It’s a wonderful sone pe suhaga moment, as much for the audience as the characters in this riveting story.

Very few directors have used rain outside its emotional appeal — the first one to do so has to be the wonderful Alfred Hitchcock who, throwing in the prop of a black umbrella, wove a vital scene around it in his 1940 film, Foreign Correspondent. In this stunning scene, a political bigwig is killed in public on a rainy day; even as he tumbles down the broad flight of steps, a reporter gives chase to the assassin through a multitude of black umbrellas. Almost half a century later, Rahul Rawail’s Arjun had a similar scene reportedly inspired from a newspaper photograph — a man is chased and murdered by a gang that makes its way through a sea of black umbrellas thronging a rainy Bombay afternoon.

Craft, metaphor and subtext apart, when it comes to Bollywood, rain leitmotifs are undoubtedly mostly about romance: serenading a lover under a drizzling sky, sharing an umbrella, watching the rain trickle down sensuously against a windowpane. But to even begin to talk about Hindi cinema’s lovely melodies will require the space of three columns — so the only one I’ll mention here, the song that totally reinforces my pluviophilia, is Rimjhim gire saawan from Basu Chatterjee’s Manzil. The sheer joie de vivre of the picturisation as Amitabh Bachchan and Moushumi Chatterjee laugh, prattle animatedly and walk hand in hand through a breathtaking, rain-lashed ’70s Bombay makes this rain song an absolute sparkler.

Finally, any column on the rain is incomplete without the mention of two uniquely Bollywoodian tropes. One is the drenching of the female form, a ritual that’s gradually moved from the playful sensuousness of Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si to the lecherous bump-and-grind of contemporary songs. The second is, or was, the placing of the lead pair in a staple vintage Bollywood situation — rain comes down, sets emotions afire, sheltering couple does the unthinkable, girl gets pregnant and huge drama ensues. However, times change, and illegitimate rain babies, along with red dressing gowns and gajar ka halwa, have made a graceful exit from the screen. As Javed Akhtar once put it in his wry style, “Pregnancy in Hindi cinema is no longer the result of a good monsoon.”

And on that lovely note, may this monsoon continue to nurture both earth and imagination. Enjoy the season.

The author is a freelance editor and writer

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 1:19:44 AM |

Next Story