Saturday, February 05, 2005

The short lasting moments in life

Watched the movie Raincoat the other day. The twist at the end owed it to O.Henry's "The Gift of Magi" - the endearing story of Della and Jim who were in an exalted state of affection for each other, set out in their own selfless ways to make each other happy. Della Counted her dollar and dimes again and again to think of the right gift for Jim. She finally settled for a platinum chain for his watch he inherited from his father. How would she buy it? She sold her long cascading hair. When Jim came he popped his little present - a Comb Set for her hair which he bought in exchange of his gold watch!

It is a simple plot and an emotion captured in a single twist. To carry that the spark to a full length movie would be too much to ask. However Raincoat is exploring a much more delicate and deeper sense of life in a familiar situation. Manu (Ajay Devgan), still grappling with the reality of his shattered dreams, hopes and desires afetr the love of his life married to another and left his small town. He is making a trip to the city to seek help from his friends and old class mates to find a steady income. While visiting the benefactors on a rainy day he finds his way to his lost lover with a borrowed raincoat.

Thats where the story is paused and the viewers are given a closer look at Manu going through the lingering grief and despair. The narration is woven back and forth to portray his state of mind. Neither he, nor she expressed their true feelings for each other. Instead they kept lying about their misfortunes. Like the blurb of the CD says, to love is to lie. At the end they part realizing how much they care for each other. O.Henry twist is helping Rituparno (the director) to provide a logical end for the movie.

Losing one's love is painful. Revisiting it will be excruciatingly painful. Rituparno tried to capture the emotion close to the heart and the translation for the most part came through. The fact that he used the old fade-in fade-out technique tells me he narrates the story on another plain besides progressing with the story.

The movie for some reason reminded me of one of the stories in Primo Levi's book "The Periodic Table". The book has chapters titled after 21 chemical elements. Primo himself was a holocaust survivor owed his life to his university credentials in Chemistry. This chapter titled Zinc he spoke about his times when Germany was at the threshold of the worst crime against humanity. But I am digressing here. The story is about Rita his class mate who he wanted to get close but never dared to yet. She was plain and mysterious and the mix attracted him. He prepared brilliant conversational openings mentally and at the decisive moment put it off the next day. Partly because of lack of confidence and deep-rooted shyness. He tried to sit right next to her but she would never notice him. He felt frustrated and challenged. At that period he was desperate and thought of himself condemned to perpetual masculine solitude, denied a woman's smile forever which he needed as much as fresh air.

One day during the laboratory class, he found her working on Zinc Sulphate, the same as his assignment. The opportunity presented itself to take the first step. He noticed the book Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann in her bag. He asked about the book on tenterhooks to hear her opinion. Contrary to his expectation she was more interested to know how far the romance between Hans, the protagonist and madam Chauchat would go and she skipped the theological and political discussions in the book which was so fascinating for him. But he nevertheless got a start and learned a lot about her. That her father was poor sickly store keeper and she worked part time and went on a bicycle to deliver and collect payments, the thorny and difficult path to university degree was the only way to get out of her misery from childhood.

His zinc sulphate ended up in bad shape, but he did not care. It was late and he asked her to let him walk her home. It was dark and her house was not near. The goal he set for himself was objectively and incomparably audacious. He hesitated and felt like standing on burning coals. Finally, trembling with emotion he slipped his arm into hers. She did not resist, nor did she return the pressure, or pull away. He felt exhilarated and victorious. It seemed for him that he won a small but decisive battle against the darkness, emptiness and the hostile years that lay ahead.

A long time back I remember walking my class mate to the bus station from college which was a mile away. I was in a similar state of mind when I thought of "brilliant conversational openings", the books, songs, movies that she was interested in, to talk to her. But most of the time, we spoke only a few things, mostly on exam dates or missed assignments. Did I like her? Yes. Did she like me? I don't know. Should I have talked to her what I felt? How would I tell her if I wasn't sure exactly what I felt? Looking back it was an enchanting age to cherish.
In sum the short moments in life can have a lasting impression like in Primo Levi's case and short revisit can be even more poignant and compelling as shown in Raincoat.

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