A poignant tale indeed and one that reinforces a popular quote by Marjorie Rawlings as well – ‘A woman never forgets the men she could have had; a man, the women he couldn’t’. Now ain’t that a perfect formula to create ‘sepia-tinted’ memories?
Ajay Devgan (Mannu) essays the role of an unemployed youth from Bhagalpur in Bihar who comes to Kolkata in search of his friends to seek financial help to launch a small business. He also cherishes the desire to meet Aishwarya (Neeru) who was the girl next door and his companion since childhood. They wished to marry but ultimately circumstances ensured that Neeru was married to someone else. Ajay is shown to be pained and frustrated by his inability to change things – while he is kind-hearted he is also ineffectual in managing the demands put on him.
He meets with some success as his friends provide him financial help. It is then that he turns up on a rainy afternoon to meet Aishwarya after a 6 year hiatus. Aishwarya takes a while to open the door but invites him in. They spend the next few hours narrating embellished fiction as each wants to convey to the other that he is fine circumstances. A perfect tale for any raconteur to narrate, right.
The need to portray a false picture is not an exercise in deception – rather it is a pathetic attempt to retain ones dignity. And it sparks a witty interlude when a variety of emotions including jealously is portrayed effectively. Aishwarya goes ga-ga about her rich husband, his foreign trips, an army of servants who stand in attendance and enjoying the modern city life. Ajay not to be outdone talks about a fictitious secretary and his success in running the business of producing TV serials.
The background music has lilting vocals in Hindustani Classical music by Shubha Mudgal and Gulzar pitches in with his poetry as well. Aishwarya mesmerizes as she gets the hindi dialect spot on and plays the role of a neglected and troubled housewife to perfection. Initially its only her appearance that disturbs along with the freakishness of the lack of electricity in the house. As the story unfolds we realize the depth of her despair as she on the verge of being thrown out of the house as the rent is not paid for months along with the electricity bill (no wonder the exchange happens in a dim candle-lit room with barred windows) and her husband is a jobless drunkard.
Annu Kapoor, in a cameo role as the Landlord, explains Aishwarya’s situation to Ajay Devgan. Ajay is troubled and tries to help her in a surreptitious manner by paying off three months rent from the money he had raised from his friends. Unknown to him, Aishwarya too discovers his situation and decides to help him by quietly slipping in her jewels in his raincoat. She wants to continue dissembling and maintain the façade of being a rich woman, so writes in the note that she is not able to give him cash as she does not have access to the locker.
The star-crossed lovers part ways having tried their best to sacrifice and help each other. Rituparno Ghosh has admitted to have been inspired by O Henry’s short story ‘Gift of the Magi’ in building the story. The story has a series of flash backs that string in back and forth – it is a bit jarring initially but then one gets used to it.
Ajay has an interesting set of exchange with his friend’s wife (Mouli Ganguly) as well who gives him two practical tips. Turn on the shower if you want to cry your heart out in the bathroom without others noticing it and take sleeping pills to get some sleep in the night (your lover is now a wife and will be busy attending to the needs of her husband – that is the practicality all girls learn to handle).
Ajay Devgan and Annu Kapoor are veteran actors so it is expected that they get into the skin off their characters. But it is Aishwarya who is a surprise package – she punches in a great performance in an art movie setting. Her de-glam look that borders at even being disheveled in parts is perfect for the role. She alternatingly has delusions of grandeur and moments of utter despair.She sets the tone for a girl who is married and in straitened circumstances, but is too proud to share her woes and instead still wants to help her first love.
A classic movie that is definitely worth a watch and re-run – indeed perfect for a quiet lazy evening during the rains with a cuppa of chai and some bhajias.