Soldiers on warpath...and a 'Raincoat'

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
12/22/2004 12:00:00 AM
It looks like the coast is clear this week for Aishwarya Rai to get into Ajay Devgan's "Raincoat" and relive their shared screen moments together...

The film is a very important release for all those in the picture.
Director Rituparno Ghosh steps into Hindi cinema after scoring big marks in his mother tongue, Bengali.

Hindi is an alien language for Ghosh. Just how efficiently he has translated his thoughts about two protagonists thrown together on one rainy afternoon remains to be seen.

What gives the film a stature beyond its art house antecedents is the cast. After an event-filled 2003, it's been a quiet year for Ajay. No real successes. His pairing with Aishwarya in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" was gloriously successful. They were miserable failures in "Hum Kissise Kam Nahin".

Would they click together in the seriously introspective ambience of "Raincoat"? Would the film get the audience it's looking for?

This little-big film is crucial for Aishwarya who hasn't had a very successful year. Her varied roles as a vamp ("Khakee"), a flighty lover girl ("Kyun! Ho Gaya Na") and a Punjabi girl in love with an American man ("Bride & Prejudice") couldn't create the impact they were expected to.

In "Raincoat" she's cast as an over-the-hill frumpy, overweight Bihari housewife in Kolkata. The role requires a complete makeover of image for the actress. Going by advance reports, Aishwarya has delivered a powerhouse performance.

That brings us to the other release this week. Anil Sharma's much-delayed war drama "Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo" covers three generations of a family of soldiers, played by Amitabh Bachchan and Bobby Deol (the latter in a double role of father and son).

This is Bachchan's ninth release during 2004. For Bobby Deol, "Ab Tumhare Hawale..." could be that comeback vehicle he has long been looking for. His other two releases during the year, "Kismat" and "Bardasht" were both washouts.

A bad year for the Deol clan - Dharmendra and son Sunny had the flops "Kis Kis Ki Kismat" and "Rok Sako To Rok Lo". Incidentally, Anil Sharma has worked extensively with both Dharmendra and Sunny. "Ab Tumhare Hawale..." is Sharma's first film with Bobby.

Sharma's dramatic film takes us into the tricky territory of India-Pakistan conflicts. Earlier the film was meant to project heated diatribes against our neighbour. But considering the progressive pitch towards peace, Sharma has toned down his film's anti-Pakistan stance accordingly.

But is the audience in the mood to watch a war film? At around this time last year, J.P. Dutta's "LOC" had come along with high hopes and a whole lot of stars. The film failed to impress the audience. Sharma's previous film was the costly "The Hero". It had taken a strident posture against Pakistan and paid a heavy price for it.

"Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo" is again a multi-million rupee project that needs a sizeable audience to break even. On the other hand, "Raincoat" budgeted at a meagre Rs.25 million, doesn't need any more than its target audience to make back its investment. It has the added advantage of featuring two highly saleable stars.

Aishwarya and Ajay have featured together in three other films. While David Dhawan's "Hum Kissise Kam Nahin" completely wasted the pair, in Raj Kumar Santoshi's "Khakee" they couldn't make the expected impact.

Audiences would like to see the duo as they were in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam". Though Rituparno Ghosh insists "Raincoat" takes Ash and Ajay to a different territory, audiences remember them as the two seemingly incompatible people reaching out towards each other even as destiny separates them in Bhansali's neo-classic.

"Raincoat" revives memories of another day. So it's nostalgia against war at the box office this week.