The monsoon creates many emotions. The smell of rain on the earth is a fragrance that brings joy to everyone. It is also the most dramatic season of all, showing its effects most visibly. And so it has been used in films quite a lot. Many times, rains are used to further accentuate the effect of romance, as we have seen in countless films over the years, be it Raj Kapoor singing ‘Pyaar Hua IqraarHua’ in “Shree 420” or Shah Rukh Khan in “Dil to Pagal hai.” Rains are treated as a celebration, as a hope that was lost, and also as a device to show love. And when it is not used like that, we see it in funeral scenes where the pouring down takes the place of all the mourning in the minds of our characters. Almost always, rain is used as a dramatic effect. Nagraj Manjule changes that completely in his 25-minute short film on Zee5, “An Essay of the Rain,” attaching new meanings to the feeling that monsoon creates, making for an altogether devastating experience.
Nagraj builds upon the poetry of the monsoon and tells the story of a Dalit boy studying in school. They are asked to write an essay about rain as homework. It is raining for the entire duration of the film. The boy begins to head home, as do the other kids. We follow him as he keeps walking in the rampant rain with a cover that he spreads across his body from behind. Then he stops seeing a man lying down, getting all hit by the rain. It turns out that the man is his father, who is an alcoholic, and he passed out after drinking. He tries to wake him up but to no success, and then he is joined by his younger sister. The two, realizing that it is impossible for them to hold him and take him home, decide to call their mother. The mother comes, and the man is carried home with quite a lot of discomfort. Their home is secluded on the outskirts of the village as they do not live with the other upper caste folks. There is one small instance that speaks a thousand things when the mother goes to ask for money at the home where she works, and the lady owner asks her to come the next day. This is supposed to be an upper caste house, and we see a girl sitting and looking at the rain. She is writing her essay about the rain. A disparity is established with rain at the center. Rain is used to introduce the complexity of caste identity and how some people have the natural privilege of just being born into a particular caste. The film constantly raises questions about caste identity and how it plays a significant part in the way things function in Indian society. We see the entire thing through the boy’s perspective, and a thought looms behind us all the time: what will his essay on the rain be like?
Nagraj shows us the inside of their shanty and how they all struggle to keep out the water from their house. It starts to leak from almost every corner and nook of the place, with the father still not in his senses and the mother getting all agitated trying to keep things in place. We see the struggles. We see how the boy witnesses all this, with his mother hurling abuses at his drunkard father and the rain causing havoc to everyday life. The rain can be seen as a metaphor for all the sufferings bellowing upon them and which are going to haunt them for a long time. The rain can be seen as the prejudice that still exists and is making the entire lives of people into living hells for absolutely no fault of theirs. Their existence becomes a fault in the caste system. All of this is in the backdrop of what Nagraj is trying to portray. He is not direct in his portrayal but instead creates connections through the use of rain. His camera doesn’t include itself much in the entire thing but just shows, in a matter-of-fact way, all that happens. It builds upon an irony that gets clearer and feels like a slap to the face in the end.
The boy goes to school the next day with no homework done as the rain kept him occupied all the time. We see everyone else narrating their essays, all of them coming from privileged and affluent backgrounds. Their perspective is that it brings beauty and creates melodies with its sound. For them, rain brings in a sense of freshness. This is a powerful sequence that hits strongly with all the things that we have already seen happening to the boy. We have seen the “other” side of rain. We have seen the side where rain is more of a demon than a giver. It is taking things away, jeopardizing the very home in which a family lives. We have seen it dripping from the tin ceiling. We have seen for ourselves, the essay of the rain. And then to hear the romanticized expressions of all the other kids who are oblivious to this experience, makes a contrast. We search for the young boy, but he is nowhere to be seen. He has been punished for not doing his homework. And in the entirety of that heart-breaking sequence, we wonder, what is the punishment for? The film closes, leaving us with a heavy feeling.
Nagraj turns things upside down with the storytelling by making use of a popular idea and infusing it with a social reality, thereby making the politics fume out of its aesthetics. “An Essay of the Rain” is an important film, drenching you with discomfort and rage as the last frame shows up. And as the end-credits roll with ‘A film by Nagraj Popatrao Manjule’ written in bold, you want to stand and applaud the man for the powerful poetry which he has sung but are too hesitant and ashamed as the aftereffects of it have you stunned.
“An Essay of the Rain” is 2017 Indian Short Film streaming on Zee5 with subtitles.