BEFORE THE RAINS. Director: Santosh Sivan. Players: Linus Roache, Rahul Bose, Nandita Das, Jennifer Ehle, and John Standing. Theatrical Release: May 2008.

Santosh Sivan first made his mark in the Indian film industry as a cinematographer. Some of his finest works include Mani Ratnam’s Roja, and Dil Se. In 1999 Sivan directed the internationally acclaimed film The Terrorist,bringing him into the eyes of the world as not only a fine cinematographer, but also a director with vision and substance. Since then he has directed several films, including the Bollywood commercial film Asoka.

With Before the Rains, Sivan returns to his roots in “art house” films geared toward an international audience. Before the Rains is based on the Israeli film Red Roofs, one of the films of Dany Verete’s Desert Trilogy: Yellow Asphault.

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Produced by Merchant Ivory,Before the Rains is the story of Henry Moore (Roache) and his dream to build a road in rural Kerala in the late 1930s. His right-hand man, an educated, English speaking villager, T.K. Neelan (Bose) works loyally for him, as he believes the British Raj is an asset to the nation. T.K. even turns a blind eye to the fact that Moore is having an extra-marital affair with his childhood friend, Sajani (Das), who is Moore’s housemaid, and also married. Moore and Sajani’s relationship faces trouble when Moore’s wife Laura (Ehle) arrives in South India with their son. The situation is further complicated when Sajani’s husband hears of the affair, and demands to find out who her lover is.

As the plot thickens, the characters are faced with difficult choices. Moore wants nothing to do with Sajani when the affair threatens his marriage and the shutting down of his ambitious project. Sajani refuses to believe that Moore doesn’t want her anymore. T.K. wants to support Moore, but is placed in extremely trying situations and is finally pushed to the edge.

Though the film starts off with Moore and his affair with Sajani, the story is really about T.K. and his realization of where he belongs. While the locals revolt against the British Raj, T.K. is one of the few educated individuals in allegiance with them. As the story progressed, however, I did not get a sense of T.K.’s internal growth or confusion. For a film that is ultimately about a man’s coming of age, there is hardly any time spent revealing his state of mind.

Das is not used to her full potential in the film, both in terms of screen time and character. Ehle performs well, but her character also had the potential to be much stronger, if Sivan hadn’t glossed over her dramatic arc. Roache plays convincingly as a man who can be seen as spineless on one end, but with circumstantially justifiable actions on the other. At the crux of the film is Bose, and he delivers a good performance.

Sivan’s cinematography, as always, is breathtaking. Kerala is lush and vibrant with color. Sivan shows his flair for shooting water, one of his favorite subjects. The film moves effortlessly, and there is not a moment during the 98-minute film that you feel the story dragging. With well-established characters and situations, and a well-reasoned plot, the film does not upset your sensibilities. But the film doesn’t touch at the core, either. Rather than delving into the complex psychological states of the characters, writer Cathy Rabin focuses on plot points to further the story. T.K’s final speech on how “the road will go on” feels a little hollow, as we never really connected with his personal insurgence.

Antara Bhardwaj is an independent filmmaker based in San Francisco.

 

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