Review: Before the Rains B

A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov

This film represents the first time Santosh Sivan is a filmmaker-for-hire as all his previous efforts have been written and produced mainly by him. But unlike his other films Before the Rains feels much more like a Hollywood than a Bollywood production. It is set in the year 1937 when anti-British settlement in colonial India became a problem for British investors like Henry Moores (Linus Roache) as it threatens his success in the spice trade. Moores needs to build a road that will speed-up his success in the spice trade before the monsoon sets in, and he is guided by his knowledgeable side-kick T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose). But instead of worrying about the rains threatening his investments, Moores should have been worrying about something else – the realization of the trusting people around him that he only cares about himself and his desires. When T.K. witnesses Moores’s cruelty he realizes that he had been wrong about his hope that the East and the West can live in peace and his whole demeanor changes. The film, written by Cathy Rabin, is forceful enough in making a stance against British occupation even if it focuses on this singular event. But Sivan is more interested in the unsubtle main plot, than the political turmoil which he leaves in the background. This is a double-edged sword, because the film runs the risks of becoming an all too familiar story of the tribulations and disparities of a culture clash, mixed with a forbidden interracial affair (here Moores’s partner Sanjani is played brilliantly by the beautiful Nandita Das), with a little ‘unlikely hero’ theme sprinkled on top. But Sivan is a good-enough storyteller to dodge eye-rolling from his audience, as he handles the twists and turns in the script with a good sense of what works and doesn’t. Yes the film is not perfect at this, and suffers from a few scenes that have questionable tone affinity with the rest of the movie. Still, the acting comes as close to perfect as anything in a recent Indian film and it is not due to the fact that it includes Hollywood actors. Yes Linus Roache is very good as the slimy businessman, but it is Rahul Bose and Nandita Das that need mentioning as the ones that create the most unforgettable moments of the film through their realistic depiction of over-the-top emotional scenes. And since Sivan is a cinematographer at heart (and he is the one who frames this film too) the movie is as beautiful as any Ivory/Merchant production ever made. The beauty does a good job of contrasting the ugliness of this adult tale, and Sivan thankfully doesn’t resort to pretentious camera-pointing at unrelated inanimate objects. One feels Sivan ‘gets’ India and the accurate portrayal of the Indian uprising is a side-effect of that knowledge. Many will still frown at the film’s unsubtle plot movements and over-the-top scenes, but I found myself caring about an event that happened 70 years ago, so the film did its job.

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