“No adultery is bloodless.” - Natalia Ginzburg
We watched an excellent film at the weekend, Santosh Sivan’s 2007 movie, “Before the Rains”. It starred Linus Roache, Rahul Bose, Nandita Das and Jennifer Ehle, with some more excellent actors in supporting roles. It was an excellent Anglo-Indian production, which treated of some social issues with sensitivity and poignancy.
The plot centres on an English plantation family, the Moores, who live in Kalpetta Township in Kerala, India, during the British Raj, in 1937. Henry Moore (Roache), who lives there with his wife, Laura (Ehle), and their son, Peter, wishes to expand his tea plantation venture by branching out into spices. To this end he embarks on making a private road up the mountains in order to make fertile land accessible. He gets a bank loan and enlists the local villagers to build the road. His faithful right hand man is the local TK Neelan (Bose) who is English-educated, but very much a local, whose family is amongst the elders of the village. Sajani (Das) is a local married woman who works as a maidservant in the Moores’ household. An illicit affair develops between Henry Moore and Sajani, which is discovered first by TK Neelan, who keeps silent about it, but also by two village children who alert the village that Sajani was seen in the forest with a man who wasn’t her husband. The plot involves also the rising “Quit India” movement and plays upon TK’s divided loyalty – to his country and countrymen and to his employer and English friend, Henry Moore. The story builds to a tragic climax in which a bitter choice must be made.
This was a beautifully photographed movie with excellent cinematography also by Santosh Sivan (who directed the movie). The music by Mark Kilian was supportive of and sympathetic to the action and locale, while the costumes and props were also very authentic. The story itself was simple, superficially, but the plot is only an analogy for the imperialistic era and its consequences in the countries colonised and exploited by the imperialistic powers.
Henry Moore symbolises Western civilisation, bending the world to his will through his might and superior technology. Moore’s know-how is manifested in the film by the building of a road impregnable to the monsoon rains, and his technology symbolised by his pistol, which Moore gives to TK, for his complicity in Moore’s affair with Sajani. Moore has seduced Sajani, who sees in him a perfect lover, a liberator who will free her from her brutal, tradition-bound husband whom she was forced to marry. TK is the most complex character, who is played to perfection by Rahul Bose. He finds himself acknowledging the West’s superior technology, know-how and admires the ways of the British, but at the same time is bound by the ancient traditions and codes of his village. Add to that his awakening nationalism, fanned by his former teacher and mentor, who now spearheads the “Quit India” movement in the area.
The film somehow felt a little too short for the magnitude of themes that it explored and I felt that the exposition of the motives and ideals of some of the lesser characters could have been expanded. Sajani’s role, for example, could have more meat in it and her character’s motivations could have been more explicitly shown, although she did wonders with what little she had in the movie. Village life and a more extended depiction and explanation of the customs and rituals would have added to the movie. At the same time, Jennifer Ehle, as Moore’s wife plays here role excellently and her concise, precise and understated acting tell us a great deal about her character and her motivations.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed this film and would recommend it most highly. It is an excellent introduction to Indian movies, although the film itself is not 100% Indian. It does, however, possess many of the qualities of good modern, Indian moviemaking. This is due to the talent and skill of the director and the excellent Indian actors who make of this screenplay by Cathy Rabin a memorable and poignant film.