By A. K. Tucker
“Before the Rains” is a film set in Southern India during the 1930s. British plantation owner Henry Moores (Linus Roache) dreams of expanding his tea trade by exporting cinnamon and other spices. A direct route to port is necessary to enhance the flow of trade. Advised by right-hand man T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose), Moores enlists men from the local village to clear a winding road through dense vegetation before monsoon season begins.
While Moores’ wife and son are in England Moores engages in a fervent affair with his house servant Sajani (Nandita Das). “Before the Rains” is filmed on location in India’s lush Kerala region and the camera often lingers on the extraordinary scenery. Images from the land are deftly used metaphorically to represent love and betrayal. The lovers violate sacred ground, and their safe world unravels when they are spied upon by two young boys from the village out on a dare. Rain clouds looming on the horizon mirror tension below as Henry’s family visits from England and Sajani’s husband learns of her infidelity. Humidity and imminent tragedy thicken the air as downpours advance.
Nandita Das delivers an admirable portrayal of Sajani, the complex character that serves as a catalyst for a tragedy that envelopes the entire village and threatens Moores’ ties to his family and to T.K. Roache gives a believable, if not standout performance, of a tradesman dutifully meeting obligations of his family while maintaining a mistress.
Bose, conversely, does an excellent job of portraying a T.K., a man straining to meet the demands of two cultures. Raised in Kerala with a British education, T. K. serves as the link between Moores, his employer, and his village.
Remaining loyal to both cultures simultaneously proves to be increasingly difficult for T.K. in the charged political climate that is adroitly underscored in the movie. An overwhelming grass roots Indian movement seeks independence from the British, evidenced in the village by men that lie in the streets to hinder British commerce.
The film presents elements of both English and Indian society, but more importantly, it contrasts the weak and reckless actions of Henry with those around him.
Eventually he alienates his wife and the village. Inexorably, the effects of the tragedy expand to threaten the completion of the road, which is representative of British presence in India; it cuts a deep, resilient course through the landscape.
“Before the Rains” is not light fare but delivers complex themes of alienation, culture clash and infidelity, in manageable doses.
There is a sense of impending disaster throughout the film, beginning when Moores gifts Neelan a pistol, that is mitigated by glimpses of camaraderie and genuine love. Flashes of magnificent scenery also serve as brief reprieves from mounting tension. Though skillfulness in performing varies, all characters are sufficiently acute to convey the complicated, tragic, and worthwhile story.
“Before the Rains” is an independent production of Merchant Ivory, the same filmmakers behind “The Remains of the Day” and “A Room with a View.” The film is an adaptation of another film, “Red Roofs,” a tale from Dan Verets’s 2001 movie “Yellow Asphalt.” WorldFest Houston, an annual festival that focuses on independent ventures, awarded “Before the Rain” a Grand Award for Best Theatrical Feature.