“East is east and west is west and never the ‘twain shall
– Rudyard Kipling
English heritage dramas are generally the same.
Most of the time they’re set against the fall of the British
Empire and a rising tide of nationalism within a given colony. India, usually.
And yet in the midst of a revolution, two people find love
across the cultural divide. Whether an Englishman and Indian woman or vice
versa, it’s usually doomed. And it sputters just as the hated Brits are being
More than 20 years after films like A Passage to India and The
Jewel in the Crown brought that history to light, I’m not sure what more can be
said about the British Raj. Public opinion has generally opined that it was a
bad thing. But producers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant disagree. Their
upcoming film, Before the Rains, plunders that period once more. It’ll be
screened as part of the Reel Alternatives film series, to open in Whistler on
The film takes place in Kerala, Southern India, at the tail end
of the British Raj era. Spice baron Henry Moores (Linus Roache from Batman
Begins) is guided through a forest by guide TK Neela (Rahul Bose), an Indian
with an English education.
The two of them reach the top of a hill and Henry lays a
fascinated, yet assaultive gaze on the lush mountainscape before him. He’s got
sinister plans for these mountains as he hopes to build a road that will help
him transport spices.
Back home, Henry maintains a tryst with servant Sajani (Nandita
Das), a beautiful woman from a nearby village. She and Henry set themselves up
for disaster when they’re caught near a sacred waterfall making love in the
heart of nature. She returns to her village shamed and is soon driven away by
an abusive husband.
Now an outcast, she runs back to Henry, who’s just had his wife
and child come to visit. TK, from the same village, is left with the unenviable
task of keeping their tryst a secret, but as the tide of revolution grows, it
becomes that much harder for Henry to build his road and maintain it against a
This plot summary makes the film out to be only slightly more
interesting than it actually is. Despite a dedicated performance from Rahul
Bose, it never rises above mediocrity, and that’s largely because it offers
nothing new on the subject of the British Raj. Far superior films, such as A
Passage to India, have done a masterful job pushing at the irreconcilability of
two cultures when one dominates the other. This one, however, just rehashes all
that’s been said before.
It’s awfully disappointing, as this film is directed by Santosh Sivan, a Kerala-born filmmaker whose 1999 film The Terrorist was a compelling exploration of the conditions that lead one into a life of terrorism. That was an outstanding film because it had plenty to enter into an ongoing debate. The debate over colonialism is pretty much done, and Before the Rains tries in a futile manner to give it new life.
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