Before the Rains a mediocre bore 

click to enlarge Reel Alternative A scene from Before the Rains, the first film of the Reel Alternative screenings series, which starts on Oct. 15
  • Reel Alternative A scene from Before the Rains, the first film of the Reel Alternative screenings series, which starts on Oct. 15

“East is east and west is west and never the ‘twain shall meet.”

– 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 driven out.

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 Oct. 15.

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 growing monsoon.

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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