Before The Rains – Review

August 14, 2009

Before the rains 250x250Film: “Before The Rains”
Cast: Linus Roache, Nandita Das, Rahul Bose
Director: Santosh Sivan
Rating: ***

The lush greenery of Kerala never looked more inviting or erotic. As a tea planter in colonial India falls into the forbidden arms of a dusky mysterious local girl married to an abusive violent man, the screen comes to fragile life with delicate sounds and scents.

The plot in “Before The Rains” almost begs to be defined as a cliche. And yet there lies the charm of this fragile love triangle about the beauty and the Brits and the silent lover whose eyes say it all and who must do a hasty cover-up job for his lord and master after he leaves his trail of lust (or was it love?) and blood behind.

Sivan’s skills behind the camera are so densely poetic you end up wondering if he made this uncommonly-common love story so he could revisit the vibrant verdancy of Kerala to create poetry out of nature. He shoots Nandita Das like late Smita Patil in G. Arvindan’s “Chidambaram” — as an enigmatic creature of the dark whose next move is a mystery.

The greenery is so captivating that the central passion-play often becomes subservient. That, perhaps, is the subtext of the plot. You often find monstrous emotional disturbances tucked away in the non-judgemental folds of the illimitable beauty of nature.

Not for the first time, Nandita, so underused by our cinema, reminds us of Smita’s dusky seductiveness. Nandita is often shot in caressing close-ups that accentuate her aquiline nose and cupid lips in curves and bends that signify the peril of feminine beauty.

Miraculously, her chemistry with Linus Roache (stern yet vulnerable) works just fine. We see two people utterly mismatched in their cultural and emotional graphs coming together in a doomed clasp.

Cathy Rabin’s screenplay never makes the mistake of portraying the colonist lover as a villain. In “Before The Rains”, Henry Moores (Roache) is as much a victim of cruel fate as the fatally ill-fated Sajni (Nandita). They meet, make love and are ruined by their mutual passion.

Sivan’s camera takes us through the luscious labyrinth of love, lust and loss in no time at all. The film seems much longer than it actually is. And that’s not a fatal flaw but a fabulous homage to the silences and pauses that punctuate life’s inevitable progression into the unknown.

Sivan is as adept at showing the cross-cultural love relationship as he is in depicting local rites and rituals in Kerala that make adultery a grave crime.

Nandita’s eyes convey a hemisphere of mystique and passion. Rahul as the colonist’s right-hand man, whose loyalty to heart and country comes under the scanner, gets the complexities of his character in place.

“Before The Rains” is a far more accomplished piece of cinema than its routine theme suggests. Carefully crafted and narrated in soft silken tones designed for aesthetic comfort, the film shows us how the thin line between passion and tragedy is crossed.

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