Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Before the rains : a review

IT WAS DURING MY SEARCH for other works by Nandita Das that I came across ‘Before the rains’. Ordinarily I probably would have given it a go-by but considering it had Rahul Bose in it too and was directed by the talented Santosh Sivan, it seemed worth giving a chance. In the first few frames itself the movie had me wrapped. The breathtaking locales of an enchantingly wooded Kerala make for a perfect backdrop to this tale of epic proportions. When Sivan’s roving eye breezes past serene looking tea plantations and gorgeous gorge’s carved out of nature’s immaculate knife, one can easily see why he is considered one of the finest cinematographers in the country. Add to this the mix of warm locals buzzing around making small talk in Malayalam while keeping the prim houses of the English sahibs clean and you have an interesting concoction of stories ready to spill over.

‘Before the rains’ starts off by exposing us to the core plot right away. That of the illicit affair between British spice baron Henry Moores (Linus Roache) and his housekeeper Sajani (Nandita). They nuzzle into each other’s arms under the very roof that feeds her while collecting fresh honey from friendly beehives in the woods. Their seemingly hush-hush cozy little venture, though, has a silent confidant – T.K. Neelan (Bose), a handyman who works with the Englishman. He shares Henry’s vision of cutting through the mountains to make that much awaited road that will transform the tea plantation into a full blown spice manufacturing unit rich with cardamom and pepper. Of course, this has to happen before the monsoon rains so that the road can sustain it. TK does not completely condone what Henry and Sajani share but he understands what love is. Given his adherence of friendship and loyalty to Henry he doesn’t find it relevant to keep this a secret from Sajani’s husband Rajat and her brother Manas. People he grew up with playing in the very forest that Sajani now spends her awake time enjoying Henry’s indulgent kisses and hugs.

Rajat is a tough guy who has no patience for Sajani’s lies and deceit. Despite the lack of any concrete evidence against her, he knows something is amiss and suspects TK of being the guilty one. With things looking like this in walks Henry’s wife and son one day. Much to Sajani’s disappointment and frustration, her way out of her abusive husband’s life seems to be by bridging the cultural divide that separates her and Henry. Things don’t necessarily pan out this way when Sajani is beaten senseless one night and is forced to escape from her husband’s heavy handed clutches. She runs to Henry’s house (where TK also lives in an outhouse) and confesses her need to never have to face her husband again. Henry panics. This is a situation that he had not expected given the highest level of secrecy (and possible bottom line triviality) he had given the case thus far. It is then, on being rejected from Henry at such an important juncture, that Sajani, using TK’s gun, shoots herself dead right in front of their bewildered eyes.

‘Before the rains’ picks up momentum after this incident. The question of what is the right thing to do and who, more importantly, will do this becomes the focus. Will TK be the scapegoat for a murder that was inspired by Henry’s lack of character? Or will TK go out of his way to tell everyone that it was Henry who was the cause of Sajani’s untimely demise? What will be his true calling at such an hour – his ethics or his loyalty? Will Henry own up to his mistake and risk his spice project, and needless to mention his family’s respect, altogether? Will the gora sahib pull his strings to come off unscathed in a time when it is so easy to do so? These are questions that the movie addresses as the frames pass by.

Sivan’s understanding of local sensitivity in a place like Kerala (pre-Independence) is obvious in every frame. Right from the attire the people wear to the ‘Bharat Chodo’ slogans that ring out across the quiet town in tropical Kerala is straight out of history’s dusty pages. His bold showcasing of the flawed English colonialism sits bare as the one tragic incident stands to threaten an entire community. The subtle yet prominent mention of the price passion has to pay despite the odds being against a culturally diverse couple is very well showcased.

Performances belong to almost everyone in the movie. Right from Bose, who plays the silent yet defiant Malayali foreman of the English sahib to Das, who plays the victimized and misdirected mistress whose fate eventually does her in. Each character in the movie does justice to a plot that, despite its simplistic way of handling the most complicated of situations, exposes the shocking hues with which the Raj worked in colonial India. At a time when most of the movies coming out of India lack that much needed strand of human emotion, ‘Before the rains’ stands out like a breathe of fresh air that underlines only one basic human emotion – conscience.


Watch the trailor of the movie below

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