Before The Rains
Photos and Video
There's more than one storm approaching Kerala as that South Indian state is evoked in Santosh Sivan's Before the Rains. Set in 1937, in the long twilight of the Raj, the film's title refers most directly to the region's torrential monsoons. They are a yearly cataclysm against which spice baron Henry Moores (Linus Roache) must race to finish the road to his cardamom and clove plantation on the other side of the jungle. With his faithful aide T.K. (Rahul Bose) spearheading the project, Moores' road is indeed coming along nicely, but soon the friendship between the good sahib and his "man" will be sorely tested. Moores has developed a taste for a certain local spice, a beauty named Sajani (Nandita Das), Indian nationalism is taking hold all over, and the gun in the first act will go off by the third. This is British colonialism's last dry season. Adapting an episode in Israeli director Dan Verete's film Yellow Asphalt,Sivan and screenwriter Cathy Rabin move this story of lust, empire, and betrayal into E.M. Forster territory without breaking stride. Anyone who remembers the arid and utterly pukka Raj of A Passage to India will be brought up short by the lush country rendered by Sivan, however. A noted cinematographer as well as a director, Sivan shot Before the Rains himself, and his sensual visual style makes Moores' temptation to go native almost physically real. But the film's allegiance is ultimately with T.K., a good man caught between two cultures. Treated by Moores more like a partner than a servant, T.K. is a true believer in the imperial project. But loyalty to Moores shades into complicity once Sajani's husband learns she's been unfaithful and casts her out of his house. And then, the deluge.
Director's Statement Collapse
Before the Rains explores the turmoil of a man who is torn between two worlds and the choices he makes to gain his own freedom and embrace his true identity. When our producer Doug Mankoff showed me the Israeli short film Red Roofs, I was struck by how timeless and universal the story was. My fascination with the story was that it could happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime. I liked the collision of cultures and the shifting points of view in the film, along with the fact that the characters were so complex, since I am always interested in exploring grey shades of people, not just black or white.
I wanted to reset the story in the jungles of Kerala, a place rich with culture, history, and awe-inspiring beauty. We decided to adapt the story to take place in the late 1930s, and to focus on the tragic consequences of an illicit affair between an English spice farmer and his Indian housemaid. The relationship between the characters is a metaphor for the promise—and the tragic flaw—of British Colonialism. At first, both worlds connect beautifully. Moores, the British farmer, says the road he and his workers are building should be named after T.K., his Indian right-hand man. Sajani, Moores' mistress, learns English songs. And T.K. prefers Churchill rifles and Western medicine to the long-bladed knives and homeopathy of his Nayar community.
Though the characters in the film fight to straddle the great cultural divide, they ultimately suffer for their attempts. Sajani realizes that she and Moores cannot build a life together. Moores and T.K. each realize that their dreams are not grounded in reality, and their vision of an India/British partnership is doomed by the divergent views of their respective cultures. But in addition to the tragic elements to this story, I also wanted to convey a sense of hope—hope for T.K.'s independence and the independence of his people. Just as the darker themes of the story continue to resonate today, I feel that the theme of hope will resonate most strongly for the audience.
The film is layered with metaphors, the road being one of them, as it depicts the act of violence on nature as the story unfolds. I illustrated this by shooting the film in a style reminiscent of pre-Raphaelite paintings, in which the earth itself carries sentiment and is full of symbolism and meaning. The characters are thus miniaturized in the emotional landscape and imagery of the Garden of Eden, lost again to guilt and sin.
It was a wonderful feeling to work with talented actors from England, the United States, and India. Each brought something unique to the production. It is always fascinating and pleasurable when numerous languages are spoken and numerous people have to adjust to different approaches and points of view. Though in the film characters from different backgrounds struggle to achieve a great partnership, the making of this film felt like a true collaboration between East and West.
Film Information Collapse
Cast & Credits Collapse
Principal Cast Linus Roache, Rahul Bose, Nandita Das, Jennifer Ehle, John Standing
Producers Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding, Paul Hardart, Tom Hardart, Mark Burton
Connect to this film Collapse
About the Director(s)Collapse
Santosh Sivan graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India. He won the National Award for best cinematographer five times after shooting 45 features and 41 documentaries. He won his first National Award as a director in 1988 for the film The Story of Tiblu. His 1995 film Halo won numerous awards, and The Terrorist won the best director, actress, and film awards at the Cairo International Film Festival. His next film, Malli also won numerous national awards. Subsequent films include Asoka, Navarasa, and Anandabhadram. Recently, Sivan has worked as cinematographer on Bride & Prejudice and Paul Mayeda Berges' The Mistress of Spices.