Adultery is not an uncommon theme in cinema; even Karan Johar has dealt with it in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. The question then is what new angle can a film maker give to this relationship to make it refreshing? Script writers Cathy Rabin and Dan Verete decide to set an adulterous relationship against the backdrop of Kerala in 1937 when the independence movement was rising.
They set up two worlds. The first one is inhabited by the British and chief among them Henry Moores, who wants to build a road in the plantation. Financed by a bank, Moores hopes that this road which will transport spices will make him rich, so that he does not have to depend on his father-in-law. He has one constraint – finish the road before the monsoons. The other world, symbolically located below the British bungalow, is occupied by the natives. Freedom struggle is in the air and various leaders are in the process of enlisting youth to participate in the movement.
The two worlds are connected by two characters. The first one is T.K (Rahul Bose), a native, who is Moore’s right hand man. He stays away from the freedom struggle and even questions the rationale behind it. The second one is Sajani (Nanditha Bose), the servant maid in the bunglow, who has an affair with Moores.
As the work on road progresses, the relationship between Sajani and Moores is discovered by her husband (Lal Paul) and the two worlds collide. When it becomes time for people to take sides, but TK, in an amazing display of servitude becomes a partner in Moores’ crime. He acts so cold that when Sajani goes missing and her brother Manas (Indrajith) collects the villagers to search for her, TK alone stays away.
Soon the pace accelerates and director Santosh Sivan’s camera focuses less on the landscape and more on the characters. The moving shots and closeups heighten the tension as police starts investigating. The long roving shots which were present in the first half of the film, give way to short scenes in quick succession, accelerating the pace.
The script written by Cathy Rabin and Dan Verete, based on the Israeli film Asphalt Zahov, focus primarily on TK. He starts off with unquestioning loyalty to the master and becomes a coconut – brown outside and white inside. As the events take over, he slowly transforms and it is this transformation that is the main thread. As he changes, the script writers do not spoon feed the audience with gimmicks or profound dialogue. Instead as the change happens, he joining groups he previously rejected, silently.
To the credit of the script writers they also do not feed us with the cliched caste, curry, cow image of India which is the staple of film makers like Deepa Mehta. The movie is not melodramatic but is not without imperfections. The loyalty of TK to Moores could have been explained a bit more as well as the motivation for Sajani to have an affair. There are no subtle hints as well and this makes the story stand on thin stilts. Even with these imperfections, the movie really transports you to a Kerala 70 years back. The recreation is perfect and upholds the Merchant Ivory standards. The actors in fact become characters and Rahul Bose does a great job emoting with his eyes.
All Santosh Sivan movies have such perfect visuals that a reviewer has to see beyond that maya. We have never been impressed with Santosh Sivan as a director ever since he brutally butchered Asoka and Ananthabhadram, even though they both had absolutely stunning visuals. His Terrorist, we thought, had all the usual art house gimmicks but his picturization of pinakkamano in Ananthabhadram is one of our favorites. In Before the Rains, he makes a movie which is normal, engrossing and realistic.
(image from wikipedia)