Doomed love and cinnamon

Imperialism romance mix Before the Rains

Before the Rains is a love story set on a doomed course exploding just in time for monsoon season. Indian director and cinematographer Santosh Sivan’s English language debut takes us to the plantations of Kerala in 1937. Still under colonial rule the British Raj reign supreme and gain fortunes on the backs of Indian villagers. Henry Moores (Linus Roache) is one such man and upon discovering cinnamon on his property he sets out to make his fortune before the monsoon rains arrive.

Henry seeks help from his trusted servant and friend TK (Rahul Bose) to lead the project and act as the middleman between himself and the village. However Henry wants more than just cinnamon — he’s carrying on an illicit affair with one of his servants Sajani (Nandita Das). A tragedy is set in motion when two boys spy the lovers in secret. The village learns of Sajani’s adultery and seeks to discover the identity of her lover. TK finds himself caught between British loyalty and tribal duty. Things only get worse when Henry’s family arrives from England.

Sivan enriches the film with his keen visual detail and textured scenes giving a lush beauty to an otherwise stale melodrama. Sivan made his mark as a director in 1999 with the insightful and heartbreaking film The Terrorist. Unfortunately his latest effort doesn’t measure up to past successes.

Standout performances by Das and Bose bring humanity to their naive characters who trust the British and Henry more than they should. TK in particular represents a deeper level in the film by embodying the struggle of his people to take a side between British rule and Indian independence. Das and Bose are both veterans in the Indian film industry and they keep the film alive even when the entire audience can guess where the story is going.

Despite the predictable plot there is much to learn about colonial rule oppression and the lack of individual rights. The characters in Sivan’s film are victims of circumstance much like those in many Shakespearean tragedies where fate overrides choice and there are few options for an individual’s happiness.