Looking for some movies starring Nandita Das, we ended up picking Before The Rains. Directed by Santosh Sivan, this is a 1930s drama set in the Kerala of British India. Henry (Linus Roache) is a planter who with the help of T.K. (Rahul Bose), a local, is planning to build a road in the hills so that he can start tea and spice plantations. Linus is also having a secret affair with his housemaid Sajani (Nandita Das). As Linus and T.K. strive to finish the construction of their road before the monsoon, complications arise when Linus’s wife returns to Kerala and Sajani’s villagers discover her secret.
Santosh Sivan is a cinematographer first and it really shows in Before the Rains. He creates a secret dreamland in the midst of lush green hills of Kerala, that feels hidden away from humanity. This is a place where a British planter and an Indian villager could spend endless days in each others arms, collect wild honey or wade in jungle streams. The dream is shattered once reality intrudes. Linus has his career invested in building the road, for which he needs all the help of Sajani’s villagers. But, due to their traditional beliefs and customs they will never accept their love, if discovered. The Indian Independence movement is gathering pace in the village, adding another facet to the clash between Linus and the world around him. And caught in between these worlds is T.K., a character (and name) that seems to have been plucked right out of a RKN novel. He does not mind the affair, likes the development of the road, sympathizes with the freedom fighters and cannot cut his ties to his villagers and their customs. Unable to pick a side, it is he who is put to the hardest test.
There cannot be many complaints about the acting with Rahul Bose and Nandita playing the characters. The movie is told from the world of its principal three characters, and so being set in English does not feel unnatural. The background score uses traditional Kerala instruments and is nice and atmospheric. By picking a ripe time and location, the story brings about the tension between master-servant, Western-Oriental culture and the British-Indian clash. Though the road and the fate of its characters are left incomplete at the end, I felt that Before The Rains is a satisfying watch because of that.