Before the Rains (**1/2)
Before the Rains’ Henry Moores (Linus Roache) is a British developer in late-colonial India with ambitious plans to construct a road through the mountains. T.K. (Rahul Bose) is his indispensable assistant, and also a prominent member of a local Nayar community, which is just beginning to become swept up in the independence movement. T.K.’s flip-flopping is strained as he discovers an affair between Moores and Sajani, Moores’ maid, who is married to a brutish Hindu traditionalist. Then Moores’ wife arrives with their child, Peter, at the same time as Sajani’s husband begins to accuse her of infidelity, and a clash of wills and cultures follows.
This is W. Somerset Maugham and E.M. Forster territory, though one expects Before the Rains’ director, Santosh Sivan—an Indian who makes his English language debut here—to want to take us beyond what these white writers did. He doesn’t, really, despite Bose’s T.K., who gives us a conflicted colonial perspective (which is, admittedly, similar to Forster’s Dr. Aziz’s), and Sajani, whose predicament is humanized through Nandita Das’s captivating performance. Indeed, these elements are demeaned by Sivan’s slushy soundtrack and the constructed exoticism of his setting. Before the Rains is also conceptually inelegant, from the mountain road that symbolizes British India’s misguided hopes, to the dragonflies that Sajani teaches Peter are conduits for human souls, and which Peter releases from a jar at an opportune moment.
Before the Rains actually does less than Forster’s A Passage to India to handle the conflicts that characterized the period: for example, the ways in which India was both subjugated by its colonizers and able to use the lessons of their rule to effect emancipation. Sivan is more like Maugham, who privileged his soap operas over the political resonance of his contexts, using his characters’ sexual indiscretions as lessons in the dangers of mingling East and West and—in a parallel, reductive equivocation—nature and civilization.
Before the Rains is now playing at the Cumberland (159 CumberlandSt.).