Before the Rains
Verdant Visuals, Parched Narrative
Santosh Sivan does a phenomenal job of proving his love for southern
The time is 1937 and the place is southern
Enter the deal-breaking circumstance—the gorgeous Sajani, who works as housekeeper for
At the heart of Before the Rains is the conflict created when one is found trying to live outside the caste (pre-determined level of society) into which one is born. The screenwriters do an adequate job of portraying the position of women in Indian tribal culture. Sajani’s is a loveless and often brutal arranged marriage and she risks her very life to find happiness with Henry. By blindly believing that he will leave his wife and take her away where they can be together, she risks not only being an out-caste (thinking that she can rise out of her birth place) but also an outcast—shunned for her behavior and foreign to her own people forever.
The writer really stumbles, however, trying to create characters that draw the viewer into their world and their emotions. As Sajani, Nandita Das comes across with a great degree of passion. Unfortunately, the other characters are so formulaic and predictable that once Sajani is out of the picture, the story just collapses into dullness and all there is to enjoy is the scenery. Sivan’s attempts to keep the story alive are distressingly tangible as he tries facial close-ups, character juxtapositions, and multiple camera angles to try to bring life to something that simply fades into the background.
Worse, Sivan works in scenes of civil unrest and politicizing that are, yes, very Ghandi-esque. But the political story is completely buried in dialogue between characters, and the civil disobedience feels like a redundant afterthought.
The technical merits of the film are what make it worth seeing. Sivan’s camera sweeps over the hillsides covered in tea plantations and shrouded in mist, presenting a poetic and passionate natural background that overwhelms the storyline. Sivan’s use of water in multiple metaphors is magical and calming, and the brief glimpses into tribal life and practices are wonderfully woven into the story. Sivan definitely has an eye for framing the picture and he is assuredly on my list to watch for when he starts working with better scripts.
Before the Rains is rated PG-13 for “violent content and a scene of sexuality.” The violence is not even close to what most children have seen in cartoons, and there is no nudity or fondling of body parts ever on camera. This does not mean I think children should see the film. For one thing, they would be completely bored to death because the themes are only for adults, and kids tend not to be impressed by scenery. If you have a large enough television, wait for the DVD and pop it in after the kids are in bed. If you have a small television, get a sitter and see Before the Rains on the big screen just for the grandeur of the setting.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Kathy viewed a promotional screener of Before the Rains.