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Watching Movies: Before The Rains

February 15, 2009
Before the Rains is one of those movies that tries very hard and has potential but leaves something wanting. It feels rushed. On the other hand, perhaps it is the casting. Maybe it lacks intensity, yes, that is it, I am afraid. It lacks intensity. Oh, and the symbolism is very heavy–handed, —the jar of honey, stealing the honey, the white and brown hands locked together, etc. Nevertheless, I endured, so I shall tell you about it.

For the record, I found this movie by looking up what the library had on Jennifer Ehle. She plays the Englishman Moores’ (Linus Roache) wife, Laura. You may remember Ehle as Eliza Bennett in the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice.

I hate filling in the plot summary blanks (I like talking about films and books knowing that others have already seen or read the piece), so I will let Stephen Holden do the honors (It’s what he is paid for anyway).

Fatal culture clash, imperialist entitlement, forbidden passion between master and servant: the ingredients of the Indian director Santosh Sivan’s period piece “Before the Rains” may be awfully familiar, but the film lends them the force of tragedy. From the moment Moores (Linus Roache), an arrogant British planter in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, hands a gun to his loyal manservant T. K. (Rahul Bose), you can be certain that the weapon will be discharged and lives destroyed.

Moores has a grand scheme to build a road into the jungle, the better to transport spices for export, but it must be completed before the monsoon season. Some of the most visually striking scenes in the lavish, beautifully photographed film, which was made on location in Kerala, show a virtual army of laborers from the nearby village hacking down trees and digging the road. It isn’t quite slave labor, but almost.

“Before the Rains” is adapted from “Red Roofs,” the longest of three unrelated stories in the Israeli director Dany Verete’s 2002 film, “YellowAsphalt,” which explored the collision of modern customs and tribal traditions in contemporary Israel. In that movie a wealthy Jewish farmer who has an affair with his Bedouin housekeeper forces his assistant, a Bedouin tribesman, to initiate drastic damage control once the relationship is detected. With a screenplay by [the late] Cathy Rabin, “Before the Rains” has been moved to colonial India in 1937. The transition from one culture to another is seamless.

Holden’s complete review can be found at The New York Times.

I don’ t know anything about the film, “Yellow Asphalt,” but the love story portion of Before the Rains reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s short story, Georgie Porgie. Follow the link if you want to give Georgie Porgie a read (it is a short and easy read). However, if you prefer to have it read to you, Edward Fox does an outstanding job as one of the readers. He is on the audio CD Great Classic Stories (Your county library probably has it. I put the stories on my IPod so I do not feel rushed to listen to them, so not to be late returning the discs to the library).

Although most of the movie is about men and the havoc men create, there are a few feminist lines. Of course, both come from the two women in the movie. First, when T.K is doing Moore’s dirty work and getting rid of Sajani (Nandita Das), he angrily tells her it was her choice to have sex with Moores, a married man, —an English (white) married man. Sajani responds by telling T.K that she has never had a choice regarding anything. T.K’s response is sexist because instead of blaming Moores (or the men of the village) for causing the mess, he readily blames the woman, Sajani. This is ridiculous, even if one were to take the stance, it takes two to tangle. To begin with, Sajani is a domestic servant, Moores is her master/employer (sahib). Also, Sajani is in a miserable marriage. Her marriage was arranged and it is obvious she has been unable to grow into loving her husband. She reminds T.K of this fact. Second, her husband beats her and the whole village knows this. When T.K takes the test administered by the village elders to determine if he is lying, someone shouts out that Rajat (her husband) would had surely beaten her to death if she had not gone missing. In addition, when Rajat is looking for her, he expresses more concern for losing a piece of property than losing a human being. In contrast, Moores has an attractive and loving wife, and a son (all the supposed ingredients for making a blissful marriage). Nevertheless, T.K’s scornful treatment of Sajani reveals his sexism. In addition, it shows how quickly T.K. is willing to sacrifice a woman from his village, for a man, and not just any man but an Englishman.

The other feminist moment in the film is when Ehle’s character, Laura, says to her husband Moores, “If you ask me, Henry, when a girl goes missing it’s everybody’s business.” By claiming it is none of their business, Moores is trying to get Laura to drop the subject about the missing Sanjani. She ignores him and calls an inspector to spearhead the investigation. Laura’s role is a refreshing change from the stereotypical role of the white wife who stands behind her white husband no matter what he does to the woman of color. Also, once it is discovered that Moores had something to do with Sanjani’s disappearance, Laura leaves him and goes back to England.

I would not call Before the Rains a waste of my time, but it definitely would have been better if it were a two-part made for television movie, some medium that would allot enough time for the emotional intensity of the situation to build.

  1. MargaretJamison permalink
    February 16, 2009 12:10 pm

    I’m glad you note Laura’s stand against the cover-up as being a feminist moment. I’m not going to shower her with roses or lay a laurel on her head because it really was the least that human decency calls for, but I’m sure a lot of people would be looking to make it out to be some kind of white-woman-racist act that she even bothered.

  2. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    February 16, 2009 7:52 pm

    No cookies, of course. But trust me, I was so glad when she thought of a woman over a man, her husband. Shockingly, the very small act of human deceny is becoming radical in these times, when women are expected to just kick other women and go suck dick.

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