“We will not cooperate with the British.”
The film Before the Rains, from director Santosh Sivan, examines colonialism through the relationships between a white British landowner and two of his Indian servants. Set in 1937 India, the film’s lush exotic locations are the perfect backdrop for this tale of adultery, betrayal, and ambition.
When the film begins, British Henry Moores (Linus Roache) has an ambitious plan to carve a road that will expedite trade. Owner of a lucrative Tea plantation, Moores wants to move into the spice trade, but the Indian based British bank due to finance Moores’ project is nervous about the rise of the Indian nationalist movement. No one (except most of the natives) wants the good old days of colonialism to end. After all, Moores has a splendid, luxurious plantation-style house and endless servants at his beck and call. Moores basically ignores the growing unrest and doggedly pursues his plan to build the road with native workers.
With Moores’ wife Laura (Jennifer Ehle) back in England with the couple’s small son, Moores has begun a passionate affair with Sanjani (Nandita Das) the family’s married Indian maid who lives in the nearby village. A witness to the affair is TK (Rahul Bose), Moores’ right hand man. Although TK keeps silent about the affair, he is fully aware of its ominous social consequences.
Before the Rains is not an overtly political film, however, it is a tragedy with the drama played against the backdrop of the inherent evils and consequences of colonialism. While Moores’ affair has serious ramifications, he imagines that he can just step away from the relationship, thinking that his class and race will protect him. When adversity strikes, Moores’ racism rears its head, and his white man gestures of equality are shown to be absolutely meaningless.
TK, as the observer, ends up as the central figure here. A believer in anglo-indian unity, he gets a bitter taste of his true relationship with Moore, a man he admires. He comes to realize the hollowness of cooperation between two vastly difference cultures in which colonialism dictates a master-serf relationship. Some of the film’s very best scenes depict TK forced to face village elders and account for his behaviour. While Before the Rains is not nearly as powerful a film as Sivan’s The Terrorist (an examination of the use of children as suicide bombers by the Tamil Tigers), nonetheless this Merchant-Ivory production is a beautifully realized, thoughtful and thought-provoking study of the three characters who all make terrible choices.