Before the Rains’ Explores Last Legs of British Colonialism in India
During the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, The Washington Diplomat covered a press conference at the Indian Consulate in New York for “Before the Rains” with Indian director-cinematographer Santosh Sivan, who was joined by his film’s actors: Rahul Bose, Linus Roache, Nandita Das and Jennifer Ehle.
The film’s story centers around an illicit affair in 1937 Kerala between an English colonial landowner (Roache) and his domestic servant (Das), placing the landowner’s Western-educated employee (Bose) in a precarious position.
“It’s very nuanced. There are many different layers to it,” said Roache, who plays Moores, the arrogant British planter. “It works on more than one viewing. It’s a domestic, local story that becomes something epic.”
Moores’s employee, T.K., is played by Indian actor Bose, who explained the dichotomy between human characters within an epic tale: “It’s clear that T.K. is a heroic figure in the film. But if you play a heroic figure like a heroic figure you’re going to crash and burn, because it’s so off-putting when there’s a sense of smugness and knowing [you’re the hero] from the actor’s part,” Bose said. “Personally, I just focus on the small part of it that goes into T.K., living and breathing as a person. I leave the rest to the filmmaking and the filmmaker.”
Indian actress Das talked about her character, Sajani, Moores’s married housekeeper and lover. “As Rahul said, when you’re doing the role, you see it at a human level. You just do your part. You become that person. It’s only sometimes in interviews that you start thinking, ‘Yeah, what is the character?’”
Das was once asked if her character was moral or immoral? “Increasingly, we’re finding it difficult to deal with ambiguity. We always want to label things,” she said. “It’s not about these black-and-white things. It’s about things that are in that gray area.”
“She does come from a traditional background. She does get beaten up by her husband [and] doesn’t really think that she can get out of that system,” Das continued. “But the love that she feels for Moores, that’s what becomes her conviction. In her mind, it’s not a sin…. Her intent behind that love is pure enough for her not to feel immoral about herself.”
But Roache doesn’t have as much moral praise for his character, whom he describes as “a broken man and morally destitute” by the end of the film.
Ehle, who plays Mrs. Moores, agrees. ”I don’t think that there’s a lot of room for loving him at the time the film ends,” she said, laughing. Bose chimed in: “Though I’m firmly of the opinion that there’s a T.K.-Mrs. Moores thing happening at the end. There was definitely a moment, I think,” he quipped to more laughter from the group.
But seriously, director Sivan put the complex character of T.K., who straddles two very different cultures, into light: “Here’s T.K.’s character who’s a witness to everything. Finally, he is taking a position, neither listening to his [Indian] elders to kill someone nor being in a position to tell his Englishman friend, ‘OK, I forgive you.’ He becomes a voice, which later might become the voice of millions.”
Sivan, who’s notably worked in Hindi and Tamil, responded to The Washington Diplomat’s question about making his first film in English with Western producers. “I had a great time making this film because we had all kinds of people from Nandita to Linus to Rahul and Jennifer. We had John Standing, this boy from London, and a lot of local talent from Kerala…. It was my deep desire to tell the world India is not all about Hindi. It’s also about other places. Kerala is a very different kind of place.
“I think everyone who grows up in a certain environment, without really realizing, you tend to absorb certain sensibilities of the land,” Sivan continued. “I come from a place full of all kinds of metaphors. Even in terms of light, when you say someone is performing, it doesn’t mean that there need be an audience. They just have to light a lamp and then they perform. It’s a devotional kind of a thing. I love the warmness of that golden light.
“For example, in my place, we have very hot [rooms], so the houses are designed in such a way to keep out light. So the light, when it finds a little bit of opening, it comes out with a lot more force than in London where there’s big glass, and there’s no sun,” the filmmaker said, eliciting laughter from his English-speaking actors. “So the light takes on another kind of energy and force. I think it’s fantastic because you learn from every kind of person coming from everywhere.”
Sivan also offered his thoughts on the current Indian film industry. “I think it’s a fantastic scenario today. People can make whatever kind of film they would like to. It opens up a lot of doors for the youngsters and new kinds of people to come into filmmaking. We’re seeing all that along with a very good network. It’s a very good time for Indian filmmaking.”
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.