The emotionally charged mysteries of his breakthrough feature, “The Terrorist,” have given way to laborious narrative convention in Indian helmer Santosh Sivan’s latest, English-lingo period meller “Before the Rains.” Tale of an idealistic local caught in the crossfire of an illicit affair is too pat and pretty to connect with upscale auds, suggesting spotty theatrical play ahead of cable and ancillary buys.
In 1937 Kerala, as the spirit of nationalism gains steam, hard-charging British spice baron Henry Moores (Linus Roache) secures a bank loan to build an ambitious road to expand his business. He dreams of sharing the eventual largesse with his right-hand man, T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose), who counts among his childhood pals Moores’ housemaid, Sajani (Nandita Das).
It soon becomes apparent to T.K. that Moores and Sajani are lovers, a fact confirmed when two village boys spot the pair in flagrante on a riverbank near town. When Moores’ wife (Jennifer Ehle) shows up and Sajani’s suspicious husband Rajat (Lal Paul) beats his wife out of jealousy, the resulting emotions lead to humiliation and tragedy, as T.K. is compelled through guilt and obligation to aid Moores in a ghastly cover-up.
Largely predictable pic is tastefully designed, superbly photographed, competently acted and almost completely lacking in passion or tension. The lovers’ tryst is shot in chaste close-up, and Moores is such a craven adulterer, it’s difficult for auds to sympathize, much less root for his success.
Led by the ace lensing of Sivan himself, the tech package is so clean and crisp, it actually detracts from supposedly raw emotions of the affair. Pic is based on a 50-minute sequence within Dany Verete’s Israeli film “The Desert Trilogy: Yellow Asphalt,” called “Red Roofs.”