Saturday, May 10, 2008

Watched: Before the Rains

Santosh Sivan, 1930's Kerala, and never having heard of the movie before made me want to watch it.
The film tells the story of one Henry Moores, a British planter ambitiously building a private road in Kerala's tea-country, ably helped by his assistant TK played by Rahul Bose. Then there is Nandita Das as the curiously-named Sajani, the domestic helper. It turns out that Moores' wife and child are away in England and he is carrying on with Sajani, who is also married- only, her husband is a brute of a man who likes her to wash his feet in a basin, beats her regularly and lives just one village away.
Inevitably, Mrs. Moores arrives back with their bland young son Peter. Inevitably, the brutish husband finds out about Sajani's affair. What happens next? Dramatic events, which will be spoilers, so I will refrain from telling all. Suffice it to say that this Moores is a roundly un-likeable character, Sajani is incredibly naive, and that leaves TK. And it is about him that I will now proceed to rant.
WHY oh WHY did they make Rahul Bose speak in Malayalam? I am still reeling from the effects of this catastrophe. So Mr. Sivan is trying to tell us that there was not one Keralite actor of merit that he could have cast as TK, a premise I feel inclined to shoot down, instantly. Fortunately, Nandita Das does not have as much Mal dialog to spout, although her English is strained and strange enough. At one point, she reminisces to TK about their childhood games involving 'the bad Ravana.' It made me almost feel sorry for these two able Bengali/Oriya actors as Malayalees-who-converse-mutually-only-in-English.
Sigh. The entire film's credibility is shot by this cock-eyed casting decision. Especially tragic was the scene where TK has to go through the ancient truth-telling ritual. He looks up imploringly at his father (played impressively by Mal actor Thilakan) and bleats that he is telling the truth. The moment is electric, the atmosphere tense, and the emotion heart-rending. But ALL I wanted to do was screech with frustration at the way R. Bose managed to mangle the language. Then there's a moment where he has to react instinctively to Moores' sudden and dramatic entry into his room. He bursts out, in Malayalam of course, "what happened?" Only, in his other-worldly accent, the word for 'happened' sounds like the word for 'dog' and the effect is so hilarious as to be almost illegal.
All in all, the film is good, if a bit unsatisfying in the exploration of the characters and a few inconsistencies that lead to questions. I was also hoping for more sweepingly beautiful shots of the tea-garden locales and a bit more emphasis on the colors and textures of rural Kerala. It is incumbent upon me to to issue a warning that all Malayalam speakers will cringe at the theater, though.
Some may never even recover.


Sreedhar said...

Great Post! I gather that the movie is based on the theme of an Israeli movie called Red Roofs. Santosh Sivan wanted to reset the story in the jungles of Kerala with two non Keralite actors in pivotal roles!

dm said...

Thanks for the comment! I did not know about the Israeli reference, perhaps we should now make R Bose and N Das speak their lines in Hebrew. Gah.

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