May 29, 2008

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Before the Rains (PG-13)
A forbidden romance threatens to tear apart a village in 1930s India and add to tensions between indepence-minded Indians and the ruling British in Before the Rains, a melodramatic tale full of swell-looking period costumes.

I can’t decide, do I like the wide, crisp collars of the British women better or the richly colored flatteringly wrapped saris? Is it a bad sign that my mind wanders from the action to the clothes?

Henry Moores (Linus Roache) is a forward-looking man of the future — that future being the early 1940s, when he hopes his road on which others can transport spices and from which he can make a lot of money will be open and able to withstand the rains. Helping him in his quest is T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose), an equally forward-looking young man trying to sidestep the politics surrounding the British but help his people benefit from the investment and trade opportunities that come with them. Of course, not all the trade is in cinnamon and cardamom — Moores’ housekeeper Sajani (Nandita Das) is doing a little cultural exchange of her own with Henry. They’re all about the stolen moments and the hidden romps in sensuous greenery. It must be True Love, thinks poor poor Sajani, who is stuck in a miserable marriage and clearly has not read enough books about being the “other woman.” We feel even sorrier for Sajani when Mrs. Moores (Jennifer Ehle) shows up and Henry starts to get all fidgety.

I have a hard time picking up serious fiction novels about which I know only what the back of the book tells me and I think it’s because I unfairly fear that they will be like this movie — full of questionable romances, junior-high-level subplots about race and class and a bunch of achingly predictable plot twists. (It’s unfair, I know, but I think some E.M. Forster as a high school freshman kind of did me in.) Before the Rains feels like a movie you’re supposed to love, supposed to want to weep over, but I wasn’t enchanted and my eyes stayed dry. The melodrama isn’t even delightfully escapist — you could have more period drama fun with one of the corseted telenovelas over on Univsion.

For a movie all about hot passions — love, anger, resentment — Before the Rains features some remarkably lukewarm performances. Moores could be miffed about losing a game of polo; Sajani seems more like someone who’s mad about a bad manicure. Only Neelan shows the occasional spark but he takes center stage far toolate for the emotion of his performance to do much for the movie. C

Rated PG-13 for violent content and a scene of sexuality. Directed by Santosh Sivan and written by Cathy Rabin (from source material by Dan Verete), Before the Rains is an hour and 38 minutes long and is distributed by Roadside Attractions and Merchant/Ivory Productions.