Before The Rains
Sivan (Asoka, Terrorist,(Cin) Bride and Prejudice) has missed his wildlife photographer calling. There’s no imax theater chain in Bollywood. Maybe his calling does not pay enough that he needs to disguise his natural photographer profile as a filmmaker’s. Maybe he just doesn’t realize where his real skills are. Maybe he wont collaborate with any real filmmakers from ego reasons, in any case Before the Rains (which is now in limited release in the US, and thus requires a comment on the journal,) is an imax example of why the world needs script writers, directors (which is a separate skill than cinematographer) and music directors,editors? Somebody….? apart from cinematographers grown like cancer , all over a film.
The Heart of Darkness , a 1902 Joseph Conrad book, about the evil that lurks within the heart of imperialist men, has been tremendously influential in some south asian literature circles. Its almost as if, to some, the literary movements of post colonial studies and Salman Rushdie’s magic realism never happened.I guess, if you own cardamom plantations in Kerela, and control the lives of a few thousand people, you can shut your eyes and pretend that the semi real world passing by is merely patterns of clouds.Sivan’s film is set firmly in this territory. Perhaps Sivan is inspired by the happenings in iraq and occupied Palestine that he needs to make a statement that sounds retrogressive even as the real world is becoming thus retrograde.Before the Rains is a photographic monolith from the Western Ghats documenting the evil that men do to them , which is interred with the women’s bones, in the name of love.
Sivan’s film comes , in inspiration, from a much more complex 1993 work by Adoor Gopalakrishnan called Vidheyan(The Servile) which was a meditation on the willing acceptance of slavery by an immigrant. While I gets the feeling that Sivan is unequal to the task of refocusing the Gopalakrishnan opus to address Sex colonialism, one also has pity for what is in effect a great set of images without deep coherence or drama’ It feels like an excuse for cliched jingo.
Nandita Das playing the complexly imagined Sajani (and everyone pronounces Sajani differently) is the only fleshed out charecter in the film. Her motivations and actions feel real .Everyone else seems to be reactions to her central presence. I am not a fan of mother goddess earth films, mostly because it’s a grand elegant metaphor that fits all agendas. Thankfully the mother goddess is just an allusion in this film. People who want to make that connection may.
In the end BTR feels like a glossy in a dentist office or a Cinemax late-nighter ,except we see little flesh(Thankfully, Das’ femme is more substantive than mere skinshows). I’d see Wide Sagasso Sea for a more competent treatment of the same post colonial issues , less of a washout too.
Edited to add: as I commented to Joey, I Think Before The Rains is a good viewing experience, it just is barely a tenable feature film.