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Before the Rains (PG-13) **

Linus Roache and Nandita Das in Before The Rains. PhotO: Alphonse Roy.
Linus Roache and Nandita Das in Before The Rains. PhotO: Alphonse Roy.

By Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Kerala, South India, in 1937, was the wild frontier for English colonialists, a land rich in resources for the taking and restless natives.

Plantation owner Henry Moores (Linus Roache) takes advantage of both as he masterminds a road to carry cinnamon, pepper and tea through the lush mountains. Moores and his Indian foreman T.K. (Rahul Bose) relate to each other as friends rather than boss and servant, but each is uncomfortable with one foot in the other’s world.

Moores has more to be uneasy about, as he’s carrying on a secret affair with his beautiful married housekeeper, Sajani (Nandita Das). The master and his maid travel into the sacred woods to collect honeycombs, lick the nectar off each other’s skin and make illicit, waterfall-framed love.

But when two little boys from the village witness their adulterous tryst, the stage is set for tragedy. Moores has given T.K. a handgun, and it’s not long before it is fired.

Before the Rains is an Anglo-Indian Merchant-Ivory production with a difference: This time there’s an Indian filmmaker telling the story. Cinematographer-turned-director Santosh Sivan captures his home state’s exotic beauty, and portrays English and Indian characters alike as rounded, fallible human beings torn by their desires rather than virtuous locals and lustful imperialists.

The central conflict, however, feels as undernourished as Gandhi on a hunger strike. Predictably, Moores’ wife (Jennifer Ehle) returns to the ranch from a long trip to England, ratcheting up the suspense within the triangle.

It’s standard soap opera dramaturgy in wrinkled linens, loincloths and saris.

Cast: Linus Roache, Rahul Bose, Nandita Das, Jennifer Ehle, Leopold Benedict

Director: Santosh Sivan

Screenwriters: Cathy Rabin, Dan Verete

Producers: Mark Burton, Paul Hardart, Tom Hardart, Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding

A Roadside Attractions release. Violent content and a scene of sexuality. In Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Palm Beach: Shadowood, Delray.