Before the Rains, the
first English language film by Indian director Santosh Sivan, is a
surprisingly effective, accessible, and beautiful riff on familiar themes. Set in British-controlled 1930s India during a growing nationalist
movement, the film is about love and self-destructive ambition in the
face of a rapidly changing country.
Despite the two-cultural-groups-that-just
formula, which you can find in the "Oscar-pandering" section of your
local video store, I was surprised with how even-handedly the film was
written. I’ve always been a bit bothered by the ease at which
Hollywood films of this type may be distilled down to misunderstood-saints-clad-in
versus the incorrigibly wrong/frustrating adjacent cultural group.
Before the Rains, by contrast, does an exceptional job of humanizing
both sides. Sivan certainly injects his own ideas, but leaves
plenty of room for viewers to draw their own conclusions.
The success of the film is
rooted in its simplicity. The photography, characters,and events
fit perfectly into a concrete theme that is repeated throughout. Clocking
in at 98 minutes, it feels streamlined and well edited, sustaining a
well constructed level of tension until its satisfying conclusion.
Sivan paints a pretty picture. HIs mastery of photography is dramatically apparent from the
first image of sweeping countryside. It is one of the most visually
masterful films I’ve seen since the tragically mediocre Assassination
of Jesse James.
While it remains to be seen
how well Before the Rains will perform in the box office, it
undoubtedly represents the first trickle of a greater overlap between
Indian and American cinema. Baliwood produces far more studio
releases than Hollywood does, and they are increasingly being targeted
at international markets, particularly the English speaking world. Before the Rains isn’t flawless, but if it’s an indication of what’s
to come, I think we’re in for a real treat.
Before the Rains opens on Friday, May 16th at Landmark’s Edina Cinema.