Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Santosh Sivan
Starring: Linus Roache, Nandita Das, Rahul Bose, Jennifer Ehle
(PG-13, 98 min.)
"We are not punished for our sins, but by them." Elbert Hubbard
Charged with that oppressive atmosphere that is only released with a torrential downpour, this period piece is awash in seething tensions and passions. Set in Colonial India of the1930s, the ostensible focus is the torrid and doubly adulterous love affair between a British spice master and his Indian servant girl, but its real beauty is how it affects his second in command, Indian born but British educated.
By its title alone this film offers the promise of a refreshing downpour in a summer desert of mostly unoriginal entertainment. As usual Hollywood is hedging its bets on third installment sequels and comic book scripts.
If you are the type, as is our local reviewer, who sees “Merchant Ivory Productions as the go-to-gang for drowsy period stories that feel like they ought to include an intermission for tea midway through,” then get your fill of comic book mayhem and regurgitated reruns at the metroplex and avoid this nuanced film.
You remember Merchant Ivory Productions. They’re the ones who gave us such trivial pieces as Room with a View, Howard’s End, and Remains of the Day, two of them starring Anthony Hopkins before he realized there was more money is portraying the witty cannibal Hannibal Lector.
Before the Rains director Santosh Sivan is able to distill the percolating tensions of the deteriorating Anglo/Indian relationship into those between its characters. All this is set in the verdant greens of the state of Kerala, where lush jungles are overlooked by austere mountains as ubiquitous and aloof as the British overlords themselves.
The affair itself and its inevitable tragic repercussions are perhaps symbolic of the tortured and sometimes symbiotic imperial reign of Britain over India. Sajani (Nandita Das). a product of village life locked in a loveless prearranged marriage, is smitten by the glamour and romantic promises of plantation owner Henry Mores (Linus Roache) in perhaps the same way that India has fallen for the influx of modernity, cash, and dreams readily supplied by its British patron. Like his country, though, Mores’ passion and promises are largely self-serving, and self-sacrifice has no place in his plans. In fact, like Britain itself, his plans focus on things rather than people. Mores’ real concern is the road he is building, an avenue as torturous as the Anglo/Indian partnership, the snakelike swath through the mountains a necessity to avoid being washed out by the rains that yearly inundate the region.
T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose) is the brains behind the bend in the road, his local knowledge augmented by British style schooling, and his loyalty to Mores is steadfast, perhaps a bit too much so. Few actors possess such an expressive face, eyes like the sea that predict sudden storms and turbulent waters. It is his face and not his words that so eloquently show the turmoil T.K. feels as Mores draws him into the squalid outcroppings of his affair with Sajani.
Laura (Jennifer Ehle), Mores’ wife, is a counterpoint in the psychodrama. How easy to portray her as a snob or straight laced latter day Victorian, simultaneously echoing the exploitive nature of the British rule mirrored in her husband while explaining his infidelity as well. Instead she is beautiful, caring, and more than anxious to be his bedfellow. And for all his lavish protestations of love for Sajani, Laura’s concern over her servant’s welfare is greater than her husband’s.
The final perfection of the film is its ending, a thing that so many recent films seem to mangle. After testing the waters of melodrama earlier, the film returns to the natural rhythms of life. It is not blood and vengeance that answer betrayal, but the cold and lonely echoes of guilt and regret. A fine film not to be missed if you have either intelligence or taste.
He has an English style education, drives their Land Rovers, and welcomes the cut of their clothes, but when T.K. goes back to the village, he eats in the traditional Indian way. Seated on the floor, using his hand to eat his mother’s cooked rice served up on a banana skin, he is a once at ease. Only when he returns to the spice plantation with its overwrought passions does the turmoil begin again.
Let’s forget all that and sit down with T.K. and his parents for this delightful dish, the pungency of the spices balanced by the coolness of the juice of not one, not two, but three large limes. Just the thing for these hot and arid days, don’t you think?
Indian Lime Rice
- Cooked rice- 4 cup
- Onion- 1 chopped
- Red chilies- 4 or green chilies- 2 (chopped)
- Oil- 3 4 tablespoons
- Mustard seeds- 1 tsp
- Urad dhal- 1 tsp
- Channa dhal (Bengal gram)- 1 tsp
- Ground nuts (peanuts)- 3 tablespoons
- Turmeric powder- 1/2 tsp
- Juice from 3 big limes or lemons
- Chopped cilantro (coriander)
Heat oil in a large pan. Add mustard seeds. When it starts to pop, add urad dhal, channa dhal & peanuts. Fry for few minutes until they get roasted. Then add onions & chilies and fry until the onions are soft. Add turmeric powder & salt and fry until the smell of turmeric vanishes. Turn off the heat and add cooked rice & cashew nuts and pour the lime juice & mix well until the rice is evenly coated.
Recipe Source: Vidhya’s Home Page