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Originally published Friday, May 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Before the Rains": Brits behaving badly in 1930s India

The movie "Before the Rains" looks lush and benefits from a strong cast, but the story — about a selfish, married Brit (Linus Roache) who falls for his housekeeper (Nandita Das) in 1930s India — is a little too schematic. Review by John Hartl.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Before the Rains," with Linus Roache, Rahul Bose, Nandita Das. Directed by Sandosh Sivan, from a screenplay by Cathy Rabin. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for subject matter. Seven Gables.

Set in Southern India in 1937, the initially engrossing Merchant-Ivory production "Before the Rains" tells a tragically ironic tale about a shallow Brit, Moores (Linus Roache), who has an affair with a beautiful villager, Sajani (Nandita Das) — his housekeeper.

Sajani's cruel and clueless husband, who doesn't know the identity of her married lover, beats her when he finds out she's been dallying in a sacred grove. She faces worse punishment if anyone else finds out about her adultery, and for a while fleeing seems to be her only option.

The early scenes develop considerable dramatic momentum, especially whenever Moores recklessly ignores the precariousness of their position — which is most of the time. He becomes sidetracked by a plan to complete a road before the monsoon season sets in. It's bad timing, warns a banker friend (John Standing), who of course turns out to be quite prescient.

As Moores leans on his resourceful assistant, T.K. (played by the wonderful Rahul Bose), he begins to show his true colors, and the story turns into a metaphor for British-Indian relations in the mid-20th century.

It might have been more convincing if it had emphasized personalities rather than types. While the casting couldn't be much better, there are only so many ways the talented Roache can register Moores' upper-class twitness before he turns into a Monty Python doll. As Moores' suspicious wife, Jennifer Ehle is slightly more sympathetic.

Cathy Rabin's script, which is loosely based on an Israeli short film, "Red Roofs," loses something when it's forced to focus on Moores rather than Sajani or T.K. Indeed, it reaches its emotional high point when Sajani, who has convinced herself that Moores truly loves her, suddenly recognizes his selfishness and her slim chance of being rescued.

"What choice did I ever have?" she wonders.

"Before the Rains" marks the English-language debut of its director, Sandosh Sivan, a former cinematographer who also directed "The Terrorist," a more potent 1999 film about the recruitment of a female suicide bomber. While both scripts deal with women forced into desperate circumstances, "The Terrorist" did a more rigorous job.

The new film benefits immensely from lush location photography in remote locations (mostly in Sivan's home state, Kerala), and it's quite watchable. But the final scenes feel hollow and schematic.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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