Archive for Thursday, July 10, 2008

Film raises questions on culture

July 10, 2008

"Before the Rains," a Merchant Ivory film directed by Santosh Sivan, an Indian director making his first appearance in an English-speaking film, is set in the l930s where a British grower goes to India to build a road and ends up having an affair with a local woman.

The film is replete with double meaning; the implications hard to ignore. It is a reminder of the harsh realities of how one culture can taint the social structure of another and how one man, determined to prevail at the expense of his family, friends and lover, can set in motion the destruction of not only those who love him, but ultimately himself.

The story about one man's folly of thinking he could simply walk into the lives of others, without forethought of the cost that his actions may bring. Those consequences begin to unfold and shift the burden to someone else.

The British grower, like the British government, assumed erroneously that the people of India welcomed them with their lifestyles, culture and superior ways; only to discover Indian resentment, rejection and ultimately expulsion from the country. The need to be self governed lies deep within the human psyche.

The British bank's loan to the grower is contingent upon a road's completion before the monsoons and rains come and wash the road away. Days shy of completing the road, his lover shoots herself in the heart, his Indian guide and friend is accused of her murder and his wife and son arrive to live with him in India. His wife suspects, as most wives do, that something is amiss and her husband is somehow involved.

The unraveling of lives begun in one man's unleashed desire and continues like a ball rolling down a steep grade, knocking over anyone in his path. All with whom he has come in contact suffers immensely; no one gets out unscathed. No one.

When the monsoons come, the unfinished road, like the unfinished life, is washed away. What is not washed away is the taint that one man and his culture left on the cheek of another; a pebble dropped into a pool, emanating outward in widening circles until it reaches a far distant shore, upon which stands the innocent.

Merchant Ivory is an excellent filmmaker (Howard's End; Remains of the Day) and Santosh Sivan is a director with promise. It is the one who views such a film for whom the challenge lies. The questions remain: What will we do with the cultures with whom we come in contact, where we build roads, dig wells and build fortresses? When the rains come, will what we have built be sustained or will our destruction be greater than our contribution?

And what of the innocent?


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