Set in Colonial India, director-cinematographer Santosh Sivan's lushly photographed melodrama intertwines one man's moral awakening and a nation's political upheavals.
1937, Kerala: English plantation owner Henry Moores (Linus Roache) sees his future in the spice trade, but his plans hinge on the construction of a privately-financed road that will speed his product to market. Moores relies heavily on T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose), who's both a skilled surveyor and Moores' liaison to the local community – a role T.K. is proud to play. Though anti-British sentiment is on the rise, fanned by the growing Indian Nationalist movement, T.K. believes that India's future is an international one and that his friendship with Moores is a model for East-West harmony. Doesn't Moores trust him so completely that he just made him the gift of a gun? That Moores' isn't the man T.K. imagines soon becomes clear. When his wife, Laura (Jennifer Ehle), returns from an extended trip to England with their small son, Moores cruelly ends his affair with housekeeper Sajani (Nandita Das), who risked her reputation and her suspicious husband's wrath to be with him. Humiliated and heartbroken, Sajani presents Moores with a desperate ultimatum, and his cowardly response enmeshes T.K. in a cover up that has profound repercussions for all of them.
A resolutely old fashioned story of personal tribulations played out against a backdrop of political turmoil, Sivan's film is well acted, beautifully photographed and oddly reassuring. It comes perilously close to suggesting that the injustices of colonial rule were the product of morally weak and misguided individuals rather than a system that empowered and enriched foreign interests at the expense of locals. Though based on an original screenplay by Cathy Rabin, it feels like a handsomely mounted literary adaptation – A PASSAGE TO INDIA comes immediately to mind, though the plot bears a strong resemblance to the "Red Roofs" segment of Israeli filmmaker Danny Verete's Yellow Asphalt: Three Desert Stories (2000) – whose subtleties got lost in translation. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh