Before the Rains

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NEW YORK -- The sort of steamy tropical melodrama that Hollywood used to produce with regularity, "Before the Rains" depicts the tragic repercussions of an adulterous affair between an upscale British colonialist and his housemaid in 1930s India. Lacking the emotional power necessary to fuel its contrived plot elements, the film is a minor entry in the Merchant Ivory canon.

Recently showcased at Tribeca, it isn't likely to achieve much art house traction when it's released May 9.

Set in Kerala in southern India, the story centers on Henry Moores (Linus Roache), a spice baron who desperately needs to build a major road in order to expand his trade. Even while pursuing his goals, he's engaged in a steamy affair with his married housemaid, Sajani (Nandita Das), which must be put on the back burner when his wife (Jennifer Ehle) returns from England to join him.

Despite their subterfuge, the couple's affair is detected by Sajani's husband (Lal Paul), who beats her in an effort to confirm the truth. This sets off a tragic series of events that overtake not just Moores but also his right-hand man, T.K. (Rahul Bose), who is torn between loyalty to his boss and his own moral convictions.

Screenwriter Cathy Rabin's story line is dramatic enough, but it's handled by director Santosh Sivan in a muted if tasteful fashion that proves uninvolving.

The film's chief asset is its superbly atmospheric evocation of its period milieu.

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