“You have to be really careful with these independent films—they’re fragile,” remarked Doug Mankoff, the President of Echo Lake Entertainment, who was in Dallas for a screening of his new picture, “Before the Rains,” at the AFI Film Festival. Shot in India by director Santosh Sivan (“The Terrorist”), the story, set in 1937, stars Linus Roache as an ambitious British spice dealer whose expansion plans are derailed by an adulterous affair with his housekeeper that points up the growing tension between occupiers and locals when it ends tragically.
This project was particularly difficult to get off the ground, Mankoff—whose company was responsible for such previous films as “Water,” “Tsotsi” and “Away from Her”—because of plans to use an almost completely Indian crew chosen by Sivan. “No bond company would bond this film,” Mankoff said. “It was risky. This was somewhat of an experiment—Santosh’s first film in English. For investors there was a risk in doing this in this new way, not bringing people over and relying on them. Only our sound man was not from India—he was from the UK. Everybody else was from the region in India where we shot. Our job was to be nervous…we’d never had a line producer who didn’t wear pants and didn’t speak English.
“But ultimately it worked out terrific. We had a forty-day shooting schedule, and we finished in thirty-four days. We were very efficient in the amount of footage we shot. Santosh had a very precise idea of how things would look. He’s extraordinary. It’s like he’s playing chess in three dimensions, and he’s always many steps ahead—what angles he’s going to cover a scene from. And they’re always angles that you’d never considered. But he’s got a plan—he’s got a grand master plan. Or it’s inspiration and happening in the moment, but he makes it seem like it’s planned. And in fact our final edit didn’t look much different from our initial edit, the rough edit. That shows he really had a very good idea of how it was all going to flow together.”
Roache, who accompanied Mankoff to the festival (and appeared in one of his previous productions, “Twelve and Holding”), and who’s one of the new stars of the long-running “Law and Order” series (taking over Sam Waterston’s Assistant D.A. role), had spent time in India before, and admitted that returning was one of the attractions of the shoot.
“Yes, it was an attraction to go to India,” Roache said. “The opportunity to spend six weeks out there, it was a no-brainer.
“But having said that, it really was the project that got me, not India,” he continued. “That was a nice add-on, but it was first this story, and putting that together with the creativity of a person like Santosh.” He compared the project to one of his favorite playwrights: “Chekhov will take a domestic story, and it will actually turn out to be a universal metaphor. This film worked the same way.”
Roache admitted that he initially had some difficulty with “experimental” nature of the shoot and fact that Sivan acts not only as his own director of photography, but as cameraman as well. But he said that soon changed.
“The beginning part of it looked like it was going to be a nightmare, because it was literally two different styles of filmmaking clashing together,” he said. “At the beginning, I remember the first scene we shot, I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ But something happened—for me it synergized the first three days. Something just kind of took over where we surrendered to a different way of working and went with Santosh’s visionary, creative, intuitive impulse. We came together in a way that there was a sort of mutual trust and understanding about how to play the character—there was a kind of marriage there.
“And from that point on, to be honest, it was literally the most joyful filmmaking experience I’ve ever had. And I’ve had quite a few good ones.”