Indian director Santosh Sivan based his new film Before The Rains, which has its world premiere as a Special Presentation in Toronto next week, on the Israeli short film Red Roofs, one of Dan Verete's Desert Trilogy (2001). But, Sivan says, it really only served as a stepping off point for his own creations.

"The film had very black and white characters - good and bad," he says. "My characters are more grey. We didn't follow it at all. India had this colonial past which I wanted to explore, and also the stories that I always used to hear how English people would come and build these roads through the forests."

And so Sivan worked with screenwriter Cathy Rubin and US producers Doug Mankoff and Andy Spaulding of Echo Lake Entertainment, and Paul and Tom Hardart of Adirondack Pictures, and his longtime Los Angeles-based partner Mark Burton to remodel the story in Kerala, 1942.

Linus Roache plays an English colonialist with ambitious plans to build a mountain road to help his spice-harvesting business, while Rahul Bose plays his faithful Indian employee. The film follows their efforts to complete the road before the rainy season and the complications that arise from the Englishman's affair with his Indian maidservant played by Nandita Das.

"I was interested in the idea of people coming from other cultures and inhabiting a place, and at the same time I wanted the Englishman to be someone you could understand, like Bill Clinton," he laughs. "The grey area comes when Rahul's character stays with the Englishman. He has the mentality of an Indian, but he wants to be an Englishman."

Sivan worked closely with his US producers to develop the script, a process which he says, "was a very good experience. They wanted to develop the story and we all bounced ideas off each other. I like the idea that they had a focus of the kind of film they wanted to make in India."

As for the stunning Kerala landscape, Sivan was keen not to dress it up it, opting to shoot on chilly hillside locations. "The place we shot in is where English people built everything and it's still left the way it was then. The foreign crew thought it was going to be hot, but it was actually very cool up there where tea and spices can grow. That's how the English colonialists liked it."

Sivan, whose credits include the highly regarded The Terrorist (1999) and Asoka (2001), is also an accomplished director of photography. In addition to shooting his own films, his credits include Bride And Prejudice and The Mistress Of Spices.

"I think Linus (Roache) was a little nervous about me doing both things, but he was very happy with it in the end," says Sivan. "We had Indians, English and Americans on the film and there was no hierarchy. We all just wanted to make a nice film."

- Toronto buzz, p18-21.