Hindi, Punjabi, and English language. India/USA/France/Italy, 2002. Rated R. 114 minutes.
Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz, Tilotama
Shome, Vasundhara Das, Parvin Dabas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Kamini Khanna,
Rajat Kapoor, Neha Dubey, Kemaya Kidwai , Ishaan Nair, Randeep Hooda
|Grade: B+||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
art of the sorcery of movies is their ability to transport you to a place you've never been. Even more magical is if, when you're done marvelling at the unfamiliar land and culture, you discover that the people inhabiting this strange world are not that different from you. Love, anger, hate, pain, guilt, longing, and loss--these basic human emotions have no cultural limitations. The humanity pulsing beneath the trappings and traditions of any society is common to us all.
With Monsoon Wedding, director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala) returns once again to her homeland. If you're as unfamiliar with modern India as I am, then the education in Punjabi culture alone should be a treat. Modern India is a bewildering mix of the age-old and the contemporary. Cell phones appear in the middle of traditional courtship rites and preparations. Third world power outages plague modern homes. Characters don jeans in one scene and ancient garb the next. Panelists debate the corrupting influence of Western entertainment on a modern talk show. Families send their children off to college in Australia and America and then complain that they aren't "Indian" enough when they return. Virtually everyone uses English interchangeably with Hindi or Punjabi. None of this is bewildering to the Indians themselves, who don't seem even to notice the apparent contradictions. The contradictions, however, find ways of making themselves noticed, creating tensions over the course of the film that require difficult choices by some of the characters.
Set during the rainy season in Delhi, Monsoon Wedding is a romantic comedy/drama that unfolds during the three days that elapse between a traditionally arranged engagement and planned wedding of two young people who have never met, Aditi Verma (Vasandhara Das, an Indian recording artist) and Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas). Concentrating two vast families in a confined space, the celebration causes an explosion of subplots, some comedic and romantic and some decidedly not.
To get to the point at which the movie begins, Aditi and Hemant have agreed to allow their parents to choose their lifelong mates. The anomaly is that there's seemingly nothing traditional about either one of these young people. Aditi is getting over an affair with her married and somewhat smarmy ex-boss, a TV talk show host. Hemant is an engineer who lives in Houston, Texas. The Western mind wonders, why would these two agree to an arranged marriage? Heck, why would anyone agree to an arranged marriage nowadays?
Nair and writer Sabrina Dhawan never spell out an explanation, but the bitter taste of the affair may have something to do with Aditi's motives. As for Hemant, he doesn't think there's any substantive difference between meeting in a bar and being introduced by one's parents. He means that any marriage is an act of faith. The foundation of a successful marriage lies in the kind of trust, communication, and intimacy that takes years to build. Any marriage is a risk, and even if it is born out of romantic passion, the partners can never be certain that their foundations are solid enough to build a lifelong union.
Is he right? Aditi's parents, Lalit (the great Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), are an illustrative example. A product of an arranged wedding themselves, they seem to be a typical married couple--but is that a good thing or a bad thing? They seem distant, and they argue about their young son Varun (Ishaan Nair), whom Lalit sees as too soft and wants to send to boarding school. We don't get a sense of their marriage's health until the end of the film.
The bride herself is having second thoughts. Sensing Aditi's apprehension, her unconventional cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) begins to stir up trouble. Meanwhile, alongside the arranged wedding proceedings more modern romantic liaisons develop. Another cousin, sultry young Ayesha (Neha Dubey), sets her eyes on Rahul (Randeep Hooda), a college student home from Sydney. The abrasive, talkative tent/catering/decorations contractor, P.K. Dube (Vijay Raaz) is suddenly smitten with the Verma family maid, quiet Alice (Tolatama Shome).
Even when exploring difficult areas, Nair keeps the tone light and lively. With her premise, she has given herself a great deal of room to explore her own culture and the full palette of human relationships. One can argue that the presentation of some of the conflicts and unions is a little facile, particularly given the short three-day time frame.
With overwhelming beauty and charm (not to mention great music), Monsoon Wedding gets you not to care about any of that. Even the most improbable storyline, P.K. and Alice's courtship, is delightfully rendered, with a picture-perfect ending that will resonate for lovers of romance for a long time. Explaining that she wanted to make a movie about a complex, thriving society free of "colonial complexes," Nair has characterized Monsoon Wedding as an attempt to invoke Bollywood (Indian film) conventions in order to capture the masti (the intoxicating zest for life) of modern India. Without knowing India first-hand it's hard to say for certain, but it sure seems like she has succeeded.
© February 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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