Monsoon Wedding



India/US 2001
director : Mira Nair
script : Sabrina Dhawan
producers include : Nair
cinematography : Declan Quinn
editing : Allyson C Johnson
music : Mychael Danna
lead actors : Vasundhara Das, Parvin Dabas, Naseeruddin Shah, Vijay Raaz
114 minutes

Marriage preparations are hardly the most innovative starting-point for a movie, but Monsoon Wedding makes up in energy and humour what it lacks in originality.

It’s an Altman-style ensemble piece, and we’re rapidly introduced to various relatives congregating in New Delhi for the arranged marriage of local girl Aditi Verma (Das) and Texas-based Hemant Rai (Das). Aditi’s wealthy parents Lalit (Shah) and Pimmi (Dubey) entrust the practicalities to tetchy wedding-veteran Dubey (Raaz), who, in his rare quiet moments between building the ceremony’s elaborate tent, embarks on a tentative romance with demure serving-girl Alice (Tilotama Shome).

While Dubey is an engagingly abrasive character – alarmingly intense, forever fretting over details (his catchphrase is “exactly and approximately”), and surprisingly romantic – these are otherwise familiar types of characters, but written, acted and directed with enough skill and sympathy to make their intertwining tales hold interest. And the film’s wider concerns are nimbly integrated – Nair and scriptwriter Dhawan ambitiously use the wedding to examine the psyche of the Indian nation (and of its wide-ranging diaspora) at a transitional point in history.This is an India that’s very consciously “going global,” flexing its economic, cultural – and cinematic – muscles while retaining its bewildering traditional identity: Nair intersperses her narrative with shots of the New Delhi streets, stuck in a state of permanent rush hour.

Likewise, there can be few movies which are so breezily bilingual, India’s colonial past and present enabling young and old to start sentences in Punjabi and finish in English, or vice versa. The final reel’s incest revelation, however, tips things a little too much towards melodrama – and invites unfavourable comparison with Thomas Vinterberg’s superficially similar Festen. Monsoon Wedding isn’t near that masterpiece league – but by the end, you feel as though you know these people, that you’re with them, under that amazing tent.

15th October, 2001
(seen Oct-5-01, UGC Parrs Wood, Manchester)

by Neil Young
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