Director: Mira Nair
Writer(s): Sabrina Dhawan
“Monsoon Wedding” is a film where the expression, “Bollywood meets Hollywood,” is very suitable. Mira Nair, like some other modern Indian filmmakers, aims to bring a fresh look to Bollywood production, where we usually see an “artificial, heightened type of reality.” (Source: YouTube) In this movie, the director tackles something very traditional and dear to Indian culture, and ubiquitous in Indian film – a wedding. She successfully manages to merge a complex script, dramatic events, the beauty and darkness of human nature, tradition and modernity into one, eye-pleasing, smooth, two-hour movie.
The whole story happens during three days of a Punjabi Hindu wedding ceremony. The main characters are from an upper-middle class Verma family: father Lalit, mother Pimmi, and bride-to-be Aditi. A wedding is an expensive event, especially if one wants to make a good impression, so Lalit is constantly stressed out about it. The wedding organizer is self-styled businessman, P. K. Dubey, and his team of men. He seems very sleazy and unreliable at first, but he has his own charming subplot woven into the main story. Early in the story, we learn that Aditi’s heart is not much into this arranged marriage. She is still thinking about her lover, a TV show host, whose promises to leave his wife she no longer believes. Broken-hearted, she chooses to wed a complete stranger chosen by parents – Hermant, an Indian computer programmer who lives in Texas. Only her unwed cousin, Ria, knows about it and she encourages her to follow her heart rather than tradition, asking:
For all this talk off passion, how about marrying for love, didi?
The extended family gathers from all around the world to attend the wedding. Amidst beautiful traditions and a heart-warming reunion, we also discover the dark secrets of the family. One of these is the fact that Ria was mistreated by one of the very revered uncles as a child. Meanwhile, Aditi breaks down and tells her fiancée the entire truth, knowing she is risking that the wedding will be called off. Lalit and Pimmi, who seem to have pretty lukewarm marital feelings towards each other, bond stronger through the difficulties that this preparation for marriage has taken them through. We also see the soft side of P. K. Dubey, and his fairytale-like love for a maid from the Verma home, Alice.
Watching “Monsoon Wedding” feels like being invited into a home. It is so light, sincere, heartwarming and very human. At times, it feels like any family gathering you might experience, but it also has all the beautiful traditions, colorful clothing and decorations, and of course, song and dance. It feels somewhat relatable, but at the same time curiously different. The narrative plays out more in a Western style, and even during the song and dance sequences the actors do not go “out of character.” They are elegantly and logically woven into the sequence of the film. And soundtrack is truly amazing and supports the narrative very well. This makes the film easy to watch for everyone, fans of Bollywood or not. To quote Roger Ebert:
People cheerfully attend assembly-line junk, but are wary of movies that might give them new experiences or take them new places. ‘Monsoon Wedding’, which won the Golden Lion as the best film at Venice 2001, is the kind of film where you meet characters you have never been within 10,000 miles of, and feel like you know them at once. (Source: Roger Ebert)
As previously mentioned, the most charming subplot for me was the love story between P. K. Dubey and Alice. It starts from shattering glass and falling marigolds, the traditional flower in a Hindu wedding. We get to see Dubey’s humble home, and his care for his mother. He really is a sweet character, but at first it is well hidden behind cheap suits, cellphones and “ business talk.” The small wedding they have as lower class citizens is overshadowed by the extravagance of the Verma family’s. However, the romantic and pure aspect of it strikes a chord with all viewers. It emphasizes that the true meaning of a marriage bond is not in fancy decorations, but in honest love and people’s eagerness to work and fight for it.
The movie skillfully portrays a full palette of modern Indian life. In it, we see extended family gather from different parts of the world, modern family characters marry in arranged marriage, and Dubey and Alice marry for love. Cellphones (the year 2001 version of them) are ubiquitous during the wedding traditions, interrupting beautiful songs about the daughter’s leaving of her home. Internet is there too, and even the maid, Alice (who by the way has English name), knows about e-mail to Dubey’s surprise. Dubey’s mother trades stocks in her small Dubai apartment, while the modern Verma home is stricken by power outage. These details are throughout the film, and give a much truer view of the complexity in India today.
In the beginning of the film, we see a clip from a TV show where people are discussing the necessity of censorship. How much Western influence should India embrace, and what is the role of government in this? These are both legitimate questions for every culture going though globalization. Mira Nair gives a more human face to it – culture is about people, and it is as complex as people are. Artificial means of censoring and controlling culture in order to “preserve” it are fake and rather futile. “Monsoon Wedding” celebrates the continuity of tradition while also embracing the changing culture, and it does it through a very elegant and engaging cinematic experience.