Monsoon Wedding
review by Emma French, 1 February 2002

Mira Nairís complex, genre-bending family drama fully deserves the Golden Lion awarded it by the Venice film festival last year, and marks her richest exploration of the interaction between East and West, an exploration she began in Salaam Bombay! and Mississippi Masala. Monsoon Wedding is a bold film of rare charm, wit and compassion. Sabrina Dhawanís script pulls off the achievement of creating a romantic comedy with real substance and style, conducted in a seamless and realistic mixture of English, Hindi and Punjabi. Sentimentality is largely controlled, and on the occasions when it does threaten to overwhelm, as with the recurring motif of marigolds tumbling everywhere, it is in fact satirising the visual and emotional excesses of Bollywood cinema. The film creates a longing to be a participant in the festivities, a remarkable feat considering how often even the weddings of close friends and family can be a chore rather than a pleasure.

The run-up to the arranged marriage of the central couple, portrayed wonderfully by the radiant Aditi (Vasundhara Das) and Hemant (Parvin Dabas), is never predictable or unconvincing. A sexual abuse sub plot involving Pimmiís writer cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) and sleazy family ďUncleĒ Tej (Rajat Kapoor) is handled with confidence and sensitivity, and Shetty gives the best performance in a film marked by a generally high standard of acting. Brash and outspoken, Ria barely masks an extraordinary vulnerability. The prejudice she suffers from the older generation of women for her unmarried status is brilliantly conveyed and genuinely moving, and the last minute appearance of a potential suitor to put paid to her resolute singleness is an unexpected delight. It marks one of the many ways in which the clash between old and new cultures is successfully foregrounded without preaching or judgement.

Aditiís middle class but nevertheless financially constrained father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) is somewhat reminiscent of Steve Martinís hapless character in Father Of The Bride. He far outstrips Martinís performance, however, with a wholly plausible mixture of exasperated pride, love, ill humour and empty nest syndrome, with acting of sufficient subtlety to mask its complexity. A true ensemble piece, even supporting roles are memorable and three dimensional, from Aditiís dance-loving younger brother to the pompous but smitten local handyman PK Dubey (Vijay Raaz) and his loyal, protective employees.

Nairís hand-held camera work generally succeeds in creating a sense of intimacy and intense observation of family quirks and secrets. At times the close-ups feel too painfully close, and some shots are extended deliberately for disconcerting effect. Nairís inability to maintain the frenetic pacing of the opening and final scenes makes the middle of the film at times feel overlong. The film is regularly punctuated by shots of rain-soaked New Delhi shops and traffic which, though evocative, have the intrusive feel of a travelogue and are at odds with the primary narratives. The change of pace does however allow the two central love stories, between Aditi and Hemant and between PK Dubey and the Vermaís shy maid, to develop convincingly.  In addition, the film's reliance on a sensual explosion of images and beauty is assisted by a pace nearly as frenetic as that of Moulin Rouge. Though Moulin Rouge generally makes a superior attempt at sensory overload, the climactic final nuptials enable Nair to draw together all the intricate strands of plotting and imagery, providing an extraordinary rain-soaked outpouring of pure joy for participants and viewers alike.

Directed by:
Mira Nair

Starring:
Vasundhara Das
Parvin Dabas
Shefali Shetty
Rajat Kapoor
Naseeruddin Shah
Vijay Raaz

Written by:
Sabrina Dhawan

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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