|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 24 September 2002|
Mira Nair directed both "Salaam Bombay" and "Mississippi Masada," but has returned to her Punjabi roots in India. This warm-hearted, involving movie, written by Sabrina Dhawan, is a feast for the senses. It's an almost surreal blend of the exotic and the familiar, but anyone, anywhere will find much to identify with in the characters. In her commentary track, Nair says that the image of Punjabis is of excitable, warm-hearted, life-loving people who work hard and party hearty. Punjab is a region in the northwest part of India, and has its own language, though judging from the film, most also speak Hindi like most of the rest of India, and some English as well. The Indian languages here are subtitled.
We're plunged headlong into a barely controlled maelstrom of the Verma family's preparations in modern Delhi for the arranged wedding of daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das) to Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas). In India, marriages arranged since childhood are not common, but Aditi is not too sure she wants to marry Hemant and return with him to Texas, where he works as a computer programmer. In fact, Aditi has a married lover, the host of a TV talk show, whom she expects/hopes will soon leave his wife.
Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah), her father, is here, there and everywhere as he tries to supervise the arranges for this lavish wedding, being held in the Verma home. He keeps fretting over P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), the eager-to-please wedding planner, who in turn is frustrated by his good-natured staff, busy erecting a very tall tent in the front yard. Lalit is also frustrated by his relative Rahal (Randeep Hooda), a pleasant young man who came from his home in Australia for the wedding. Pleasant or not, Lalit keeps calling him an idiot. Lalit and, to a lesser degree Pimmi, are worried about their teenage son Varun (Ishaan Nair, the director's nephew), a happy, pudgy teenager his parents may be just a little too interested in makeup and cooking.
The rich Tej Puri (Rajat Kapoor) arrives, smiling shyly and generously offering to pay college tuitions. But Aditi's cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) is evidently concerned about Tej's presence.
There are many other story threads woven through the film, mostly involving love, some involving a darker emotion. It's not easy to keep your bearings at first in such a sea of color, language, movement and plot. You probably won't get all the names straight, even by the end of the film -- but it simply doesn't matter. Weddings are like this, of course, as we were shown some years ago by Robert Altman, and again in 2002 by "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (to which "Monsoon Wedding" has some coincidental resemblances). Go with the flow; you're in good hands here,
As relatives and friends flow into the Verma home over the next few days, the level of controlled confusion rises. Nair includes lots of music and people occasionally bursting into dance, but "Monsoon Wedding," even by the looser standards of "Bollywood," is no musical; the songs and dances are all spontaneous and natural.
P.K. Dubey is a skinny guy with a lot of teeth, and he abruptly falls helplessly in love with the shy Verma maid, Alice (Tilotama Shome), who doesn't quite know what to make of him. His adoration is treated with a good deal of humor, but when he presents Alice with a floral hear he has made of the traditional Indian wedding flower, marigolds, it's deeply moving as well as still quietly funny.
The striking, very colorful photography is by Declan Quinn, who shot the film on 16mm, probably for budgetary reasons as well as mobility, for the camerawork is very fluid. Quinn clearly worked closely with production designer Stephanie Carol, whose work is lively and very colorful. Composer Mychael Danna uses both Indian and western instruments in his lush score; the on-screen songs and dances seem more a part of the score than they usually do even in musicals themselves.
It isn't overburdened with extras; there's a pleasant making-of documentary, much like those for American-made films (and everyone interviewed speaks English). Mira Nair provides an intelligent commentary track that emphasizes the actors, some of whom had little or no acting experience, though you certainly can't tell that from the movie itself.
The disc gives you the option of Dolby digital 5.1 surround and DTS 5.1 surround; there seems to be little difference, though those with high-end home theater sound systems probably will be able to discern them. The movie was made on a short schedule and a budget that wasn't high, but you can't tell that from the smooth, efficient technical elements.
There must be two dozen or more speaking parts as well as half a dozen different story threads, but Nair is very professional in how while depicting chaos, she doesn't allow the film itself to become chaotic. It's light and graceful, and exhibits such fondness for these people and their lives that it's consistently moving and amusing. Most Americans have never seen a movie set in present-day India; this DVD is an ideal way to investigate the busiest movie industry in the world.