Monsoon Wedding (2001) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 114 min.

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefalli Shetty, Vijay Raaz, Tilotama Shome, Vasundhara Das, Parvin Dabas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Kamini Khanna, Rajat Kapoor, Neha Dubey, Kemaya Kidwai
Director: Mira Nair
Screenplay: Sabrina Dhawan

Monsoon Wedding is an award-winning comedy that is a crowd pleaser for sure, a quality that would catapult it into becoming the highest-grossing Indian film at the time of its release.  At the core of the story, it is not much different than many other films about weddings, as we watch family squabbles, cold feet, plans gone awry, and many other clichťs that eventually lead to the inevitable happy ending for all.  Itís safe to say that much of the appeal of Monsoon Wedding over other films of this ilk comes from the Indian locale and flavor, with themes of family, national pride, and the customs and traditions not usually seen by audiences outside of the country of origin.  There is even a sense of social commentary within the framework of the film, providing some of the more serious moments, turning a breezy dessert into a substantive film about the importance of the family unit within Indian society.

The main family featured are the Vermas, who are led by Pimmi (Lillete Dubey, Kal Ho Naa Ho) and Lalit (Shah, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), parents to bride-to-be Aditi (Das, Main Hoon Na), that have spent the last several days and evenings working diligently on getting everything just so for the upcoming wedding between their daughter and the successful US resident Hemant (Dabas, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara).  It is a wedding of the oldest Indian tradition Ė an arranged marriage where the bride and groom havenít even met, which causes many doubts within Aditi, as she is not only marrying a stranger, but will also be moving to the strange environs of Houston, TX, leaving her family, country, and everything she knows behind.  Other storylines are showcased, including the lonely wedding plannerís flirtations with one of the family girls, the youngest boy coming into manhood in ways his parents donít necessarily approve of, and a shocking family secret that threatens to undo not only the wedding, but also the family and their status in the community.

With so many characters and individual storylines competing for screen time, it takes a bit of time before one begins to get to know them enough to feel familiar, but director Mira Nairís (Vanity Fair, Kama Sutra) touch is sure and subtle, allowing a natural flow to the events as if we are watching them as an invisible member of the family. Itís not always a cleanly presented film, but that is also one of the strengths, as we arenít quite sure which way the storylines will go, with a naturalistic progression that adds an extra level of drama to each scene.  By the end of the film, we know and like each member of the very colorful family, allowing for the wedding to proceed with a feeling of emotion and satisfaction that many other wedding films have difficulty capturing.  There feels like much more to the final dance at the end than just people having a good time, as things all fall into place, with all stories ending, and new ones on the verge of beginning Ė the cycle of life continues.

What is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the film, other than the nice stories and characters, is the look and sound of it.  With vibrant colors, wall-to-wall music of the traditional and modern variety, and plenty of dancing and celebrating, this film is fun to watch, as though we are peeking into a rite of passage not usually seen by outside eyes.  Mira Nair's direction impresses, showcasing a very large ensemble of characters, and making each one distinct, and in addition, providing good locale work amid the crowded streets of India itself. 

Although an Indian film, the bulk of the dialogue is divided between Hindi and English, so while the subtitles are necessary, they are minimal.  Itís not only a celebration of a marriage, but of life in general Ė the culmination of whatís really important in the evolution of any family, as milestones are realized that give meaning and accomplishment to all those within it. 
Of particular interest is the conflict between old world Indian values and the new Indian sensibilities and technology that has become so prevalent in recent years.  Although most of this conflict takes place on the small stage of a family, the themes presented are large issues in the country, as evidenced by the national debates they have on television in the movie itself. 

Sure, we've seen plenty of wedding films before, many of them with similar storylines, but Monsoon Wedding transcends the typical by being about something more.  This is about a country on the brink of a new era, becoming a global power with global interests, while also clinging desperately to the traditions that make it what it is.  Yes, even if you just take the film at face value like the other matrimonial comedies, it's cute, it's lively, it's fun.  Monsoon Wedding gives you what you seek and expect, but more -- something to think about and discuss long afterwards.

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo