Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding blends wonderful Indian tradition into a modern story of family, love, and the test of values. It introduces cultural backgrounds into familiar stories, dark pasts, and then back to festive engagement. Much like the bride-to-be Aditi (Vasundhara Das) we too are exploring our desire for love in the film.
Her arranged marriage to Indian-born Hemant (Parvin Dabas) would see her off to America, where he specializes in computer programming. Raised in a family rooted by heritage, she lovingly accepts this faith, but with some reservation at first. Nair’s film uncovers more as Aditi’s story is only the first of many we get to experience.
Nair refers to her film as a meditation, or “intoxication of life,” mending together life’s joys as well as its hidden tragedies. When we first see Aditi, she patiently awaits to see her lover, beginning to tire of him and all that he promised her. As aware as she is, her honesty with love is a little complicated as she’s still actively hung up on this ex, a married television producer who quickly reveals his own blatant selfishness. “I just want to settle down,” she tells her cousin, Ria (Shefali Shah) in the car.
Her impatience waiting for the exhausted ‘what if’ has Aditi in limbo with thoughts. Maybe she’ll give the marriage a shot. Ria is obviously concerned. This is when Aditi tells her that her status as a woman who’s capped off the desired age to marry leaves her with no sympathies to her position. And so the Verma family prepare to host the visiting groom and his family, while those in and around them start to discover the complexities, pains, and joys of affection.
Set in a Dehli pre-major globalization, the culture and colors of India’s landscape seep into the story, weaving in Hindi songs, civilian street life, and an abundance of marigolds! With festive songs and the representation through dance and art, the film’s personality just jumps out of the screen.
Nair’s direction and artistic choices cultivate to celebrate big scale family aspirations among the unconventional and how these things are told through the cinematic lens. With huge help from a predominantly Dehli born cast of actors, Monsoon Wedding is as authentic as they come.
In Aditi’s story we come to learn that her strong will as an Indian woman who wants to just settle down is portrayed more graciously than one would think. Nair allows each character to step outside of their conforming roles. The story never exclusively faults Aditi for seeking out unrequited love; it invites her to be honest with herself and Hemant, sparking a surprising connection between the two.
More than surface level attraction and pleasantries, they begin to enjoy each other’s energy. It begins to celebrate their age-old customs of marriage and yet incorporating the winds of modern curveballs. Culture and modern India are very much under the scope, but reflected so lovingly.
There’s more story to bask in as Nair introduces a handful of relationships, all set along their own sense of gloom and wonder. As wedding preparations are underway, Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey) scramble around through the costs of their daughter’s wedding as well as the cost of aging as a couple.
As the father of an Indian household, Lalit is seen as the glue of the family; even as the father figure to his niece Ria since her father’s death. We see him deal with the bickerings of his son’s theater influenced aspirations, the hectic spendings with the wedding planner, P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), and how this all affects him and Pimmi.
Even with a marriage to celebrate, Monsoon Wedding dares to tell more about its nuanced family life. There’s a storyline in particular that falls so close to the family, that it’s almost too dark for the mood. But then again, with the way it’s dealt with those previous unconventional angles, this searing subplot is a reality check that sometimes truths need to be dealt with and extinguished, even in families that hold male figures to honorable standards.
It plays out to the film’s advantage, adding a thrill to the already wildly entertaining narrative. In contrast to the celebrations, this bares a striking pain on the ways families deal with their own history. It demonstrates the values a family holds dear and challenges the status quo of turning a blind eye to things such as abuse. These things still happen in life, and Mira Nair isn’t afraid to translate its wounding effects.
Monsoon Wedding is a film crafted in its layers, and relies on the different emotions you’ll feel as you walk through the lives of the Verma family and those around them. It’s joyful, heartbreaking, hilarious, festive, enchanting, and alive. It’s extravagantly grounded as a well made Bollywood film of its year. Still so relevant, it holds a special place in the Indian canon, but more than that, it’s an easily accessible film for just about anyone.
Nair is an intuitive and thoughtful filmmaker, using the bountiful ideas of family and culture to make us feel more connected with our own lives. Monsoon Wedding has all the creative ingredients – gorgeous cinematography, fleshed out characters, beautiful cultural representation, and the balancing act of giving all of these tremendous care.