Monsoon Wedding follows the events in the large Verma family of Delhi, as their daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das) prepares to marry Hemant (Parvin Dabas), a computer programmer from Houston, Texas. He is an “NRI”, who has returned to meet the bride selected by his parents for an arranged marriage. Aditi has agreed to the arranged marriage partly out of impatience. The film, among many things, is about the mixture of ancient and modern elements that holds the Verma family in their thrall.
Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah
) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey
) as the couple are truly fabulous in their respective roles, with their nuances. There’s also an excellent performance by Vijay Raaz
, who plays the role of a wedding planner. Kulbhushan Kharbanda
, Rajat Kapoor
, Shefali Shah
are the supporting actors, among many. Lalit is a common man, suffering both emotionally and financially, but somehow hiding it all under the notion of the ‘ideal’ task a father in the society has to fulfil. The former one, is reinforced expertly in a scene where he looks at her daughter sleeping, a night before the big day. Naseeruddin Shah handles these moments with a sensitive touch. The latter, is shown when he goes to borrow money from his golfing pals to keep up appearances. Towards the end, Lalit places loyalty to family above everything, breaking with the tradition to do “the right thing” in a painful situation.
The inspiration from Altman films here is evident, but Mira remains true to her own vision. It was Sooraj Barjatya’s 1994 film Hum Aapke Hain Koun that had opened the floodgates for similar films in India. Mira borrows from multiple films, both national and foreign, but creates something that belongs exuberantly to her. She remains truly faithful at capturing the magic and seeping beauty of an Indian wedding. Watching “Monsoon Wedding” 20 years later, it almost becomes impossible not to think of any possible influence it might’ve had on any Zoya Akhtar film.
Like most films dealing with a similar subject, there are of course side plots of romance brewing. Aditi’s cousin Ayesha (Neha Dubey) is attracted to Rahul (Randeep Hooda), a visitor from Australia with an accent. The scenes between them feel intimate, with the camera emphasizing their bodies and the gazes they exchange. Meanwhile in the servants’ quarters, Dube has been thunderstruck by the beauty of the Verma’s family maid, Alice (Tilotama Shome). In a scene, Dube falls to his knees before a heart made of marigolds, in a hopeless gesture of adoration before Alice. The scenes involving them consist of static shots, with the characters rarely exchanging dialogue. This plot is given equal importance, which goes to show Nair’s eye for detail and her understanding of what the country truly cherishes (or should, for that matter).
Mira also doesn’t shy away from the internal patriarchy and misogyny that brews behind the closed doors. There’s authenticity in her portrayal of issues that at times go unnoticed behind the facade of culture and family traditions. An intrigue of a darker sort is gradually built up, as Aditi’s cousin, played outstandingly by Shefali Shah, observes a family friend who once assaulted her and now may have his eye on a young relative. In this regard, the film feels way ahead of its time in showcasing essential themes. Sabrina Dhawan’s script adroitly captures how young trauma grows old with you.
The title of the film isn’t random, it plays into the overall narrative and ends with some of the most joyous visuals I’ve ever watched in an Indian film. The film is soaked in melancholia, with Declan Quinn’s cinematography beautifully rendering the exuberant settings of a family wedding. The small notes and moments throughout the film have a singular mood, but build up into something that combines to form a larger, more spastic piece. The clash of peacock calls and cell-phone ringtones are cleverly edited together, as we sense a communion of multiple ethnic cultures colliding.
A radical shift in tone from her previous work, Monsoon Wedding more than anything, captures the existential anxiety and familial fallout of the Verma family. It’s about a disconnected generation dealing with the pain of their elders. At a point, a relative, aware of the current boom in English-language bestsellers in India, tells a character who aspires on studying creative writing abroad, “Lots of money in writing”, even supposedly referencing to Arundhati Roy’s Booker price win. The impression of cosmopolitan modern India is so well realized here, that by the end you’ll be left with a newly-found sense of togetherness.
The film won the Golden Lion in 2001 – the prize for the best film at the Venice International Film Festival. Roger Ebert in his review said “Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding is one of those joyous films that leaps over national boundaries and celebrates universal human nature. It’s 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.”
Ultimately, Monsoon Wedding successfully captures the nuances and impression of cosmopolitan modern India, through its depiction of the Big Fat Indian Wedding. It remains one of the most exuberant Indian films and one that truly feels timeless in its nature.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.