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Monsoon Wedding
Director: Mira Nair
Screenplay: Sabrina Dhawan
Stars: Naseeruddin Shah (Lalit Verma), Lillete Dubey (Pimmi Verma), Shefali Shetty (Ria Verma), Vijay Raaz (P.K.Dubey), Tilotama Shome (Alice), Vasundhara Das (Aditi Verma), Parvin Dabas (Hemant Rai), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (C.L.Chadha), Kamini Khanna (Shashi Chadha), Rajat Kapoor (Tej Puri), Sameer Arya (Vikram Mehta)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2001
Country: India / U.S. / France / Italy
Monsoon Wedding Criterion Collection DVD
Monsoon Wedding For anyone who has ever seen a Hollywood movie about an impending wedding, there won’t be a great deal of surprise in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding except for the fact that it takes place in Delhi and the dialogue is spoken in a breathless mixture of English and Hindi and Punjabi, with the three languages often merging together into their own unique discourse. Yet, despite its almost rote narrative, penned by Sabrina Dhawan (who studied under Nair at Columbia University), the film is so alive and colorful (both literally and metaphorically) that it’s easy to overlook its formulaic nature and find yourself engulfed in its incessant energy.

The wedding that is about to take place is between Aditi (Indian pop star Vasundhara Das) and Hemant (Parvin Dabas). As is the custom, it is an arranged marriage. Aditi lives with her upper-middle-class family in Delhi, while Hemant is an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) who works as a computer programmer in Houston, Texas. Aditi, who is a thoroughly modern young woman, has consented to an arranged marriage--at least, this is what she tells herself--because she’s ready to settle down. However, unbeknownst to her family, she has been involved with a married journalist (Sameer Arya) who hosts a tabloid TV show called Delhi.com (the inclusion of this TV show is just one of many small instances of how Nair carefully but unobtrusively interweaves themes regarding the modernization of Indian throughout the story). It is clear that Aditi wants to be with him, but he may never leave his wife, and she is fed up waiting.

From the opening frames, Nair (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala) throws us right in the middle of the scenario and introduces character after character, which is confusing as hell at first, but creates a rhythm of excitement and anticipation that is much like being involved in an enormous family gathering in which you don’t know everyone. There are uncles and cousins and siblings, many of whom have traveled from other countries (including the U.S., Australia, and Dubai) to be there, and part of the film’s enjoyment is how we slowly learn who is who, even if it takes a while.

Aditi’s parents, father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) and mother Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), are typical middle-class Indians. Lalit spends most of the film feeling harried about not only hosting dozens of relatives, but also footing the cost of the elaborate traditional wedding and all the accompanying ceremonies. These are being handled by P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), a professional event arranger who is constantly barking on his cell phone and saying anything he can to calm Ria down, even if it’s an outright lie. Dubey begins the film as comic relief--he has a quirky, infectious comedic energy that makes him the most watchable character on-screen--but what is truly amazing about Raaz’s performance is how he transforms into a completely creditable romantic hero once he falls for the family’s maid, a lithe cutie named Alice (Tilotama Shome). There is a sly comparison here between the arranged marriage between Aditi and Hemant, in which they must learn to love each other out of necessity, and the immediate romantic passion Dubey feels for Alice. But, Nair declines to make a critical point about it, instead showing them as two sides of romantic love, rather than incompatible oppositions.

Monsoon Wedding plays primarily as a romantic comedy, although it has a darker streak in it, namely a melodramatic subplot involving the sexual abuse of children. Unfortunately, this subplot feels forced, as if it were brought in from another film. The scenes here, including a long overdue confrontation between the predator and one of his victims, are well handled and powerful in their own way, but they don’t feel like they belong with the rest of the movie. Because most of Monsoon Wedding is joyful and celebratory, even in dramatic scenes like the one in which Aditi must confess to Hemant that she has still been seeing her married lover, the sequences dealing with child abuse are that much more of a downer, even though they ultimately function to underscore the importance of doing the right thing over holding fast to tradition.

Despite that flaw, Monsoon Wedding is overall a real joy, a bright, exciting piece of work that invites us into a family and lets us get to know them from the inside out. Featuring a strong musical score of both traditional Indian music and modern pop songs (it was produced, after all, in India, home of Bollywood) and beautiful cinematography by Declan Quinn (who also shot Nair’s Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love), Monsoon Wedding is, despite sticking to formula, a celebration not to be missed.

Monsoon Wedding Criterion Collection Two-Disc DVD Set
Monsoon Wedding is also available through the Criterion Collection on Blu-Ray.
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English / Hindi / Punjabi Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English
  • Audio commentary by director Mira Nair
  • Nair’s short documentaries: So Far from India (1983), India Cabaret (1985), and The Laughing Club of India (2001), featuring video introductions by the director
  • Nair’s short fiction films: The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat (1993), “India” segment from 11'09"01—September 11 (2002), Migration (2007), and How Can It Be? (2008), featuring video introductions by the director
  • New video interview with actor Naseeruddin Shah, conducted by Nair
  • New video interview with cinematographer Declan Quinn and production designer Stephanie Carroll
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Essay by critic and travel writer Pico Iyer
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateOctober 20, 2009

    Monsoon Wedding is an intensely colorful film--from the exotic hues of the clothing, to the luscious golden tones of the thousands of marigolds that make up the wedding decorations--and the new digitally restored high-definition widescreen transfer on this disc presents it beautifully. Taken from the 35mm interpositive (which was blown up from the original Super 16mm A/B negative) and supervised by director Mira Nair and director of photography Declan Quinn, Criterion’s new transfer is a solid replacement for the previously available Universal disc from 2002, which was inexplicably nonanamorphic. Colors are strong and well saturated, while the image is nicely detailed and free of any artifacts, although it is just a tad soft, which is likely a result of the blow-up process from 16mm (although grain is kept to a minimum). The Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from the magnetic tracks and digitally restored, is just as good as the image (although Criterion has dropped the DTS soundtrack, which was available on the 2002 disc). It wouldn’t be immediately apparent that a film like Monsoon Wedding would have such an impressive soundtrack, but it does. The rich tapestry of Indian music, both traditional and modern, sounds crisp and clear with deep, rich bass and good fidelity. Sound effects are also effectively conveyed, particularly the rainstorm at the end. This is also a fundamentally dialogue-driven movie, and the characters’ rapid-fire speaking in English, Hindi, and Punjabi is well presented.
    Criterion wisely recycles director Mira Nair’s intelligent, insightful audio commentary from the 2002 disc. She discusses the film’s production, working with the actors, and, most interestingly, the myriad cultural issues involved in making a film about modern India (she came from a family much like the one depicted here, and she describes the film as being like two hours at her family’s dinner table). She cites her inspirations in both low-budget independent films and lavish Bollywood musicals, and is quite generous in giving credit to her many collaborators, particularly her strong cast. Except for the inclusion of the original theatrical trailer, the rest of the supplements are new to the Criterion edition, including a 21-minute video interview with lead actor Naseeruddin Shah conducted by Mira Air and an 11-minute joint video interview with cinematographer Declan Quinn and production designer Stephanie Carroll, who discuss how they designed and achieved the film’s look. Great as those supplements are, this two-disc set’s real value comes with the inclusion of seven of Mira Nair’s short films, each of which has a video introduction by the director. So, in one package we get three short documentaries--So Far from India (1983), India Cabaret (1985), and The Laughing Club of India (2001)--and four short fictional films--The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat (1993), the “India” segment from 11'09"01—September 11 (2002), Migration (2007), and How Can It Be? (2008).

    Overall Rating: (3)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection and Universal Pictures

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