Director: Mira Nair
Writing Credits: Sabrina Dhawan
Released in 2001
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)
Neha Dubey (Ayesha Verma)
Kemaya Kidwai (Aliya Verma)
Ishaan Nair (Varun Verma)
Randeep Hooda (Rahul Chadha)
Roshan Seth (Mohan Rai)
Full cast list is available at http://us.imdb.com/Credits?0265343
A large upper middle class family in Delhi is coming together for the wedding of the eldest daughter, Aditi, to a young man who has been living and working in the US for a few years. The marriage has been arranged for Aditi by her parents because she says she wants to settle down, but we soon find out that she is still infatuated with her ex-boyfriend Vikram, a television presenter with a dodgy goatee.
Add to this bare plot a myriad of subplots of varying degrees of importance:
The film opens on the morning of the betrothal ceremony, in which the couple exchange rings, and as it moves inevitably towards the day of the wedding, some tensions build while others dissipate. Many of the plot lines are for entertainment value only, but the ones involving Aditi and Ria are deadly serious, highly relevant to contemporary Indian culture, and handled with great compassion. In a film which is partially a homage to the Bollywood genre, it is particularly noteworthy that the director manages almost completely to avoid cliched or moralistic resolutions to any of the main storylines.
Part of what makes Monsoon Wedding so special is the richness and humour of the characters. Mira Nair has such a light directorial touch, and the dialogue, a mixture of Punjabi, Hindi and English, is so authentic that most of the time it is hard to remember that these are actors. It's more like being in a Punjabi family's living room. There is the occasional bit of Bollywood-style ham acting, usually from the older actors, but it is balanced by some amazing performances from the leads.
Vasundhara Das (Aditi) is a little annoying, with such a self-indulgent, pouty-little-girl attitude that it's hard to feel too much sympathy for her situation at first, but here the script comes to her rescue - Aditi's character turns out to be honest and even a little brave in the end. Shefali Shetty (Ria) gives an amazingly intense performance in what is possibly the most important role in the movie, and Naseeruddin Shah (Lalit Verma, Aditi's father) carries almost every scene he is in with an emotional presence that you very rarely see in a male actor. I challenge anyone not to be at least tempted to cry when the strain of everything gets too much for him and he curls up with his wife in tears. Vijay Raaz (P.K. Dubey) is both hilarious and fascinating as the cranky, deceitful, marigold-eating wedding planner who turns to butter (or should that be ghee) whenever Tilotama Shome (Alice, the servant girl) is around; and Rajat Kapoor (Tej Puri) is immediately believable as the smooth, creepy and wealthy uncle.
Almost all of the incidental actors are outstanding, and even when they are not, it doesn't spoil any of the scenes, because the whole film has such an air of humourous melodrama that even the overacting seems to fit in.
The camera style is often like that of a documentary - hand-held, panning back and forth rapidly between faces, sweeping around a crowded room, following characters as they walk from place to place. However, an entire movie in this style might be too tiring for the viewer, so there are many conventional set-pieces interpolated when the sense of movement and action needs to be relaxed. In fact, the style relies heavily on the sense of movement - the colours of the wedding, the choppy, intelligent dialogue, the car rides through the busy city, all give the viewer a sense of being carried along on a tide. It stops sometimes, to let you catch your breath, and then it sweeps you off again. There is no way to separate yourself from the characters, because you're right there with them in the car or the room, following them as they argue or make plans or cry. When they confront each other, you're right in their faces, and this makes you feel exactly how much they are risking, or what they are feeling. In some films, this style of camera work can be annoying and jarring, but here it's done to perfection.
The visual texture of Monsoon Wedding is summed up in the title. Think monsoon: blinding sheets of rain, soaked hair and clothes, thundery skies, fresh, sparkling leaves. Think wedding: thousands of bright orange marigolds, swatches of garish silk, irridescent saris and sarongs, chunky jewellery and thick black eye makeup, radiant smiles, and lots of dancing (but only in context! The Bollywood convention is that moments of sexual tension are transformed into dance. Here, any dances are just a natural part of the plot, rather than a mask for sex). The family scenes are intercut with shots from Delhi, providing a contrast between the privileged, comfortable life of the main characters, and the ordinary life of people in the city. A young boy lifts his foot to let water pour out of his wooden shoe while the downpour around him turns the air grey. A wild-eyed old man with a knot tied in his beard cycles past, staring at the camera. Car headlights glare through the rain between the legs of people and livestock. Main streets turn into smaller and narrower lanes, barely wide enough for one person to walk along, crammed with tiny dwellings. From P.K. Dubey's apartment, which he shares with his mother, we can see out over the city at twilight, the air shimmering with so much life pressed into such a small place.
The soundtrack is one of the most striking features, combining modern music with traditional Indian tracks, and combining a sense of joy with emotional depth and sadness. Amazon.com lists it as scheduled for release on March 5, 2002.
What else is there to know? It's a wedding. It rains. Everyone is unhappy and happy at the same time. Things that were hidden become unhidden. India is gorgeous. Watch it!