This WU isn't really going to be about the movie Monsoon Wedding, so if you're looking for a synopsis or a review, I suggest you read DreamVirus's excellent WU.
I've loads of personal connections with Monsoon Wedding, and I'll go through a few of them, but I'll try and use it to tell you why it struck a chord in India, and perhaps tell you a little bit about India as well. Ambitious, but what the hell?!
The day Monsoon Wedding was released I learnt that I hadn't been selected to appear for Round 2 for a very very prestigious scholarship to go to the UK. Two of my best friends at that time, dragged me off to see the movie to try and cheer me up. The next day, I heard that I had been selected, and then I went on to get the scholarship....so the movie will always remind me of a pretty good moment in my life.
But personal reminiscences aside, the movie touches on a theme that no one in India ever talks about. Incest. I haven't been a victim of incest, but I was molested as a kid by someone close to the family- a very close friend of my sister's. At that time my family was going through a lot of turmoil and it looked like my parents might end up divorcing each other. The details of what happened are rather hazy to me now, in fact for a long time I wondered whether I'd imagined it all. But as I grew older, I knew that he had touched me in a way he shouldn't have. Funnily enough I didn't feel the anger that Ria, in the movie feels, nor did it scar me. Perhaps knowing that I would always have a supportive family, and that my family would believe me helped. But when I saw what happened to that kid in the movie, and when Ria explodes, some part of me could empathise with her.
Then there's of course the entire Indian marriage thing. I mean, I never quite know what to say about it. I did node about arranged marriages, and the movie does deal with one, but it also tackles the complexities of the issue really well. My favourite role in the movie is Parvin Dabas'...I think he handles the complexities of his dilemma wonderfully well. And Vasundhara Das' dilemmas are not that uncommon to Indian women either. The problem is that there is this huge premium on virginity in India. And while it's not uncommon to hear of young urban women having affairs, or even sleeping with their partners before marriage, it's not the done thing. Which is what make Dabas' dilemma so interesting.
Dabas himself is an interesting- he's a NRI (Non Resident Indian), but he wants an arranged marriage. Having lived all his life in the US, he doesn't see any contradiction in letting his parents find his wife for him. Frankly, since I am so opposed to arranged marriages, I find his decisions (and there are thousands like him incidentally), puzzling to say the least. But the film captures the nuances of that quite well. It also handles their evolving relationship- after all, they are strangers who've barely met, been on a few dates, she's given him some shattering news...but yet there is a tenderness and eventually passion that does infuse their relationship. And to be fair, this is not uncommon in arranged marriages- people do fall in love, although I suspect it's not all that common. But the film takes an interesting angle on arranged marriages and manages to portray it sensitively.
The romance between P.K. Dubey and Tilottama Shome was for many the highlight of the wedding. Dubey (who's name when pronounced in India means 'drowned in alcohol') is brilliant, and his romance with the servant girl Alice is both touching and comical, especially as they both share the same bizarre habit of eating marigold leaves! It is also, in a Gosford Park sense, a look at the lower middle classes of Indian society, and it manages to capture a glimpse of their lives, without being either maudlin or romanticizing poverty.
The movie touched a chord in many north Indian hearts because it faithfully recreates a Punjabi wedding. Not only that it feels like you're sneaking through someone's bathroom cabinet as little secrets tumble out one by one. It's my all time favourite movie, and I cannot imagine the woman who made this movie also made Kama Sutra!