Filled with color, lively characters, clever situations and music, Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding is a joyous little film that’s actually considerably deeper and more substantial than it appears on the surface. It’s been compared to the old Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor vehicle, Father of the Bride, but in reality it has far more in common with Robert Altman’s A Wedding. It’s that kind of richly textured work, thanks in part to the Indian culture in which the story takes place, which allows the film to be fully-packed with a myriad of characters thanks to the assembling of the extended family for the event. Nair’s film starts out with the wedding preparations already underway — and going wrong, thanks to the dubious competence of an addled wedding planner (Vijay Raaz) — so that we’re plunged right into the heart of the affair. And the film never loses this drive, forcing the viewer to pick up the plot on the run. The story essentially follows the planning and execution of the arranged wedding of Aditi (Vasundhara Das) and Hemant (Parvin Dabas). Arranged weddings are, of course, not unusual in Indian tradition, but this one is a bit different, since it’s come about at Aditi’s own insistence that it’s time for her to settle down. (For that matter, it is her older relatives who express misgivings over the choice of an arranged marriage.) The reason for her decision is grounded in the fact that she’s burnt out by her relationship with a married TV talk show host that isn’t going anywhere — but it’s also a relationship she can’t quite bring herself to let go of. That, however, is only the situation. Nair’s film is actually an extended character study of the various family members and the complexities of their interconnected relationships. But in the end, it’s something more than that: It’s a depiction of the complexity of modern Indian-Anglo society. Middle and upper class India is a strange mix of the traditional cultural values and the impact of a hundred plus years of British influence. This is immediately apparent in the fact that the characters slip in and out of speaking Hindi and English without so much as thinking about it. Most of the characters are fluent in English, though this seems less prevalent in the working class characters, including, ironically, the housemaid with the English name, Alice (Tilotama Shome). The most attractive thing about this is the fact that Nair merely observes and accepts this mixture as a way of life — she never questions it or sets out to make a point. And in not making a point, the film ultimately makes a point: This mixture has become a society all its own. Since the film boasts such a large array of characters, Nair finds it necessary to sketch in most of them, but this never feels like a cheat and, amazingly, everyone emerges as s fully-formed character. Everyone seems plausibly human. Interestingly, Monsoon Wedding, while obviously designed to appeal to a broader international market, doesn’t attempt to break free of the traditions of the “Bollywood” (a combination of Bombay and Hollywood) film industry with its anything goes approach to entertainment. As in many Bollywood films, the characters are apt to burst into song much in the manner of a Hollywood musical (though often for no very good reason). Monsoon Wedding is no exception, except that the songs are all integrated into the film in an explicable manner, as songs that people are consciously performing. They’re colorful and elaborate enough to be minor production numbers, but they’re presented more realistically. Still, the film could qualify as a musical, though that’s clearly not its intent. Rich, fun, amusing, and moving, Monsoon Wedding is not to be missed by anyone in search of a truly pleasant visit to the movies.
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