Reviews

Monsoon Wedding (The Criterion Collection)

A family drama, as mosaic of modern, globalizing India, as a love story that sneaks up on you, and as a discourse on post-modernity and tradition.


Monsoon Wedding

Director: Mira Nair
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shifali Shetty, Vijay Raaz, Tillotama Shome, Vasundhara Das
Length: 114 minutes
Studio: Mirabai Films
Year: 2001
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: R
US Release Date: 2009-10-20
Website

Like all of Mira Nair's feature films, Monsoon Wedding is a multi-layered text, open to multiple readings, and accessible from multiple vantage points. Regardless of how one approaches the film, or what one finds their eyes and ears drifting to on different viewings, new insights and rewards are sure to present themselves. This is a movie that truly merits a new home edition, if for no other reason than to ensure that new viewers keep finding it.

Loosely structured around a wedding and arranged marriage between Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das) and Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas), Monsoon Wedding works as a family drama, as mosaic of modern, globalizing India, as a love story that sneaks up on you, and as a discourse on post-modernity and tradition. All of these threads are wound together by music and song, a bright color palette keyed to the marigold garlands adorning the bride's family house, and a swirl of activity and people, whether at the aforementioned home or on the streets of Delhi.

I often use Monsoon Wedding in classes I teach where globalization is a critical theme. For many American college students, the film opens a window onto a world that is both familiar and strange.

The nicely appointed Verma family home, a modern split-level, looks as if it could be on the streets of any comfortable suburb in the US generations clash over TV, clothes, driving, futures. People are aspiring writers and entertainers and have jobs in engineering, on TV shows, and as wedding planners.

At the same time, characters easily carry on conversations in multiple languages at once. It is the father, Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah), who is fussing over the wedding preparations. My most observant students notice that the level of comfort enjoyed by the Verma and Rai families seems to be at the cost of scattering themselves, not only all over India, but further as well, to the US, Australia, Dubai. And of course, there is the marriage, arranged by the parents of a groom who is an engineer based in Texas and a bride who works on a TV show called “Delhi.com”.

As much as the world of Monsoon Wedding may seem like the one many of my students know from their own lives, it is not. The changes to be negotiated in India and by Indians, and the paradoxes and contradictions that come with globalization, are dramatically different than the ones faced by the majority of my students.

The different threads noted above are not separate, and one of the marked differences between the US and India is the sheer scale of the inequality between rich and poor. This aspect of the film is captured by the love story between the Verma's wedding planner, Dubey (Vijay Raaz), and their housekeeper, Alice (Tillotama Shome).

Both of these characters live in the same city as the Vermas, but in different contexts. Dubey shares a small apartment in the city with his grandmother, with unreliable water and even more unreliable electricity than the Verma household. Both are in service to the Indian middle class.

While Alice's path of domestic service is a well-established one for internal migrants and the domestic poor, Dubey is attempting to use the new rules of business and class mobility in India to raise his status and security (one of the film's best scenes involves a negotiation between Dubey and Lalit over the wedding tent; it's a wry and funny clash of tradition and modernity with the two men reversing roles at different turns).

Alice quietly draws Dubey's attention and the two of them develop a rapport over the course of the wedding preparations. Their romantic love can be contrasted to the arranged partnership between Aditi and Hemant, and the contrast draws out another paradox, one wherein the global middle class couple follows tradition and the more place-bound working class pair follows their bliss.

On initial viewing, it is easy to read the romance between Alice and Dubey as a side story, but on subsequent viewings it maybe hard not to see their story as more central than the one between Hemant and Aditi. Alice and Dubey, through their courtship and their relationship to their employers, let the audience see both the privilege of the Vermas and the limits of their comfort, which guarantees neither love nor safety.

This last point is important, for the film, while flirting with romanticizing 'the help', avoids implying that there is anything wrong with, or less real about, Hemant and Aditi's choice to enter into an arranged marriage than there is in Dubey and Alice’s true romance. Furthermore, Aditi's mother, Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), and father, Lalit, are clearly in love, however they came to be joined. And, the film actually has a second love story that sneaks up on you and that is Lalit's familial love for his niece, and effective second daughter, Ria (Shefali Shetty).

The Criterion edition DVD set comes with two discs. Disc one includes the film, a director’s commentary, an interview between Nair and Naseeruddin Shah, an interview/conversation with director of photography Declan Quinn and production designer Stephanie Carroll, and a theatrical trailer for the movie. The interviews are new and produced for the DVD set, but the commentary is from 2002. Nonetheless, Nair’s monologue is as smart and informative as you would expect it to be.

The first disc also includes the documentary short, The Laughing Club of India (2000). Two more short documentaries, So Far from India (1982) and India Cabaret (1985), are on the second disc, which also includes the scripted short films, The Day the Mercedes became a Hat (1993), 11’09’01 – September 11 (2002), How can it Be (2008), and Migration (2007). These films range in length from nine minutes to an hour, and each is preceded by an introduction from the director. They show Nair’s work in different forms, documentary and fiction, and in different media, film and digital video, but all carry her penchant and skill for telling stories of everyday life and experience.

The booklet provided with the discs features an essay by Pico Ayer that offers a critical appreciation of Monsoon Wedding and a synthesis of Nair’s body of work, particularly pulling in the shorts included in the set. The shift to the director’s biography in the essay is rough, but Ayer’s love of the film and his familiarity with its themes of globalization, migration, and cultural paradox make for a lively and interesting contribution to the movie and its video extras.

If there is one notable flaw to Monsoon Wedding it is that the ending feels a little too neat, especially after additional viewings. Classes and families, previously separate or torn, come together, dancing in the rain and in love and with care for each other. The sentiments are real and true enough, but they seem hurried. Or maybe the looks of ambivalence on the faces of the bride and groom in the closing credits are enough to reopen the film’s complexities. Regardless of how you take the final scene, Nair’s film is beautiful and real, and more so each time you watch.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.