Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Review #1,328

Director:  Mira Nair
Cast:  Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty
Plot:  A stressed father, a bride-to-be with a secret, a smitten event planner, and relatives from around the world create much ado about the preparations for an arranged marriage in India.

Genre:  Drama / Comedy / Romance
Awards:  Won Golden Lion (Venice).  Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  114min
Rating:  NC16 for language, including some sex related dialogue.
International Sales:  Orfeo Films International

“This wedding is driving me nuts.”

While Mira Nair may never top Salaam Bombay!(1988), her Cannes Camera d'Or-winning debut feature, Monsoon Wedding was a timely reminder, at least at the turn of the century, that she still possessed the innate ability to weave a colourful tale of family, culture and relationships. 

After the one-two award-winning punch of Salaam Bombay! and Mississippi Masala (1991), Nair struggled to find consistency in her subsequent works until Monsoon Wedding, which certainly proved that she still has what it takes to make great cinema, vindicated by the film's triumphant Golden Lion win at the Venice Film Festival.

Monsoon Wedding is an exuberant hymn to life, celebrating its joys while also finding the courage to overcome hurt.  The central character is a non-living entity—developed as a traditional, arranged Indian wedding that breathes life into everyone, from its messy planning to the even more chaotic execution. 

Around it are a myriad of supporting characters that are involved in the ceremony in one way or another—the bride, the groom, their families, hired workers, a maid, and distant relatives.  Through the ensemble cast, Nair brings out the strains of old, storied relationships—with shocking revelations—and new, romantic ones—with saccharine results.

Despite being set in India, Monsoon Wedding is cross-cultural in ways that invoke the long-standing Asian cinema dialectic that is the traditional versus the modern.  In this case, it is not merely the old giving way to the new, but is represented by values that take on more deeply-rooted ideas of conservatism, against a more Westernized thinking that encourage self-agency.  

And by way of hiring Canadian-born Mychael Danna (who won an Oscar for Life of Pi (2012)) as the film's composer, Monsoon Wedding also extends its cross-cultural theme outside of the visual and spoken narrative.  Nair's hypnotic filmmaking style, a combination of active camerawork and intense editing, paired with a vibrant soundtrack of traditional Indian rhythms and modern dance beats, reminds of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (2008). 

But this is a more powerful film for me, and the way Nair navigates potentially taboo areas through honest drama, and weaving them into the big picture speaks volume of her understanding that a film—or for that matter, life—is a sum of disparate if interlocking parts. 

Verdict:  An exuberant hymn to life, celebrating joy and overcoming hurt, all to the tune of Mira Nair’s hypnotic filmmaking style.


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