'Monsoon Wedding' A Downpour of Delight

Directed by: Mira Nair, Runtime: 114 minutes
Grade: B+

Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding is an experience in every sense of the word, capturing the subtle memories, unforeseen excitement, and the ups and downs of real life while showcasing a rally of heartening moments. It takes an intimate look at the interworking parts of a wedding ceremony, from the father's bickering with the organizer to the shades of doubt between the husband and wife days before, while making us feel like a fly on the wall instead of a mere witness to a story. This, on the other hand, is a different sort of wedding than many might be used to, an arranged marriage in modern time between two Indian families with a long history. Within that combination of realism and lingering cultural poignancy, we take a beautiful trip through the complications and joys surrounding this family, coming together in a vivid and blissful event that would likely get a smile out of even the most melancholy film lovers.

Written by Sabrina Dhawan to emphasize minor elements and the simple joys of interaction just as much as the bold and boisterous, Monsoon Wedding focuses on father Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) and his four day scramble to throw together a lush and expensive wedding for his daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das), an event that will bring the entire family together under one roof. Her arranged marriage, carried through with a man she hadn't known for very long, is awkward for Aditi due to her lingering feelings for a married television host, a man whom she's shared a physical relationship with in the past.

Underneath the bedlam of constructing this ceremony, Murphy's Law comes into full effect as several other family woes come to the surface. The relationship between Lalit's niece Ria (Shefali Shetty) and her wealthy uncle-in-law -- a man who has provided generous funds to the family -- slowly simmers due to his offer to fund her education. A disagreement intensifies between Lalit and his son Valum, a kid who's more interested in dance choreography and cooking instead of being a "real" Punjabi man. Furthermore, a lingering attraction between Lalit's Australian-based nephew and Aditi's young female cousin rises up after some flirtation. You know, the "typical" dirty laundry to come out of the woodwork around any kind of family reunion, though it grows thicker and thicker as the date approaches.

At the heart of Monsoon Wedding lies a story we've heard before, one featuring cold feet and fleeting desires from a soon-to-be-married person wanting to indulge in past amorous urges for a loved one. It's a cliché plot device that's been played out in even the sappiest of romantic films, yet director Mira Nair never causes us to dwell on that for one second. Her handling of the material paints a superb picture teeming with tangible emotion and meditation, giving us a struggle within Aditi's woeful mindscape. Her downhearted attitude detaches her from the family to a degree -- especially to her father -- which arouses trepidation in our emotional investment with her character; however, as the film progresses and we develop a stronger grasp on both her concern and her family's multifaceted connections, their actions and external reactions begin to balance out our reservations and earn our appreciation.

Interestingly, Monsoon Wedding's more robust connections come in an array of densely emotional sub-layers underneath the paramount wedding narrative. Though Aditi's woes are motivation enough to latch onto the film, it's hard to ignore the overwhelming potency behind Ria's role in the family chaos. Played wonderfully by Shefali Shetty, her character undergoes a bombardment of draining complications involving her family, from emptiness regarding the absence and tragedy revolving around her mother and father to her complicated past with her uncle-in-law. A second, more purist romance ignites between the unsuccessful-in-love wedding coordinator P.K. and the Latit family servant Alice -- which shines an evocative spotlight on the link between the two that's cheeky, humorous, and highly satisfying. We assume that the wedding coordinator will be a one-dimensional worm-like entity, yet his evolution -- and that of the servant -- can be quite touching. Their connection becomes the pure thumping heart in Monsoon Wedding, especially as P.K. and Alice grow closer and their glances grow deeper.

Mira Nair's ace in the hole in Monsoon Wedding comes in her capacity to render exquisite male characters, showcasing a sharp eye for intensity in their mannerisms. Her handling of women, especially Ria, is exceptional as well, yet there's a specific level of panache in the ways that she projects the Punjabi masculinity that's stellar. Her technique is especially visible with Naseeruddin Shah's impressive portrayal as the family patriarch Lalit, a strong and driven man who struggles with financial issues during the wedding and raising his children. His energy can be felt from frame to frame, whether he's bickering with the slimy wedding coordinator (slimy in his eyes, yet he's starting to warm to ours) or attempting to instruct his misguided son.

Monsoon Wedding has a lot in common with Jonathan Demme's 2006 independent success Rachel Getting Married, both in concentration of meaningless yet endearing personal dialogue and in the flowing visual design that follows their interactions -- and there's a reason for it. Both films were captured by cinematographer Declan Quinn, something that becomes readily obvious by watching even short spans of their work. However, he's encouraged to be much more poetic and creative with his visuals in Mira Nair's film, focusing on the blistering colors of marigolds and the swirling majesty of an Indian dance in rapturous fashion. It's a more elegiac experience which, without question, connects deeper with our senses as we're carried through the warming narrative.

It's all cradled within a story that's able to be told in a moment's length, yet the way in which we're seeped in New Delhi culture and expressive, heart-on-the-sleeve emotional resonance incenses our cinematic pleasures in a trove of different ways. We're given beauty from start to finish in Monsoon Wedding, bustling along and brimming with splendor in a way that appeal to both visual and cultural pleasures. Between a few splendid dance sequences -- one lengthy stretch near the conclusion that's particularly entrancing -- and the consistent stream of poeticism behind its graceful flow, I can't help but be utterly mesmerized by its fluid execution. Especially at the conclusion, which shines with undeniable jubilation at the celebration of life and family. Since her achievement with the Verma family, Mira Nair has gone on to piece together another cultural assimilation picture with 2006's The Namesake, a picture that's potentially more than the dramatic equal to her Venice prize-winning wedding tale; however, drenched in pure goodness and emerald-bathed beauty, Monsoon Wedding's splendor still stands proud as her most vivacious and lyrical work.


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