Monsoon Wedding

India's film industry, dubbed 'Bollywood,' after a combination of Bombay and Hollywood, pumps out hundreds of films a year, few of which make it here to the United States. Too often, they are unpalatable to domestic audiences because of their habit of breaking into song and dance routines. They also frequently appear a little on the cheesy side. Monsoon Wedding is a nice melding of the two, presenting a decidedly Indian film in such a manner as to appeal to all audiences. There are some songs, but director Mira Nair (The Laughing Club of India, Kama Sutra) works them in so that the do not feel forced. This film is so enjoyable because of the color and vibrancy of the story and the characters, and its distinctive cultural tones only help to make it more accessible. Everything revolves around the arranged marriage of Aditi (Vasundhara Das, Hey Ram) to Parvin (Hemant Rai).

Nair throws the viewer immediately into the frantic, last-minute chaos of planning the wedding. There are many characters in Monsoon Wedding, one can argue too many. It takes a long time to get a concrete idea of who is who, and related to who (those two had better not be blood cousins!). Much is in a state of disarray, adding stress to the life of Aditi's father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah, Gaja Gamini, Hey Ram). The event coordinator (Vijay Raaz) is a slick fast-talker, seemingly more concerned with getting paid than with a smooth operation. Aditi is not over her affair with a married man. Aditi's cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) is older, and still unmarried. The housekeeper (Tilotama Shome) wants something more to her life. Amongst all this, the family needs to deal with numerous relatives converging upon their home, both from their side and from the groom's side, which is from Houston.

Aditi is a modern woman, but chooses for the arranged marriage. Monsoon Wedding is about the melding of two cultures, traditional Indian and Western (well, maybe not "Western" per se). Henna painting and traditional wedding garb mix with cell phones, GRE studybooks and cooking shows on tv. Everybody speaks like true multiculturals, switching effortlessly between English and their native languages. The older members of the family do not fathom why the younger members think the way they do. The younger members are headstrong, want to go in less traditional career directions, and do not feel the same about issues like respect. The arguing between family members is constant throughout the entire movie. Nevertheless, Nair and writer Sabrina Dhawan ensure that the conflict is superficial. Underneath lies a great amount of love that cements this family together. Part of the reason Monsoon Wedding is so much fun to watch is because there is such a feeling of hope and optimism, supplemented by the music.

Apparently, even the characters feel this infectious spirit of fun. This movie is not just about Aditi and Parvin. Nair makes sure that nearly every other unattached family member finds the time to meet his or her soul mate. There is one storyline that is more serious than the others, but its main purpose is to show just how much this family loves each other. Das and Raaz's characters embody the overall spirit of the movie. They are both dreamers and romantics at heart, looking for something more to their lives. Raaz is by far more vocal, and initially, very annoying. Nair cleverly changes his character, so that by the end, he is the person who is by far the most enduring.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 54 minutes, English, Hindi, and Punjabi with English subtitles, Rated R for language, including some sex-related dialogue.

Back to Movies