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Monsoon Wedding

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Monsoon Wedding

Starring: Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey
Director: Mira Nair
Rated: R
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: February 2002
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Roshan Seth, Vijay Raaz

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A typical American wedding financed by a middle-class father of the bride could set the guy back $50,000 in five hours, an amount most of us can't afford. Given today's recession, most of us might wish that nuptials could be as simple as jumping over a broomstick but that's not going to happen as long as there are beautiful daughters insisting on getting the works on their one special day. Ditto India. In an opening sequence of Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding," a group of panelists are debating the effects of globalization live in a TV studio. One panelist, not opposed to the trend in the passionate way that marks Stephanie Black's downer documentary "Life and Debt," believes that globalization is fine as long as we don't forget the rich traditional culture of India.

This pretty much defines the theme of "Monsoon Wedding," a film that shows that while Indian communities continue to spring up in the United States, America has come to India as well. India at least the city of Delhi--is modern, which is to say that while there are still power failures and traffic jams of bicycles in the streets dodging the occasional goat, even the older generation has adapted contemporary ideas and ideals. But while the movie tells us ever so much about the way India is going today, what is important to the viewer is that this is a joyous, exuberant tale of family life which is every bit as good as Rich Cline says it is. Cline, who is the critic for the online publication "Shadows on the Wall," calls this "one of the most effective and joyour examinations of family ever put on screen." There's's hard to believe but the entire film was shot in 30 days in 110-degree heat using a 16mm handheld camera! If the budgets was in the millions, we're talking rupees. This is the film that Robert Altman wishes he could make with the kind of appropriation given to Harvard-educated Mira Nair a departure for the director who is best known in the U.S. for the downbeat "Salaam Bombay," about a country boy's experiences among street hustlers, drubg peddlers and hookers of Mumbai (then called Bombay).

While focussing principally on one middle-class Punjabi man, Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah), a contractor in the midst of setting up his spacious home on Delhi's outskirts during a four- day period preceding the ceremony, Nair beautifully weaves quite a few stories together, with a jumble of characters that confuses at first but soon come together to build a unified story. Nair appears to be praising all sorts of love (except pederastry, which rears its ugly head toward the story's conclusion and serves a purpose made clear by the final scene). For example in the course of worrying over the proceedings, daddy Lalit is seen bonding with his wife of twenty-five years, Pimmi (lillete Dubey); the bride-to-be, Aditi (Vasundhara Das), experiences an ongoing illicit love for a married TV announcer which threatens to disrupt her marriage to the handsome Hermant Rai (Parvin Dabas), a member of the Indian-American community of Houston, Texas, who has flown to Delhi to tie the knot. And as a darling subplot, the story's comedian, the lower-middle-class P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz) pines for the house maid, Alice (Tilotama Shome), who in one poignant scene tries on her lady's exquisite saris and jewels and imagines herself a princess for a day. In the background for most of the tale, unmarried cousin Ria Verma (Shefali Shetty) reveals an unnerving secret that could tear asunder an important family bond and destroy the convention that Indian families must remain together no matter what. Ultimately Lalit must decide whether to stick with tradition or do the right thing by his niece.

Happily "Monsoon Wedding" cannot be put in the same category as the typical movies that India churns out yearly (I recall being told as a kid that the subcontinent turns out more movies annually than any other country including the United States) Yet, cinematographer Declan Quinn delights the eye with some thrilling popular dancing, choreographed by Farah Khan, performed by women with dazzling saris a costume- lover's dream. Flirtations, assignations, melodramatic flourishes and nettles are all part of this crowd-pleasing epic-style fantasy, a movie that boldly, imaginatively and rousingly elicits the cliche that our great big world is nothing more than a small neighborhood.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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