God is a woman and she is Mira Nair. Over the years this director has delivered films like Queen of Katwe, Mississippi Masala, Salaam Bombay. Recently, she has come up with six-part BBC adaptation of Vikram Seth novel ‘A Suitable Boy’ which substantiates her expertise in this art. But, her best work unanimously will always be a film chronicling an Indian wedding which won the Golden Lion at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
I love movies which are centred around weddings. Several personas amalgamating under one roof to celebrate a couple and the multiple conflicts which arise due to the clash of their opinions. There can be so many stories and character arcs around this theme that you end up investing in at least one of them. Films like 27 Dresses or Mamma Mia have proved that. In recent times as well, this formula has been applied to make engaging dramas and delightful characters but none of these films will live up to the potential of this Mira Nair’s 2001 movie ‘Monsoon Wedding’. The reason this film will always remain a classic is that it is not about the story but the moments Mira creates. Moments like the dance sequence on Chunari Chunari song or final scene in the rain or the entire family getting together to sing “O gore gore” on a dining table, every scene is a moment that counts. The film has aged like a fine vine and with every viewing, it gets better.
A Delhi based couple Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi Verma (Lillete Dubey) is anxious about getting their daughter married and they have arranged for her a suitable boy who is a software engineer based in the US. The entire extended family from all over the globe has come together to celebrate the union. The bride, Aditi, however, finds herself in a pickle as she can’t let go of her affection for a married man. The Bride’s married boyfriend can’t vouch for divorcing his wife to get back with her. Lalit also has his brother’s daughter (Ria) and wife living with them as he died years back. The daughter Ria is in her late 20s and has no intention of getting married, brushing aside the societal pressure she also carries a childhood trauma. The Verma’s also have a younger son Varun who ultimately lands in a dilemma as his dreams and interests don’t align with his parent’s conventionally ideal but rather orthodox wishes. Lalit is adamant about getting his son into a boarding school as he feels Varun is becoming too “effeminate”. Pimmi’s nephew from Australia, Rahul (Randeep Hooda), finds himself fascinating over Ayesha (Neha Dubey) who is another cousin of the bride. Soon, enters Tej Puri (Rajat Kapoor), a very close relative and generous husband of Lalit’s sister who helped the Verma family during their financially debilitating times after the partition. He has a dark side to him apart from being a pillar of support to the Verma’s. Vijay Raaz plays a wedding planner, P.K. Dubey, who simultaneously falls for the house-help Alice, played by the stunning Tillotama Shome. There are a total of 68 characters in the film and their stories come together perfectly in this script meticulously crafted by Sabrina Dhawan. The film was made on a shoestring budget such that many people working behind the cameras even worked as the extras.
The reason this film is different from any other film about weddings is that none of it feels contrived or theatrical. None of the conflicts feel unnatural just for the sake of having one. Mira has very aptly avoided stereotypes that come often with casting Indian actors in a western production. The representation of a modern higher-class Delhi based Punjabi family is authentic. Despite an arranged wedding, we see progressive people who are far different from the orthodox representation of Indians in the western cinema. The characters frequently switch from English to Hindi and Punjabi which is how people from such backgrounds speak with one another in real life. The dialogues and the camerawork are so natural that one feels like the drama unfolding within their presence. This is where the strength of Monsoon Wedding lies, it makes the audience feel as if they are one of the characters in an Indian Wedding. Even when the two characters are having a dialogue, we simultaneously overhear distinct chattering between various guests in the background just like we hear in real weddings. Every scene in this film is a short film (there is a hook, a conflict and a resolution) in itself that adds to a larger narrative. Take for example, when the entire extended family sits together for the first time and the sheer number of different narratives that are present create an overwhelming environment in just a 5 minute scene. Despite so many characters, each of them has an important role to play and the screenplay brings the best out of them.
Mira also uses this film to make a critique on various societal issues without being too preachy like class divide, misogyny, patriarchy, generation gap, parental pressure and child abuse but they never undermine the cheerful nature of the film. It celebrates culture, family, friendship, love and being a part of it. None of the characters are judged for their actions and Mira doesn’t give tags to any of her female characters for the way they are. This outlook towards the characters is quite refreshing. There is also an amazing use of the music which gives it a classic Indian touch. Songs featured like Chunari Chunari or even Gauhar Jaan’s classic ‘Ras Ke Bhare tore nain’ are memorable, to say the least, and come across as the highlights of this film. The Depiction of Delhi is neither too sugarcoated like we see in most of the Indian films nor it is the representation of Indian poverty porn that we see in the western films, it is just the way it actually is; a brewing cauldron of modern, traditional, regressive and progressive. In one scene, we see all the English speaking ladies on the streets for shopping and the next moment, we witness one of the girls getting eve teased.
There is no such thing as a “perfect wedding”. Organising a wedding can take a toll over the family involved. It is a transaction in disguise but one can’t deny the pure intentions of the ones involved in it. Especially if it is an Indian wedding, it is amusingly more about the people involved than the bride and the groom themselves. The scene where we see the pale embarrassed face of Lalit while borrowing money from his friends to tolerate the wedding expenses, we also witness the lengths parents go to give the best for their children. That vulnerability on Lalit’s face never occurs when he is with his family in order to protect them. This makes Monsoon Wedding deeply intimate for all the brown people in the world. The film never tends to judge its characters for their actions even when they are wrong, it trusts its audience to draw conclusions on their own. This trust gives a personal touch which makes the movie an indelible experience that urges you to come back to it.