Kulbhushan KharbandaShefali ShettyNaseeruddin ShahTillotama Shome
Monsoon Wedding
Medium: film
Year: 2001
Director: Mira Nair
Writer: Sabrina Dhawan
Language: English, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu
Country: India
Actor: Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz, Tillotama Shome, Vasundhara Das, Parvin Dabas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Kamini Khanna, Rajat Kapoor, Neha Dubey, Kemaya Kidwai, Ishaan Nair, Randeep Hooda, Roshan Seth
Format: 114 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0265343/
Website category: Asian
Review date: 12 February 2009
I adore India. I've never been there, but I love it anyway. Thus when I saw this in the Blockbusters bargain bins several years ago, I ignored the danger and snapped it up on impulse sight unseen. Of course this is a foolhardy thing to do and I couldn't recommend it to anyone. You can go blind watching the horror films from those bins.
Nonetheless even if I didn't know it at the time, this particular film happened to have won the Golden Lion at the 2001 Biennale Venice Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Globe. In other words, it's quite good. To be more precise, it's a colourful, noisy, nearly plotless look at the preparations for a wedding in New Delhi. Everyone runs around for two days getting ready. That's it. They argue, run around and look forward to the celebrations, in scenes that may or may not have any kind of greater significance. It wouldn't be true to say that this film didn't have a plot, but it's certainly not afraid to bury its storylines under a mass of rowdy relatives. In the beginning especially it feels like you're simply getting to know all these people.
More important stuff ends up sneaking forth, though. For starters it's an arranged marriage with the couple having only met each other a fortnight previously, because of which the bride has broken up with her boyfriend. After she's married, she'll have to leave India and go with her husband to America! Western audiences might think this makes the rest of the story a foregone conclusion, but they'd be wrong. The boyfriend's married, for a start.
Incidentally when this story element was introduced I wasn't sure if I'd heard correctly. This film is an aural kaleidoscope. I have no doubt that it's exactly what you'll hear in New Delhi, but it's still unbelievable. These people will start a sentence in Hindi and finish it in English, often in an accent so thick that you might not have noticed the switch. On the other hand, they'll also have relatives who sound like me. There are plenty of subtitles in this film and occasionally it's being used to help us out with dialogue that's actually in English! What's more, apparently there are four languages being spoken here: English, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. I have no idea to what extent these are being used (or misused), but my head was reeling even when I thought the characters were only switching freely between two of them.
Returning to the story elements, there's also a slow-burning surprise that I didn't see coming at all. At first I thought it was just my twisted imagination. The guy gave me the creeps, yes, but maybe it was just me. No, it wasn't.
That's just the story, though. This isn't a plot-driven film, although fortunately it does have enough that I felt I'd watched a proper film. No, instead it's all about its characters and its world. If you tried to remake this film about a bunch of white folks in Blackpool, you'd have to work far harder to hold my attention. (What did Indian people think of it?) I love the colour and noise of New Delhi. I love the energy and generosity on display. I love the fact that at one point the women do a song and dance number, fortunately as part of the wedding celebrations rather than a Bollywood routine. There's also a sexy girl who dances. Oooh, she's good. I particularly liked her. Other memorable characters include the bride's father, as is right and proper, and an impressively intelligent kid. She was cute.
My favourite character though would be the gawky and slightly ugly event manager who's a bit of a crook and ridiculous in all the best ways. "The peacocks have stopped dancing. It won't rain." This in a film called Monsoon Wedding. He gets a lot to do and gives a brave performance, but he always feels completely real. In fact, that's true of everyone. You can't see them acting, if you know what I mean. Instead one simply goes away feeling that they were playing themselves, although that won't have been the case with Mr Creepy. Throughout the entire 114-minute film there was only one scene that made me feel even for a moment that I was watching a performance instead of real people, and that was with a child actor. Dad thinks his son's gay. Maybe he is, but at that age you're only ever going to be talking about ifs and maybes. The son throws a bit of a strop and for a moment I could see an actor delivering lines, but that's the only blemish throughout that I could find on the performances. He's the director's nephew, by the way.
Yes, it's an Ethnic Wedding Movie. That's hardly an under-populated niche. However it's still a confident, good-natured piece of work that put a smile on my face. You'll need a little patience during the first half, but not in a bad way. I love the setting and the people. Note to self: must buy more Indian movies.