When It Rains, It Pours

In Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair washes away the gritty facade of family and shows us the tender heart …

India Currents Magazine | March 2002

Monsoon WeddingDirector: Mira Nair. Players: Naseeruddin Shah, Vasundhara Das, Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz, Rajat Kapoor, Lilette Dubey, Tilotama Shome, Parvin Dabas.

Weddings are complicated events. Stress levels rise to their most consuming. Family members overwhelm to distraction. And it is, in the end, the happiest of occasions. In Monsoon Wedding, director Mira Nair and writer Sabrina Dhawan skillfully test the Verma family at every turn as they prepare for daughter Aditi’s wedding. And with each obstacle, they emerge as winners.

As a Delhi family gathers for a wedding, the film dexterously tells five separate-yet-related stories. Lalit Verma (Shah), the patriarch who will do anything to ensure the well-being of his family, frantically arranges the perfect wedding while going into financial overload. Aditi (Das), the bride-to-be, struggles with the procrastinated decision of whether to marry the man chosen for her (Dabas) or to wait silently for the possible divorce of her lover. Aditi’s introverted cousin, Ria (Shetty), is met with a series of revelations that force her to reveal unspoken traumas before they repeat themselves. Meanwhile, the hapless-but-flapless wedding/event planner, P.K. Dubey (Raaz), barks orders, makes excuses, and munches marigolds until he realizes that he has fallen in love with the Vermas’ housekeeper (Shome). While each of the stories presents a difficult decision to make, none is as painful as that which ultimately confronts Lalit.

Dhawan’s screenplay is built on frank, realistic dialogue that yields well-drawn characters brought to life by the magnificent performance on an enviable ensemble cast. Woven between the dramas are heaping helpings of comedy, love, and joy punctuated by the honesty that allows a person the necessary luxury of exhaling. This forthright portrayal of modern Indian life in the city clearly speaks to changing attitudes while addressing the universal issues of sexuality, pedophilia, human relationships, and family dynamics. But the weight of those issues is lightened by the wedding, the colorful centerpiece around which the stories are arranged.

Not Nair’s style to offer up typical masala fare, she expertly integrates two key supporting elements on her own terms: music and color. The music is plentiful and varied, yet it neither intrudes nor distracts, providing background enhancement or celebratory songs. Colors smoothly alternate between the hot, spicy, bold colors of the home and wedding, and the cool, sedate, unsaturated hues of the rains that wash away Aditi’s doubts and help her face her own truth. Also to Nair’s credit is the use of a handheld camera, allowing more intimate framing of the scenes. This method captures the details and layers that give depth to each of the characters and moments as the audience eavesdrops rather than merely watches.

With generous amounts of English, even non-Hindi-speaking viewers find themselves enthralled by the color, the clatter, the universality, and the directness of the film. No family is without shame or sorrow, but love and honesty make reality easier to bear. In the end, we are reminded that the good life is good when we allow it to be.