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Women's Pictures - Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding

The problem with only getting 1 month - 4 weeks or 5 if we're lucky - to cover an entire career is that things get left out. Movies, genres, occasionally entire decades are skipped over because (thankfully) many of the amazing female directors we discuss made more than 4 films. In the case of Mira Nair, we're skipping both movies, genres, and decades.

Between Salaam Bombay! in 1988 and Monsoon Wedding in 2001, Mira Nair honed her craft making 5 movies in different genres: a great romantic drama, a short, a Cuban-American romcom, a movie about the Kama Sutra, and a drama about Indian-Americans in the South. Nair also became a professor and Columbia, where she met the student who would eventually write Monsoon Wedding, Sabrina Dhawan. The net effect of the 13 years between her first feature and her big hit was a maturation of character as a director. The motifs Nair explored in Salaam Bombay - tonal balance between comedy and darkness, bright cinematography, exploration of social structures - are put to seemingly completely opposite ends in the lighthearted Monsoon Wedding.

Monsoon Wedding is a Bollywood musical by way of Robert Altman. [More...]

Set on the eve of the arranged marriage between Aditi (Vasundhara Das) and Hemant (Parvin Dabas), Monsoon Wedding follows the colorful cast of characters who chaotically converge on the bride's hometown. There's the bride's family, the groom's family, some family members who are probably related to somebody, though nobody is quite sure whom, an overstressed wedding planner who eats marigolds, and a family servant with an English name though she speaks no English herself.

Nair maintains deft control of this chaos, though it never feels controlled; the audience is plopped right down in the middle of the plot and must work out who's who through a jumble of Hindi, Punjabi, and English. There are even occasional musical numbers as exuberantly staged as any Bollywood musical, though they have diagetic genesis that the traditional Bollywood musical may skip. Under cinematographer Declan Quinn's gorgeous camerawork, New Delhi gains the chaotic familiarity of the Verma family itself: frenetic, bright, complicated, and joyful. 

The result is sound and fury signifying many things. The A Plot between Aditi and Hermant reads at first like a typical will-they-won't-they romance, until you remember that she's carrying on an affair with her boss on the side, and he's an American ex-pat who's more traditional than he lets on. The B plot between the wedding planner and a servent exposes the questions and expectations of a newly mobile Indian middle class. The father of the bride has money concerns that are suddenly dwarfed when he's confronted with an issue that shakes his filial responsibility. Most of the drama and humor in Monsoon Wedding comes from this tension between tradition and modernity. Each character represents one side of the debate, and over the course of the film, many of the characters grow to change their minds in unexpected ways.

Monsoon Wedding was a major international hit when it premiered in 2001. It was a case of right movie, right time, right place. The early 2000s were a small boom for family comedies - My Big Fat Greek Wedding was right around the corner. And with India's rapid economic expansion, the questions of prosperity and modernity addressed in the film would be familiar to international audiences. Most of all, though, Monsoon Wedding was a family story. And as the film implies, family crosses all borders. Exactly and approximately.

11/19 Vanity Fair (2004) - At first glance, an English satire of mannered society doesn't seem like Mira Nair's wheelhouse. Thena again, nothing about this visually sumptuous melodrama is what it seems. (Amazon Instant Video)

11/26 Amelia (2009) - Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time to talk about this absolute turkey, starring Hilary Swank as the American aviatrix Amelia Earhart. (Amazon Instant Video)

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Reader Comments (6)

i haven't seen this in way too long. i used to listen to the soundtrack a lot. delicious movie.

November 12, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Such a gorgeous, big-hearted movie! I'd much rather see another chapter in the life of this family than the one from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

November 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKari

This series is lovely and enriching but also makes me feel like such a lacking cinephile! I clearly need to dig into some Mira Nair. (Though I have seen Vanity Fair, which I'm very excited to hear your thoughts on.)

November 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Monsoon Wedding was one of my favourite films the year it came out, so vibrant and colourful.
I look forward to seeing what you think of Vanity Fair.

November 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I love(d) Monsoon Wedding. Both vibrant and understated. A truly great film.

November 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I like Mira Nair (I'm always rooting for her to have a big project, esp. after Amelia) and I really wanted to love Monsoon Wedding when I first viewed it a few years ago -- just based on its vibrancy and energy -- but I couldn't do it by the end, I'm afraid. It completely starts to un-stitch for me in the third act and I didn't really believe the directions those individual characters headed off in. I love all the family dynamics, wedding prep, attention to colorful details stuff in the first 2/3rds but once we get into the real serious family drama, it lost me completely with how rushed and shallow that was all handled.

I will say, the Criterion edition of this film is a joy. The cover! All those bonus features!

November 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

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