An unusual fact that most moviegoers are not aware of is that India has the largest film industry in the world. India sometimes puts out 1000 films a year. But despite their incredible production, as foreigners, we do not often have a large number of Indian films playing in American theaters. The term foreign film has an all-too-negative connotation to many Americans who dread subtitles and foreign cultures. “Monsoon Wedding” is most likely the easiest foreign film in recent memory for foreign-movie haters to enjoy. More than a highly enjoyable, romantic film, it’s mixture of Indian and American cultures, most obvious in its use of both Hindi and English, make the film much more accessible to American viewers.
“Monsoon Wedding” is, of course, about a wedding. And yes, it will rain during it as well. Their respective parents have arranged a marriage for Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das) to Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas), an Indian-American who lives in Houston. It is engineered for the two to meet one day and be married only a few days later. Hemant is nervous and excited. Aditi does not want to go through with it; this feeling is mostly based on her ongoing affair with a married Indian TV personality (Sameer Arya).
The wedding and the events leading up to it are the background for a whole lot of family quarrels and much romance as well. Aditi’s father, Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) has a lot on his mind. Not only must he make sure the wedding is perfectly laid out, but he also worries about the kick in his wallet this wedding is giving him. His worries grow when a niece of his starts throwing accusations at a well-respected uncle.
The romance, which will give every audience member a little glow in his or her heart, is spread all around. The love between Lalit and his wife is deep, complex and long lasting; the budding love of Aditi and Hemant is innocent, budding and full of passion. Many other prospective couples surround this world, but the most entertaining and humorous is that of the wedding planner, Dube (Vijay Raaz) and the beautiful Alice (Tilotama Shome). Dube is first portrayed as a helpless, flower-eating joke. But with his love, the audience sees Dube as a real person and probably wishes good things upon him more than the main character Aditi (no offense to her romantic courting).
With this movie, Mira Nair became the first woman director to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and it is well deserved. Despite the vast cast of characters, they never seem strange or out of place. Also, the musical sequences, while not the usual Bollywood musical set pieces, are well placed and become significant and charming given their place in the structure of the story. One of Nair’s best uses of music is the playing of a Mohammad Rafi song early on in the film. Rafi, whose music was featured in the opening credits of Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World,” has a voice than can communicate so much without knowledge of his actual diction. Nair does not provide subtitles to his song, but the mood is set in a subtle, rhythmic way.
The drama in “Monsoon Wedding” sometimes turns into melodrama, and the frequent comedy makes it a little difficult to endure the draining, emotional conversations that take place. However, in the end, the beautiful wedding happens and the good time being enjoyed by the characters on the screen takes over the world of each viewer.
If you walk out of the theater without a smile on your face, then you must have a secret fear of water that needs to be treated immediately. The monsoon rush of emotion at the end of “Monsoon Wedding” is one of joy and love for life, and the love life holds.