by Roderick Conway Morris

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Singing in the Rain


By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 14 September 2001

 

Mira Nair's 1988 "Salaam Bombay!" won international awards and critical success, and "Monsoon Wedding" has just scooped up the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival. This time the setting is New Delhi, during the atmospheric, expectant days before the great rains break. We join the Verma family, headed by an increasingly harassed father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah), amid their frantic preparations for the rather hastily arranged marriage of their daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das) to a 42-year-old engineer, Hemant (Parvin Dabas), who will be taking her back with him to Houston, Texas. Meanwhile, the gawky, comically exasperating but lovable wedding caterer and architect of the huge garden tent being constructed for the festivities, P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), falls hopelessly in love with the Vermas' comely, shy maid (Tilotama Shome). Other stories interweave as the guests arrive, and Aditi's previous secret relationship with a married man and a family skeleton involving the childhood sexual abuse of her cousin and adopted sister, Ria (Shefali Shetty), threaten to derail the event. In some respects this is a subcontinental rerun of Robert Altman's 1978 "A Wedding," but markedly different in spirit. There's humor but not satire, and "Monsoon Wedding" finally offers a frothy, positive take on family values, solidarity and communal enjoyment, against an ebullient background of the sounds of traditional local music, Bollywood and bhangra (a blend of Punjabi folk and Western pop). On the other hand, its depiction of a prosperous, educated class now living very much between East and West raises some of the paradoxes of modern India -- where, for example, girls may lose their virginity in the course of romantic love affairs but still end up having arranged marriages -- without delving more deeply into them.

Mira Nair's 1988 "Salaam Bombay!" won international awards and critical success, and "Monsoon Wedding" has just scooped up the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival. This time the setting is New Delhi, during the atmospheric, expectant days before the great rains break. We join the Verma family, headed by an increasingly harassed father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah), amid their frantic preparations for the rather hastily arranged marriage of their daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das) to a 42-year-old engineer, Hemant (Parvin Dabas), who will be taking her back with him to Houston, Texas. Meanwhile, the gawky, comically exasperating but lovable wedding caterer and architect of the huge garden tent being constructed for the festivities, P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), falls hopelessly in love with the Vermas' comely, shy maid (Tilotama Shome). Other stories interweave as the guests arrive, and Aditi's previous secret relationship with a married man and a family skeleton involving the childhood sexual abuse of her cousin and adopted sister, Ria (Shefali Shetty), threaten to derail the event. In some respects this is a subcontinental rerun of Robert Altman's 1978 "A Wedding," but markedly different in spirit. There's humor but not satire, and "Monsoon Wedding" finally offers a frothy, positive take on family values, solidarity and communal enjoyment, against an ebullient background of the sounds of traditional local music, Bollywood and bhangra (a blend of Punjabi folk and Western pop). On the other hand, its depiction of a prosperous, educated class now living very much between East and West raises some of the paradoxes of modern India -- where, for example, girls may lose their virginity in the course of romantic love affairs but still end up having arranged marriages -- without delving more deeply into them.


First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2016