Reviewed by: Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin
Starring: Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Parveen Dabaas, Vijay Raaz | Directed by: Mira Nair | Produced by: Caroline Baron, Mira Nair | Written by: Sabrina Dhawan | Distributor: USA Films
One of many benefits in viewing a film created in another country is the opportunity to experience our common humanity. Our hopes, dreams, sorrows and sins exist in much the same way whether we live in Denver or Delhi. This truth is clearly communicated by the acclaimed Indian director Mira Nair in her subtitled film, “Monsoon Wedding”.
The power in the film is its masterful weaving together of the global community in which we live. This is seen not only in the seamless conversations of this middle-class Indian family which uses English, Hindi and Punjabi all in the same sentence, but it is also seen in the complex religious experience of the wedding in which ancient ceremonies of arranged marriages are flavored with the freedom of choice and romantic love inherent in Western, Christian culture.
But what makes the film spiritually insightful are the universal sins and temptations presented within its tale. We first are introduced to the beautiful bride, Aditi, (Vasundhara Das) as she stops in to see the married man with whom she is having an affair. It soon becomes clear that her falling back into her parent’s desire to arrange her marriage, is not out of her sense of duty to tradition or even obedience to her parents, but rather out of frustration in being trapped in an affair with a man whose promise to divorce his wife and marry her is empty. As old as the Ten Commandments, the sin of adultery has taken its toll on her joy and soul.
In a similar way, the presence of a pedophilic uncle whose wealth is needed and yet whose lechery is rejected, is an all-too familiar pattern in even the most protected of families and most holy of sanctuaries.
True to the experience of marriage in which two families are thrown together and both must work at knowing the other, viewing the film requires effort in coming to identify the various characters and their relationships. The Verma family is hosting the wedding as parents of the bride. Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey) are full of the common hopes and anxieties as their daughter is leaving them to live in Houston, Texas with the man they arranged for her to marry. Their quiet moments allow us to feel both the joy and the loss of marriage, a reality in any language or family.
The groom is Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas). A handsome expatriate who has reasoned that “marriage is a risk, whether you marry someone your parents arrange for you or you meet in a club,” Hemant is only momentarily crushed when Aditi confesses to him her sin. But recognizing that all marriages must be built on honesty, he offers Aditi his hand and allows her to choose whether to marry him or not.
The visual energy, dancing and music of the film is a cultural feast worthy of the experience, but the value of the film rests in the authentic presentation of our universal spiritual and family lives.
Reprinted with permission from CinemaInFocus.com