Mira Nair Brings the Best of Bollywood to Her Colorful Family Comedy
#25: Monsoon Wedding (2001)/Punjabi, Hindi & English
Director: Mira Nair
Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding is a comedy in the Shakespearean sense – full of twists and revelations that threaten the happy ending, but resolving joyfully in not only one, but two weddings. It’s a social comedy in which the household servants have their backstage dramas and romances running parallel to those at center stage. It’s a dysfunctional family comedy/drama (with a tone shift that is the riskiest move in the film, and not 100% successful). And it is also, certainly, a Bollywood film. There are beautiful young woman and handsome young men, fretful mothers and protective fathers, cute younger siblings, glorious color, and of course, singing and dancing.
Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) is a devoted if overwhelmed Punjabi father, trying to arrange the perfect wedding for his oldest child, Aditi (Vasundhara Das). Aditi, for her part, is unenthused about the wedding. She’s accepting an arranged marriage to Hemant (Parvin Dabas), an engineer living in Texas – but she’s not ready to give up her relationship with a married work colleague. Lalit is in constant negotiations with the wedding planner, P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), a hustler and perhaps a huckster. Meanwhile, the house fills up with guests – the Indian diaspora returning to celebrate Aditi and Lalit’s union.
Lalit is in constant negotiations with the wedding planner, P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), a hustler and perhaps a huckster. Meanwhile, the house fills up with guests – the Indian diaspora returning to celebrate Aditi and Lalit’s union.
What follows is a vibrant, funny series of episodes with some real suspense built in. As Aditi slips away to meet her lover it’s clear that something has to give, and Monsoon Wedding’s handling of arranged marriage is unexpected. There’s another, graver, subplot unfolding involving Aditi’s cousin, Ria. Lalit and his wife, Pimmi (Lilette Dubey) raised Ria as their own child after the death of her parents. Now Ria is an adult, wanting to go to America to study creative writing. When wealthy Uncle Tej, visiting for the wedding, offers to pay for Ria’s entire education, Lalit sees an act of generosity. The expression on Ria’s face tells us that something else is going on – and frankly, Uncle Tej is creepy looking enough that the eventual disclosure about him is far from a surprise.
Ria’s plight will require that Lalit make a difficult choice, between maintaining the family status quo and believing and protecting the niece he loves like a daughter. He will do the right thing, of course, in time for the happy ending. And as for the second wedding? One of the sweetest pleasures of Monsoon Wedding is seeing P.K. evolve from simply a man on the make to one who is smitten, stricken, slain by love for the quiet domestic servant, Alice (Tillotama Shome).
In Monsoon Wedding Nair celebrated the energy, color and life of Punjabi culture. It’s a glorious tribute to her heritage, and to the rich tradition of Bollywood films.
Bonus Pick: The Kids Are Alright (2010)
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been together for almost 20 years and have two teenagers, conceived through artificial insemination. Those teens (wonderfully played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) have located their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) and want to make him a part of their non-traditional family. Things get complicated very quickly. The performances in The Kids Are Alright are wonderful, the humor is wry, and a monologue by Jules on the hard work of maintaining a relationship is TRUTH.