Monsoon Wedding: Criterion Collection
October 14, 2009
With the surprise phenomenonal success of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) people have a tendency to forget, or are simply unaware, that filmmakers like Mira Nair have been working hard for years at bringing Indian culture to the mainstream. She arrived on the scene with the impressive feature film debut of Salaam Bombay! in 1988. She dabbled in the mainstream with big budget films like Mississippi Masala (1991) starring Denzel Washington. Nair made Monsoon Wedding in 2001 for only $1.5 million and it went on to become one of the highest-grossing foreign films in the United States.
In the tradition of Robert Altman’s A Wedding (1978), Monsoon Wedding is a funny and poignant depiction of a traditional Punjabi wedding – an arranged marriage of an upper middle-class Indian family’s only daughter. Aditi (Das) has never met her future husband, is seeing a married television host on the side, and has a family life that can be best described as chaotic with all sorts of secrets threatening to surface. Her father (Shah) is freaking out over the unfinished floral decoration for the wedding. Aditi’s sister Ria (Shetty) knows about her affair and warns her sibling that she’s not ready to get married. The groom, Hemant (Dabas) looks as uncomfortable at the prospects of being married as much as Aditi does. Alice (Shome), the youngest daughter, finds herself attracted to the slightly wacky, yet smitten wedding planner (Raaz) who is always arguing with his mother on the phone.
Nair adopts a fly-on-the-wall approach to much of the film’s camerawork which creates the impression that we are eavesdropping on this family’s life, catching them during unguarded moments. It adds to the authenticity of how this family is depicted. They argue and complain with each other but at the end of the day they are united by love for one another. Sabrina Dhawan’s screenplay does a fantastic job of presenting an impressive collection of fully-realized characters with a full spectrum of emotions. It also shows the clash of cultures with the parents’ notions of a traditional, arranged marriage coming up against their children’s more modern attitudes. Nair draws naturalistic performances out of the entire cast – there’s not a false note among them and every character is given at least one moment to take center stage while never losing sight that they are part of an ensemble. It is quite a large cast but we are never trying to figure out who everyone is because each character, and the actor playing them, is so distinctive.
Monsoon Wedding provides fascinating insight into Indian culture and how a particular family functions, which is not unlike families everywhere else in the world. This gives the film a universal appeal, acting as an excellent introduction to a culture many are unfamiliar with.
The first disc features an audio commentary by director Mira Nair. She wanted to make a film in a short amount of time on a low budget with no movie stars, much like her debut film. She also wanted to make a film close to her heart. Nair talks about how she went about casting the ensemble with a mix of veteran actors and amateur ones. Due to time and money constraints, she adopted a guerrilla-style of filmmaking, working with what she had. Nair provides all kinds of wonderful insights into how Monsoon Wedding came together as well as Indian culture.
“The Laughing Club of India” is a 2000 documentary short film by Nair about the rise in popularity of laughing clubs in Bombay. The director gives an introduction where she talks about the origins of the film. This is a series of clubs where people meet and laugh together for 40 minutes. Nair says that the style of this doc. inspired her approach to Monsoon Wedding.
Nair interviews the film’s lead actor Naseeruddin Shah about his experiences working on the film. She had been a fan of his since she was 17 and always wanted to work with him. Shah talks about how he got into acting and really conveys a passion for it.
The film’s cinematographer Declan Quinn and production designer Stephanie Carroll are interviewed and talk about their contributions to the look of the film. They also share some filming anecdotes.
Also included is a very evocative theatrical trailer.
The second disc features seven short films by Nair that span the years 1982, with So Far From India, to 2008, with How Can It Be?, each with a video introduction by Nair.