Monsoon Wedding
directed by Mia Nair
(Universal, 2001)

Here comes the deluge -- the rain, the extended family, the family secrets, the rushes of longing that make Monsoon Wedding such a lush celebration.

Mira Nair's film about the chaotic celebration that surrounds a traditional wedding garnered word-of-mouth attention rarely paid to Indian films in America. It's the same surge that also propelled My Big Fat Greek Wedding but, weddings aside, both are unabashed valentines to family -- specific families, to be sure, but also the idea of "family" that can carry the day when other foundations are shaky.

But Nair didn't turn her cameras to Indian Americans, to their struggles of assimilation and independence here, nor did she go for laughs as Greek Wedding did. Instead, we're taken to the marigold-scented nuptials in India. And it's not the India of the British Raj, but modern India, with its mix of tradition, residual British touches and ubiquitous American culture.

The tradition: Aditi's marriage has been arranged. The modern: The groom is an Indian businessman who lives in Houston. The tradition: Aditi's mother must go on a shopping spree for gifts to give the groom's extended family. The modern: Aditi's already had a relationship -- and with a married man, even. It's a clash that really isn't used to create crisis, and lots of the potential crises are overswept by the sheer size of the cast and momentum of subplots. Everybody's got to get their turn, and the bride and groom often are pushed aside by all the commotion.

Monsoon Wedding begins as relatives are arriving for Aditi's wedding, the culmination of four days of parties, reunions and introductions. The biggest introduction of all, of course, is that of Aditi and her groom.

Before the wedding can take place, though, there's an official engagement, more than one confession and mutual attractions springing up all over Aditi's extended family, which includes just about every cousin and cousin's cousin that can claim a connection to the wedding. Everyone must be invited and, by the looks of it, everyone accepts the invitation. This will be no quiet ceremony with a couple of witnesses.

Enter P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), event coordinator extraordinaire. It's his job to whip his four assistants into shape to erect red tents, scatter the petals of countless marigolds and give the glow of wealth to Aditi's celebration.

Raaz's gift is to allow us to see beyond the grasping Dubey, to show the gap between his home life and Aditi's, to give us an idea of where his hustle comes from. And when Dubey sets eyes on Alice, the family's maid, Raaz's eyes reflect the astonishment of a man who doesn't know what's hit him.

That's just one of the secondary plots that gives Monsoon Wedding a level of chaos that goes beyond even putting together a wedding for a couple hundred friends and strangers. It's that chaos that gives the movie its foundation, in a way, but it also makes it nearly impossible to keep track of who's related to whom, at least for those of us who aren't familiar with the actors or Indian customs.

For me, though, that was a small matter. There were gaps for me -- the only reason Westernized Aditi gives for agreeing to arranged marriage is that she wants "to settle down," for example -- but all that's pretty much swept away in the goodwill flood of Monsoon Wedding. It's a riotous celebration, and we're lucky Mira Nair thought to send us an invitation.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 24 May 2003

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