Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding" (IMDb listing) is a film of epic joviality. A celebration of life, love, tragedy and marriage, "Wedding" is one of the most buoyant and resplendent films of 2002.
Deep in the heart of New Delhi, Aditi (Vasundhara Das) is about to become the latest victim of her family's insistence on arranged marriages. In love with another man, yet hopelessly bound to her father's wishes, Aditi, her cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) and the rest of her family careen headlong toward the wedding day as the remaining 96 hours tick slowly away. In the madness of the last minute arrangements, a wedding planner finds love with a servant girl, a mother mourns the loss of her soon-to-be-married daughter, an uncle is confronted about past misgivings, a groom learns the truth about his new bride and a father tries to tie all this madness together to give his daughter the proper wedding she deserves and his heritage expects.
While Mira Nair is known for her celebratory pictures ("The Perez Family," "Kama Sutra") of love and sex, I don't think anything quite as jubilant as "Monsoon Wedding" has come out of this talented filmmaker before. Or anybody else, for that matter. Not in years. It could very well be the director's masterpiece, as it celebrates love for all things including country, family, frailty and even love itself. The story is almost secondary as Nair focuses on the arduous task of preparing an Eastern-Indian wedding that will not embarrass the ancestry. It's a frenzied event, as family assembles from all parts of the globe, bringing with them the type of drama that Robert Altman specializes in with his multi-character pictures. Nair keeps all the stories moving briskly while maintaining an unheard of amount of energy to the film. It is her finest work to date.
Shot by Declan Quinn ("Leaving Las Vegas," "Kama Sutra"), "Wedding" is a picture filled with color and vibrancy. Even the dirtiest corners of this movie are beautiful to behold. One of the motifs in the picture are the marigold flowers that litter the wedding site. So beautiful are they that the wedding planner, a small-time entrepreneur named P.K. (Vijay Raaz), is prone to eating them, as if to ingest their sanctity. And that's exactly what I wanted to do. "Monsoon Wedding" is such a delightfully sugary confection, bursting with song (provided by composer Mychael Danna and a host of traditional Eastern-Indian wedding songs) and dance that you almost want to pull down part of the screen and eat it whole just so you can take some of the delight home.
It is interesting, though, that Nair suddenly decides to put the brakes on the high energy for a third act drama involving Ria's long ago molestation by her uncle. Though Nair plants the seeds for this revelation throughout the picture, it doesn't boil over until the film is more than 3/4 complete. Too much time has passed to stop the euphoria, and I had an incredibly hard time trying to figure out why Nair felt the need to add such a heavy dramatic weight to a film as resourceful as this one. Was it out of fear that the picture was too jubilant? I hope not. It looks more like Nair was trying to give actors Shefali Shetty and Naseeruddin Shah something more substantial to work with. If that was the case, then mission accomplished. The two actors' scenes of fear and remorse over this traumatic event are heart-achingly effective, but when they pass, Nair tries to restart the vibe she so carelessly derailed. The cinematic soul sings again with the arrival of the climatic wedding, but the joy has now rusted, and Nair cannot reestablish the purity of the bliss that makes the first 90 minutes go by in the blink of an eye.
Unfortunately, most of the Eastern-Indian imports we get here in the states are mostly drab, yet insightful films of repression and despair. "Monsoon Wedding" changes all that, giving us a New Delhi that shimmers with life and bounces to the rhythm of happiness. Just how can you resist that?
Filmfodder Grade: A-