April 5, 2002


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Director Mira Nair uses the garlands of marigold, the vibrantly colored tents, and the pulsating music of Monsoon Wedding as a backdrop to examine the preparations for and the complexities of a traditional Punjabi wedding. Like an intricately decorated wedding cake, the plot is multi-layered, with several well-developed subplots that add substance to the story. While the character portrayals and visual delights of the cinematography emanate with color, the plot reveals some of the family’s darker secrets.

Set in the bride’s home in an affluent suburb of Delhi, the film chronicles the days leading up to Aditi’s wedding and culminates with the exuberant ceremony. As the wedding nears and the extended family arrives from around the world to take part in the festivities, Aditi develops cold feet. Although her parents arranged for her to marry an engineer from Texas, she harbors secret affections for a married man. Her struggle to come to terms with her parents’ wishes and to respect Punjabi tradition continues throughout the preparatory wedding rituals.

While much of the film is devoted to resolving Aditi’s crisis, Mira Nair gives ample attention to portraying the personal dramas of the other principal and secondary characters. Not only are we introduced to Aditi’s large family, but we also come to know many of their quirks and conflicts. The flirtation of distant cousins, the budding romance between the wedding planner and the servant, and Adidit’s parents’ struggles with their effeminate son, all furnish the plot with layers of complexity. There are glimmers of Father of the Bride, in that much of the film focuses on the father’s efforts to finance the wedding and his emotional struggles with marrying off his eldest daughter.

Although most of the scenes take place at Aditi’s house, Nair averts a claustrophobic feel by separating individual scenes with beautifully filmed sequences of life on the Delhi streets. Not only are these lyrical interludes a masterful achievement in lighting, but they also convey a social message by juxtaposing the lifestyles of the upper-middle and lower classes. The use of a handheld camera makes the viewer privy to many intimate family moments. Unfortunately, some of the intimacy is lost in the occasional heavily accented dialogue, which left me longing for subtitles.

Nair’s vision, which highlights the activities of an individual Punjabi family, also offers a commentary on the globalization of contemporary India. However, invading elements of the West do not dilute the tantalizing Indian flavor of the film. Amidst the impending rains and the mounting tensions between the traditional and the modern, Monsoon Wedding triumphs as a celebration of the universal values of life, love, and family.

Archived article by Gillian Klempner