Monsoon Wedding tracks the frenetic four days before an arranged marriage ceremony in New Delhi. The father of the bride, Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah), is worrying about money and trying to coax more work out of the “events organiser”, the apparently bone idle Dubey (Vijay Raaz). Meanwhile, the doe-eyed young bride-to-be (Adati, played by Vasundhara Das) is discreetly trying to break up with her older married boyfriend, a TV talk show host.The rest of the extended family arrives, including the prospective groom - Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas) - who’s now working and living in Houston, and a cousin from Australia, the hunky Rahul (Randeep Hooda). Despite Lalit’s difficulties funding the lavish traditional wedding, the Vermas are relatively prosperous. They have a servant, Alice (Tilotama Shome), who - like Dubey - aspires to a higher station in life.
The dialogue switches fluidly from Hindi and Punjabi to English, reflecting the Western influences on the modern Indian middle class family. Although initially confusing to work out who fits where in the sprawling family, the cast is so good and the direction of Mira Nair so tight that it doesn’t matter for long. Nair relies - sometimes excessively - on shaky hand-held camerawork to establish intimacy and track the turbulence of the wedding preparations.
Monsoon Wedding begins as a comedy, based on the universal difficulties of organising a wedding and coping with a large family reunion. But Nair seamlessly incorporates serious issues and mood shifts as the film progresses. Occasionally, a single problem dominates proceedings and the melodrama threatens to overburden the lighter moments, but Nair mostly keeps the tone just right.
She is helped immeasurably by a flawless ensemble cast and a perceptive, witty script from Sabrina Dhawan (the characters are all recognisably human and uniquely beautiful). My favourite scene was a traditional women’s song performed one afternoon; the spontaneity and joy in the performances is infectious.
Declan Quinn’s cinematography (he also shot One True Thing and Leaving Las Vegas) brings out the bright oranges, yellows and reds of a traditional Indian wedding. There’s also a nice contrast with the poverty and crowded, muddy streets of New Delhi - Nair shows us the world beyond the Verma household, and reminds us of the wider setting without bludgeoning us with a lesson on class.Monsoon Wedding is about the fragility and strengths of a large family, and the forces of love. The title refers to a rainstorm on the final day, but “monsoon” is an appropriate metaphor for the chaos of organising a family event of these proportions. The soundtrack - a mixture of traditional and modern Indian music - is, like the film itself, irresistible.