Monsoon Wedding, directed by Third World Cinema icon has for some time been one of the films I have longed to watch, but sat in limbo when it was released by Criterion, prolonging my wait to get the best version out there, not to mention in bluray. I had the disc on my shelf constantly being looked at but being sat aside for other choices, however, while reading a great book on African and Asian women filmmakers, Mira Nair's name came up and I knew that ignoring the viewing of this film any longer was just foolish. Of course, this movie was amazing, I expected that much, what blew me away though was the sheer scope of commentaries and cinematic elements Nair offers in a movie that is just a bit under two hours. From the onset we are introduced to a world of India that is affected by colonization, capitalist desires and a problematic entrenchment to traditional ideals, especially as they relate to gender. Yet where a film could have totally went the route of degrading imagery, something Nair has done successfully in the past, Monsoon Wedding manages to embrace sentimentality and simple moments of transcendence without becoming preachy or pretentious. Furthermore, perhaps better than any other director working within the Third World Cinema framework, Nair manages to find beautiful hybrids between the cinematic output of her country, particularly evident in the cinematic references to Satyajit Ray (the moment in front of the tree), while also existing within a degree of Hollywood and Western traditionalism. Intersectionality plays out beautifully in Nair's work and is never over-glorified or undermined within the narrative, a beautiful set of colors manages to create a feeling of incandescence which works nicely into the various tensions simmering and eventually boiling over within the space of the film. Simply put, Nair's Monsoon Wedding is top tier cinema and global positioning and identity are not factors to deter a person from producing great films, particularly when said person possesses stories well worth telling.
Monsoon Wedding centers on the Verma's, a well to do Indian family preparing for their daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das) to partake in an arranged marriage, despite being shown that she is still dealing with her own intimate relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Aditi's father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah), is in a constant panicked state as it is apparent that the wedding is taxing on his bank account, made only worse by the constant bickering with wedding cooridnator P.K. (Vijay Raaz), who while organizing the event takes a liking to one of the Verma's servants, named Alice (Tillotama Shome). Despite this, all involved attempt to create a wedding event for the ages, which of course, in Indian culture means multiple days of celebration. It is during these days leading up to the big wedding that heads but and notions of tradition are challenged, whether it be Aditi constantly visiting with her husband to be prior to the wedding, as well as a problematic last visit with her former lover, or Lalit's constant attempts to exert his failing male authority, as is apparent while he plays a game of golf, leading to begging a friend for money or as he unsuccessfully accosts his youngest son for desiring a non-traditional future. Smaller stories also exist, as is the case with P.K. and Alice's burgeoning romance or the desires of a bartender to win over one of Lalit's other more "sultry" daughters. However, a problematic narrative point centering around one of Lalit's daughters former abuse at the hands of the father-in-law to be leads to Lalit finally reconsidering his place of dominance in a society that would allow such terrible things to occur. He demands that the individual remove himself from the celebrations, despite his considerable financial wealth, something that gains him the admiration of his daughters as well as a clear boost in self-respect. Finally, after Aditi admits to her past faults, to her husband-to-be he, after initial disdain, agrees to overlook her past and celebrate the possibilities of their future, because as he reminds Aditi, every marriage begins with a certain degree of risk.
The book I have just finished, titled Women Filmmakers of the African & Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity, as I noted earlier discusses Mira Nair in great length particularly her earlier documentary work. It talks mostly about her controversial status as a woman who depicts some of the more seedy elements of Indian life, particulary as they relate to the exchange of sex and the selling of virgins to high paying clientele, yet more of the text considers the manner with which Nair uses one surface storyline in order to comment on a considerable amount of underlying problems. This is certainly true for Monsoon Wedding as the impending wedding serves as the overarching theme of the narrative, yet so much is existing within this space that it is clear that this celebration is only important for the title's sake. Firstly, gender is wildly transgressed within this film, whether it be Aditi's choice to wear pants, or Lalit's wife asserting authority, it is clear that tradition is long out the window and this of course proves true for the male figures in the film as well, as noted with Lalit and his son earlier although a similar argument could be made in favor of P.K. and the bartender reconsidering their masculinities as well. Secondly, class is contested frequently within the film, particularly in regards to the capitalist assumption that wealth equals happiness, this is clearly not the case for Lalit and it is not until he comes to terms with this idea that he is able to consider actions that benefit his entire family beyond the assurance of financial safety. Even P.K. comes to accept that he can be quite happy as he and Alice share in their own, arguably, more beautiful wedding ceremony. Finally, language is transgressed immediately and continually throughout the film as English and Hindi are used throughout the film, sometimes simultaneously in sentences, speaking volumes to Spivak's notions of the subaltern, as well as how a colonized body reappropriates its identity in relationship to a Western colonizer.
Key Scene: It involves a beautifully lit tree...trust me you will know the moment I am talking about.
This is a glorious bluray purchase and a reminder that while Criterion is known for releasing the classics they are also huge advocates for providing cinephiles with films that are socially important and revolutionary and Monsoon Wedding is certainly one example. Buy a copy immediately, it is that great.