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With: Naseeruddin Shah, Vasundhara Das, Parvin Dabas, Vijay Raaz, Shefali Shetty, Tilotama Shome, Roshan Seth
Written by: Sabrina Dhawan
Directed by: Mira Nair
MPAA Rating: R for language, including some sex related dialogue
Language: English, Hindi and Punjabi with English subtitles
Running Time: 115
Date: 08/30/2001
IMDB

Monsoon Wedding (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Piece of Cake

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new Indian film Monsoon Wedding is so purely enjoyable that you might not even notice it's a fairly straightforward remake of Hollywood comedies like Father of the Bride.

Indian director Mira Nair (Kama Sutra, Mississippi Masala and Salaam Bombay!) says she intended her new film to be a kind of Bollywood movie, but one made on her own terms. For the uninitiated, India's "Bollywood" is considered the world's largest movie industry, and generally cranks out innocuous romances following strict formulas with lots of colorful backdrops, costume changes and musical numbers.

Monsoon Wedding eliminates the musical numbers (it does have a couple of vibrant dance scenes) and embraces a more modern Hollywood romantic comedy formula. And the mix works, though you have to wonder if the movie dilutes the feel of vintage Indian cinema for the sake of American box office.

The lovely, curvy and pouty Aditi (Vasundhara Das) has agreed to an arranged marriage after realizing that her affair with her married boss has reached an end. Her new fiancée Hemant (Parvin Dabas) is American-educated but holds on to his Indian roots. He sincerely wants to make a go of his new marriage, and it's not hard to believe that he will. But with the wedding just days away, Aditi's boss tries to come back into the picture, hijacking her on a rainy night for cheap sex in the back of his truck.

Meanwhile, with tons of family and family friends rushing around preparing for the wedding, other dramas erupt. The wedding planner, named P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz) falls for Aditi's lovely, shy maid, Alice (Tilotama Shome). Their tentative little courtship charms us even more than the main characters' story does, thanks to the couple's considerable screen presence. Raaz is lanky and bony but with huge, expressive eyes, teeth, lips and hands, and Shome takes "delicate" to new levels.

Other little romances spring up, but the most disturbing one concerns an older relative who has a penchant for young girls. Adita's cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) was abused by the rotten fellow as a child -- and now she's the only one who notices the horror happening all over again with an even younger child.

That's where the movie crosses the line, as far as I'm concerned. The picture as a whole feels so breezy, colorful and closely-knit (it's photographed by Aidan's brother Declan Quinn) that lurching all the way over to one side to tackle some sick psychosis seems like an add-on designed to attract socially conscious critics and add some weight to an otherwise "light" movie. Indeed, the time spent on this subplot could have gone to resolving other storylines -- such as the gay son who hasn't come out of the closet yet -- or ideas, such as the juxtaposition of the traditional wedding rituals with the modern-day ideals.

Not to mention that Nair casts the great Roshan Seth (Gandhi, Such a Long Journey) in a nearly inconsequential role. Seth may be one of the world's great actors, and he's thrown away here with about five minutes of screen time.

Still, it's easy to chalk up the movie's messiness to the wedding itself. After all, no one can be in all places at all times to witness every little drama unfolding. We're lucky to get glimpses of the ones that are here. And despite that one sour bite near the movie's center, Monsoon Wedding comes off as joyously sweet.

DVD Details: The new 2009 Criterion Collection DVD -- with much brighter, bolder colors -- comes with a commentary track by director Nair (recorded in 2002). Extras include a short documentary by Nair about "laughing clubs," interviews and a trailer. The second disc comes with six more short films, two more documentaries and four fiction films, including Nair's segment from 11'09''01 - September 11.

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