TORONTO 2001 REVIEW: For My Family; Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding"
by Eddie Cockrell
(indieWIRE/09.14.01) -- In contemporary New Delhi, the Punjabi middle-class Verma clan, led by comically excised Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) and his supportive wife Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), is preparing for the gala wedding of daughter Aditi (popular singing star Vasundhara Das) to Houston-based computer programmer Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas). Trouble is, Aditi's not yet entirely over her recent affair with a married man. To compound matters, her unmarried cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) ultimately reveals a devastating secret from her youth, and another relative, Ayesha (Neha Dubey), begins a seemingly carefree flirtation with college student Rahul (Randeep Hooda). Providing a bit of charming levity is animated event planner P.K. Dube (Vijay Raaz), who falls head over heels for the Verma's maid, Alice (Tilotama Shome). As summertime rainstorms punctuate the oppressive heat, this extended family celebrates, fights, dances, eats, drinks and generally rejoices in the distinctive globalized matrix of modern New Delhi.
"For my family," reads the first line of the bright closing credit crawl of "Monsoon Wedding" (a USA Films release) and if this is the way director Mira Nair feels about her relatives, her family reunions must be a whole lot of fun. A rich and vibrant antidote to the cynicism currently infecting many Hollywood movies, "Monsoon Wedding" is a gaudy, noisy, genial riot of color, music and emotional whimsy that sings with the joys of life and the inspiration of familial bonds.
As clean and intuitive as Nair's direction of her mammoth cast is, the true star of the film is Sabrina Dhawan's shrewd, multileveled script. Born in New Delhi and a graduate of Columbia University's film program, Dhawan was Nair's teaching assistant in a directing workshop there and a Student Academy Award finalist for her thesis short, "Saanjih--As Night Falls." While the obvious comparison to this kind of story structure is Robert Altman's work, "Monsoon Wedding" incorporates the spirit of the very city itself into the action. It's a flattering portrait of traditional values being rapidly overtaken by the dotcom mentality. That each faction seems to welcome the other sends a message of sunny resiliency to the rest of the world.
Technically, the film is a glittering bauble of color and light, courtesy of cinematographer Declan Quinn ("Leaving Las Vegas," Nair's previous feature "Kama Sutra: A Love Story"). The decision to limit rehearsals and shoot almost entirely hand-held gives the film a fresh energy that would spin out of control in lesser hands. Incredibly, the 35mm blow-up gives no hint at the film's Super 16mm origins. So too the music plays a major role in the film, with the sprightly score of Mychael Danna (Atom Egoyan's regular composer) and a muscular Dolby mix showcasing well over a dozen traditional love songs (called gazals), modern jazz pieces, pop tunes and even Punjabi folk-pop music, known as bhangras.
"Monsoon Wedding" won the Golden Lion grand prize at the 58th Venice International Film Festival September 8, and it was during the September 11th early morning press screening at the Toronto International Film Festival that the events in New York and Washington took place, forcing the cancellation of the film's scheduled North American Gala premiere on Tuesday.