Before directing versions of such classic Euro/American narratives as “Vanity Fair” and this week’s “Amelia,” Mira Nair was known as the director who brought Indian culture to the big screens in America. From her Oscar nominated “Salaam Bombay!” to her Denzel Washington-starrer “Mississippi Masala,” Nair became one of the few directors who brought South Asian life across the seas to a wide audience in the US. Her most popular film (though it might soon be outshone by “Amelia”) “Monsoon Wedding,” is set to be released on Criterion today. The film centers on Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) who is preparing an arranged wedding for his daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das). Not only is the marriage complicated by Aditi’s affair with a married man, but various other members of the family’s network (not to mention the kooky wedding planner (Vijay Raaz)) are cooking up trouble and subsequently distracting from the marriage.
Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News explains his affinity for the film, “Monsoon Wedding was my No. 1 film of 2002, but at the time I had trouble explaining why. When asked, as I frequently was, the best I could come up with was some variation of, ‘It made me happy’…So let’s take another stab at explaining the greatness of Mira Nair’s festive nuptial drama. First off, the original answer still works pretty well in a pinch. The film’s colors, motion, music and spirited cross-cultural ensemble convey an infectious sense of unabashed joy and romance. It’s one of those movies you can tell was a lot of fun to make, which Nair confirms in her audio commentary and in her video interview with the star, Naseeruddin Shah, the film’s proud but harried patriarch.”
In a 2002 New York Times review of the film, Elvis Mitchell notes that Nair has overcome the obstacles of a slew of characters and subplots to craft a successful film. He says, “‘Wedding’ often has the energy of a Bollywood spectacle, with its ingratiatingly incongruous shuffles of genres; we even get a handful of musical numbers, including a warm, offhanded song on the pleasures of married life performed by a group of women. (Music played by a band at the wedding in the picture’s climax circles back stylistically to that wonderful tune that opens ”Wedding.”) The agile handling of the soap-opera elements — conventional plotting at best — finally makes ‘Wedding’ a pop, facile take on Capulet versus Montague stuff, likable but square. (Ms. Nair has visited similar tensions more compellingly in her 1991 ‘Mississippi Masala,’ in which Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury set off sparks as a couple whose families don’t want them together.) The monsoon part of the title acknowledges the swirling freshets of subplots here, more than in all of Ms. Nair’s previous movies put together.”
This special edition of the film is made all the more necessary when one remembers the film’s cinematography. On Film.com, Amanda Mae Meyncke notes, “Nair’s cinematographer Declan Quinn delivers moments of respite, spaces of city-viewing as citizens go about their business drenched in the rain, a softer glimpse of bustling India. It is the smaller moments such as these where Mira Nair takes on the artistic temperament of Wong Kar-Wai or even Terrence Malick, subtle and seductive, beautiful, clean filmmaking at its very best.”
The Criterion DVD packs in mucho extra value by including Nair’s seven short films. On the collection DVD Talk‘s Thomas Spurlin explains, “Each one of Mira Nair’s seven short films are accompanied by introductions from the director, sharing anecdotes about the process of making each film. All of these features are available in HD AVC encodes, looking mostly good for their age. It’s easy to see Mira Nair’s documentarian style translate to non-documentaries and, then, to full-length by watching these pieces, as they all carry a similar lingering nature about their close-ups and movement.”