Mira Nair is known for her deeply intense portrayals of class differences in her films. The fact that she does so with such an unobtrusive eye is what has propelled her to the status of some of the best directors in India. Her latest project is the film adaptation of the Pakistani hit novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, written by Mohsin Hamid. For capturing the experience of the Other and the disillusionment with the American Dream, Nair recieved acclaim at the Venice Film Festival. In order to remember her work we go back into the past and review a film that bought her to the limelight.
Monsoon Wedding is a simply told story of a daughter about to get married to the “perfect” man. It is a dank Dehli summer, the air sticky with rain in the air. The Verma family’s eldest daughter is getting ready to marry the son of a nice family. The story is told from multiple view points,from the worried father’s to the neurotic mother (played to perfection by Naseeruddin Shah and Lillete Dubey) to the effeminate younger son who loves cooking shows. Three romances are shown, each one corresponding to a stage of love. The fledgling attraction between the housemaid Alice and the event manager is the first stage of love. Two cousins of the family, Ayesha (Neha Dubey) and the hippie son from Austrailia develop a relationship based more on lust. And finally the daughter, Aditi (Vasundhara Das), leaves her philandering boss for a more grounded relationship with her fiance.
What sets this film apart from a typical “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” type style is Nair’s minimalism. She lets the camera linger on small moments, like the maid picking up empty glasses outside the house, pausing to tuck a marigold behind her ear or the increasing suffocation Aditi feels as the days come nearer, emphasized by small spaces like a telephone booth. It seems as if Nair has just left the camera on and let everyone act naturally. But that is a testament to how honest and raw her portrayal of a traditional Indian wedding is. Resentments run deep and scars from the past resurface to haunt all of them.
Special mention for Shefali Shetty for her role as Ria Verma, who is taken in by her uncle Lalit (Shah) and raised by him. Her secret keeps her apart from everyone and tensions mount as the festivities begin. Her paranoia deepens as she find herself looking over her shoulder, constantly on guard.
Backed by an eclectic soundtrack against the cut-and-paste montage that is Dehli, Monsoon Wedding is definitely one film you should watch this weekend.