It was a pleasure to see Monsoon Wedding (2001) again on the big screen, courtesy of this month’s Screen St Ives presentation, particularly when the audience reaction was so warm and enthusiastic (average audience rating a very strong 4.3 out of 5).
In preparation for my brief introduction to the film I checked out the relevant contemporary Sight and Sound article (‘Henna and cellphones’ by Geoffrey Macnab, p.18, January 2002). It begins:-
The idea which eventually led Mira Nair to make Monsoon Wedding came to her when she was stuck in a traffic jam in Bombay, late for an appointment… As she sat in her car, getting more and more frustrated at the delay, she noticed a procession of around 2000 women, all in white, marching across the road towards the ocean. “They were guffawing madly and they were carrying placards that said ‘World Laughter Day’. It was like something out of Fellini”, the 44-year-old director recalls.
This intriguing image, with its curiously contrasting elements, seems appropriate for a film which is full of enticing juxtapositions. There is the storyline which looks at the tensions and creative sparks between modernity and traditions; there is the style which is indebted to both Bollywood and Hollywood; cinematography which is naturalistic, but at times carefully composed (incidentally, cinematographer Declan Quinn was DP on the fabulous Leaving Las Vegas); and an overall tone of joyous exuberance which does not overwhelm or undermine those more sober and intense moments dealing with difficult and sometimes shocking subjects.
In an online interview the director talks about her approach:-
I wanted to make a portrait of modern contemporary India…a picture of Indian life today, the negotiations between old and new, in language, music, fashion.
Chuck Bowen in his Slant Magazine piece says:-
Nair, a Punjabi who went to college in America in her late teens, is frequently occupied with the clash between the young and old of her country, as the young gravitate toward a less Indian, more global (read: American), more permissive, perhaps less sentimental, more self-indulgent society of unquestioned gratification; while the old cling to values more closely rooted in traditions of religion, extended family, and perhaps unquestioned sacrifice with a dash of regret and envy.
The best moments in Nair’s pictures have a wonderfully contradictory push-pull quality; they’re erotic, foolish, forbidden, and mysterious.
Philip French also looks at this in his Observer piece:-
The family [in the film] belongs to the Indian diaspora, its children scattered to the four corners of the earth – Europe, Australia, the Gulf, the United States – and they are torn between their traditional culture and the Western world in which they thrive.
…Underlying the film are serious themes of dislocation, deracination and hanging on to old ways that continue to give meaning in a blank consumer society.
It seems to me that Nair’s skill is in bringing all these elements together in a coherent and convincing manner, with characters who you care about.
Sandy Chaitram on the BBC website:-
[Nair] successfully creates the opportunity for tense drama, which does not stifle the overall feelgood nature of the film, or impede the finale’s … confirmation of family love.
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian:-
Nair directs with unflagging energy, style and pizzazz, periodically whisking her crew out into the teeming streets for external locations and using the real-life Delhi crowds as a seamlessly integrated real backdrop for her family drama. This movie is a real tonic.
Rich Cline in Shadows on the Wall:
One of the most effective and joyous examinations of family ever put on screen, this film is a delight from start to finish, even when it dips into serious issues.
[It] captures the energy, colours and culture of these people remarkably, with powerfully honest performances all around.
This is breathtakingly good filmmaking – thoroughly entertaining, deeply moving, warmly funny and profoundly evocative. It’s simply so wonderful that I won’t say a word against it.