Review: Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Like most Americans, I do not watch a whole lot of Indian movies. Actually, I can count the number of Indian movies I have watched on one hand. Bollywood is a lot different than Hollywood. Steeped as I am in American culture, I haven’t absorbed much Indian culture. However, on a recommendation I rented Monsoon Wedding, a film not only made in India, but also very much a product of Bollywood.

When I worked regularly with Indians, I noticed that by American standards they talk very quickly. This makes Monsoon Wedding hard to follow at times. About half of it is in English, and the other half presumably in Hindi, with English subtitles. So be prepared to listen closely or you may miss some key plot points.

Weddings in India are a very big deal. Tradition requires that the bride’s family pay for the wedding, which often includes a large dowry. Fortunately, the Verma family is loaded by Indian standards, with their own private estate that comes complete with a maid who took the English name Alice (Tillotama Shome). The bride, Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das) has beautiful brown hair and enormous eyes that make her look a bit like Elijah Wood. You would think Aditi would be glad to be getting married, but like most Indian marriages, her marriage is an arranged marriage. She is betrothed to Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas) but is still secretly in love with her ex-boss Vikram (Sameer Arya) who also happens to be married. This couple’s prospects for marital happiness do not appear to be great, particularly when Aditi does things like sneak out in the middle of the night right before her marriage to see her lover.

There must be something in the air though, because new romance, like the plentiful marigold flowers, is blooming all over the Verma estate. The wedding planner P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz) is having trouble focusing on his work because he is smitten by the Verma family’s maid Alice, but has a hard time articulating his feelings. P.K. has been in the wedding planning business for fifteen years. He has neglected minor things like finding a wife, the consequences for which mean plenty of nagging from his mother at home. Aditi’s unmarried relative Ayesha (Neha Dubey) is also feeling some tentative heartstrings, in this case with Aditi’s cousin Rahul (Randeep Hooda), who is all westernized since he has been working in Melbourne.

It is understood that Bollywood films will be rife with songs and dance. Songs there are aplenty, mostly in the background, but the dancing is largely confined to the wedding itself, which as the title implies begins in a monsoon. There is quite a lot of plot to this two-hour movie which becomes much more adult than expected. Cinematic nudity is verboten in India so sensuality is accented instead. Yet, there is a surprising amount of adult material in this movie beyond the infidelity. Is the Verma’s boy Ayesha possibly a homosexual? It is not stated, but it is implied from his unsocial behavior and his father’s desire to send him to boarding school to rectify things. The family is also burdened by a secret that the wedding brings out: a closely connected friend of the family is actually a child molester. The patriarch of the family, Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) has to sort out what to do about this situation all while dealing with the chaos and expense that comes with marrying off his beloved daughter.

For those wanting a taste of Bollywood with an adult storyline and good acting, Monsoon Wedding is worth a rental. You get a taste of not only Bollywood, but of Indian culture. Nor are the problems of Indian families that much different than our own. This very relationship-centered film takes you through several pivotal days in the Verma family. Sometimes the movie feels like a comedy, but more often feels like a tightly scripted drama. So don’t go seeing this hoping to see My Big Fat Indian Wedding. Yet it is probably worth your time nonetheless.

This movie rates a solid “B”, neither exceptional nor mediocre, but just good. As such, it gets 3.0 on my 4.0 scale.

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