"Monsoon Wedding" (2001)- Movie Review

Directed by Mira Nair
Written by Sabrina Dhawan
Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey and Vijay Raaz

‘An Indian Masterpiece’

It is always so hard to move on with life when you suffer from a troubled past. If a traumatic event leaves you scarred early on in your childhood, it often comes back to haunt you when you grow old. You ponder upon the regrets of your past to the extent that you begin to lose hope in a future.
 
Yet, what if there’s a light in the darkest of circumstances? An optimism instead of pessimism to relish the sunny days in the most dreadful of times?
 
Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” is an intelligent, moving and deeply insightful film about the strong will it takes one to endure such bumpy roads in life. Centered on the life of an everyday Indian family, it is a fascinating exploration of how even though people are separated by culture and race, they are never held apart in behavior. When they come from foreign countries, it definitely isn’t a simple job to make characters relatable for any movie-goer, however, astonishingly Nair’s film gives them depths that allow even outsiders to connect with their situations.
 
If, for example, you’re a westerner who has always been curious to know how a country like India works in terms of lifestyles, this may be the movie you’ve been waiting for. It is a joyous movie-going experience made with undeniable passion and the utmost love for filmmaking as art.
 
The story, like I mentioned, focuses on the dynamics of an Indian family arranging a last-minute marriage without quite realizing the consequences hidden behind secret doors. For the Verma family, as is the case with many Indian households, it is a matter of doing things as soon as possible. Naseerudin Shah stars in the lead role as an impatient and anxious father who won’t budge until every single detail about a wedding is perfect. When it comes to family life, however, his relationships are a mess; close to elders but distanced from his own children.
 
Can a special day in his daughter’s life change his outlooks on life?
 
To say whether it does would be spoiling the refreshing surprise that is “Monsoon Wedding”, so I’ll simply put it this way: they might change your perspective on the meaning of life. Ever had trouble moving on from the mistakes you made in the past to focus on a bright future? If so, Nair’s film is the kind that possesses the rare ability of putting a smile on your face from start to finish.
 
Uplifted by fantastic performances, strong direction and brilliant writing, this is a Bollywood movie devoid of the style-over-substance approach and tiresome pacing that have always brought the genre crashing down. Do you have any idea how rare that is?
 
To be honest, due to their exhausting lengths and a song-every-second structure, I have never been fond of Indian movies. For me, watching them is like running 70 laps around a huge sports arena: my brain becomes frozen in a headache halfway through, my mind drowns in an ocean of boredom where nobody can hear it’s screams, and a sense of deja-vu overtakes me as I get the strange feeling that I’ve seen the same movie a million times before in the form of Hollywood Cinema.
 
Thankfully, this is definitely not the case with Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding”. Not only is it a breath of fresh air for the Bollywood genre but also everything I’ve ever wanted an Indian movie to be.
 
It isn’t everyday that you come across a filmmaker as courageous as Mira Nair, who takes a brave leap of faith with this film. Unlike the movies she normally creates as a director, “Monsoon Wedding” deals with the lives of countless characters whose lives interweave because of their struggle to move on from their dreadful pasts.
 
A determined father, a daughter reluctant to marry, a troubled sister-in-law and a servant in search for love, revolve around an ambitious story which miraculously finds a way to let each of them shine. It certainly isn’t a piece of cake to balance so many characters in a movie without making a catastrophic mess out of it however, Nair with enlightening insight guides us through their lives.
 
Having grown up in the country of Pakistan, I have always been familiar with the Indian lifestyle. Yet, out of the Indian movies that I’ve watched, very few have managed to capture the dynamics of their families as well as “Monsoon Wedding”. From the movie’s very first frame, you get the sense that Nair is a director who has spent hours upon hours with these people in her own life.
 
I have a feeling that she may have grown up observing them throughout her own childhood. It is so, that even in spite of their strange behavior and a culture Western viewers may find difficult to understand, we are able to relate to their realistic situations and care for them. Besides, they have larger-than-life personas which leap out of the screen. As the movie came to an end, I for one, became so engaged in their lives that I lost track of the fact that I was merely watching a movie.
 
At a point during the film, my mind became blind-folded to the idea that the characters were made-up and instead I found myself observing real people who I had known and spoken to for years.
 
For any film that has such a realistic approach, the actors are expected to be at their best, so it’s no surprise that in “Monsoon Wedding” they shine as bright as the stars.
 
Naseeruddin  Shah delivers an incredible performance as a strong-willed father that has the determination to never give up, even in the most hopeless of times. Irresistibly likable, charming and quirky in a very distinguished way, he reminded me of Robert De Niro’s impressive turn in “Silver Linings Playbook”. Like De Niro’s memorable character, he has an adoration for his family yet unfortunately it is bottled up and he is confused as to how he can communicate it.
 
Shefali Shetty is a powerful marvel to behold as a woman haunted by her past, struggling to move on with the future. She is stunning due to how effortlessly she communicates merely through the looks on her face instead of spoken dialogue. Not many actors have the ability to express emotions purely through facial expressions, however, Shetty appears as if she was born for it.
 
The last, yet most unforgettable standout is Vijay Raaz in the role of a servant in search for love. Charismatic and bursting with the kind of energetic life that simply makes you appreciate your own, he provides hilarious comical relief even when the movie deals with a serious subject matter.
 
Pacing in Indian movies usually moves at a snail’s speed when they have a lack of interesting events or excitement, so I was rather skeptical as to how entertaining “Monsoon Wedding” could be. Surprisingly, the movie entertains throughout without any dull moments. It is quite a remarkable feat when you consider that there is little to no action or conflict in the film itself.
 
Another element of the movie that charmed my socks off was a dazzling soundtrack. Whereas the dance numbers in most Bollywood movies these days serve little to no purpose, and are only present to pass time, the score of “Monsoon Wedding” astonishingly enhances the movie to another level. It is amazing how a few notes on a piano, or a background instrumental, can dive deeper into a story’s theme than a glamorized dance number. 
 
Did I have any problems with the movie? It ends on a rather predictable note, that ever-so-joyous conclusion that serves as a convention for most Bollywood movies, but here I find myself being able to forgive it. Like so many of the great movies, “Monsoon Wedding” is a film that is far more interested in the challenging journey rather than the expected destination.
 
Life is a rocky road laid for us to set goals upon, however, what changes us as people aren’t our dreams but how we learn important lessons to reach them.
 
5/5 stars

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