Shefali Shetty... in "Monsoon Wedding".
SO MUCH has been said and written about ``Monsoon Wedding" that what ever is going to be said here might be redundant, repetitive or even cliched. Nonetheless after watching the film thoughts gather furiously to form strands of views and perceptions.
On first impression what really emerges is that when you make a film without an eye on commercial success or trying out strategies for award material, the result is an honest and spontaneous venture that remains etched in memory. In this case it is a slice of life. From one particular part of society, Punjabis to be specific. The language or the culture seems irrelevant when the issue finds empathy across borders.
This genre has already made an appearance eliciting good responses. As for Mira Nair, this is not her first venture and she has the advantage of straddling the best of two worlds- the technical advancements and accessibility of the West and the richness of an Indian origin. This has definitely given her an edge as far as detailing, cohesiveness and marketing is concerned. An Indian wedding is not something that has not been explored; enough films have them as turning points or as the focus of catalysts. Yet what sets this one apart is its simplicity and naturalness, credit for which also needs to go to the writer Sabrina Dhawan.
Shot on Super 16mm hand held camera (Declan Quinn)- the mobility and economy of it all has drawn realistic performances from the cast. Plus the audience is made to feel that they are part of the proceedings - right from the first scene of Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) cursing the over zealous but crudely effective wedding contractor, P.K.Dubey (Vijay Raaz) to the last one where the wedding is celebrated.
It is monsoon, and amidst rain members of an extended family from across the globe reunite for an arranged wedding in Delhi. There are five intersecting stories each dealing with different aspects of life and love as they cross boundaries of class, continent and ideas of morality. The family's hopes, anxieties and long guarded secrets surface amid frantic wedding preparations juxtaposed with montages of real life Delhi. The heat preceding the rains is symbolic of the intensity of feelings building up among the people and with the downpour comes the catharsis heralding liberation and romance.
Naseeruddin Shah is truly outstanding. The brilliant actor has perhaps crossed some invisible line he has set for himself. Playing his wife is Lillete Dubey; a forward thinking woman, who smokes secretly, caught in the warp of tradition, she is very good too. Theirs is an honestly portrayed marriage with even their beds being separate, but having endured the ups and downs of an arranged marriage for years. As their daughter, Aditi (Vasundhara Das) prepares to marry and leave home they reach out to one another finding comfort in their long association. Vasundhara comes across as vacuous and her character seems completely superficial and unthinking - not very convincing because youngsters these days know quite clearly what they have to do. In fact the boy who plays her brother Varun (Ishaan Nair), is amazingly convincing and natural. Quite a treat to watch.
A sweet tale of the have-nots and their right to romance is perhaps the most sensitive part of the narration - the love that blossoms between Dubey, a cell phone wielding dealer and Alice, the housemaid. Dubey's tough pragmatism is outdone by the innocence and virtue of Alice (Tilotama Shome). It is when he happens to see her secretly trying on the wedding ornaments that he falls hopelessly in love with her. Theirs is perhaps the only pure and completely unexpected overture- echoed by their bizarre shared habit of eating the core of marigolds used extensively in north Indian weddings.
Others in the cast are Shefali Shetty, who plays the unmarried writer cousin of the bride with a rather disturbed past, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Roshan Seth, Parvin Dabas (as Aditi's future husband, he seemed like a guy many girls would go for), Soni Razdan, quite wasted, Sameer Arya as the ex-boyfriend- couldn't they find someone better to play that role? And a host of friends and relatives who fill in for the wedding scenes.
The verve and vitality with which Punjabis celebrate any occasion come through very effectively- it is a community that is known for living life with the hugest appetite possible. ``We work hard, we party hard, we live life up,'' as they say. Issues such as sexual abuse could have been treated with more details. Why Aditi would choose the night before the wedding to visit her ex-lover is beyond comprehension.
Maybe it is needed to point out that having a past is not really a crime, nothing lasts forever, that guys can be forgiving and sweet and that life indeed goes on, despite broken hearts.
But as the director puts it, ``It is a Bollywood movie, made on my own terms.'' Nair's production team includes many long time collaborators who had worked with her in ``Kama Sutra" in 1994-- Caroline Baron, producer, Arjun Bhasin, costume designer, Stephanie Carroll, production designer, and Robyn Aronstam, script supervisor. The film was shot on a tight 38-day schedule in New Delhi which according to Mira was ``not at all an easy task.'' ``But it was a combination of the deeply personal and deeply professional and it made for an authenticity that is absolutely visible in the finished film," she adds.
Is it worth watching? Eminently so, provided one doesn't expect much out of it.
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