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November 30, 2001

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Review

Vivek Fernandes

It's obvious why this film won at Venice and why people loved it at Toronto.

It is an aesthetic treat. Perhaps you would shrug it off as the usual Bollywood masala potboiler but with the correct garnish and the right amount of spice, Monsoon Wedding, emerges a filmbuff's delight.

Delhi in the rains; earthy, green, beautiful. The Verma khandaan prepares itself to put on a grand show. Aditi (Vasundhara Das), daughter of the house, is soon to be a bride. And the family bungalow is bursting at the seams with uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours and friends.

Monsoon Wedding There's the vociferous Punju couple -- Chadha uncle (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and Sashi aunty (Kamini Khanna);
the just-retuned-from-Sidney cousin Rahul (Randeep Hooda);
the unmarried, elder cousin-sis Ria (Shefali Shetty);
the sexy, tattoo-sporting Ayesha (Neha Dubey);
the littlest-of-the-lot Aliya (Kemaya Kidwai);
the family patriarch Tej Puri (Rajat Kapoor) and wife;
the bride's younger brother and Khana Khazana's Sanjeev Kapoor wannabe, Varun, and the brideís parents -- Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah), the father who's willing to shoulder all the cares of the world for his children's happiness and Pimmi (Lilette), his wife, who has her hair perpetually in curlers.

In the midst of the family circus, there's the housemaid Alice (Tilotama Shome) and the tent contractor-event manager-man-friday P K Dubey (Vijay Raaz), who is particulary fond of chewing on marigold.

Of course, thereís the groom too-the Houston-based engineer Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas) and his parents (Soni Razdan and Roshan Sheth).

There's much that must be done. The pandal must go up, the costs must be brought down, relatives must be fetched from airports, dances must be rehearsed for the sangeet and gifts must be bought for the groomís family.

But under the facade of the festivities lie many a secret. And, like the dark clouds that loom over the capital, thereís an air of ominous foreboding that permeates the Verma house.

Aditi, you see, still harbours feelings for her much-married boss Vikram (Sameer Arya), who she can't have. And days before D-day, she sneaks off to a clandestine rendezvous.

Lalit's finances ebb and he is forced to borrow a few thousand grand to meet the mounting expenses.

Ria, who won't sit by and watch her little cousin be led by the paedophilic patriarch Tej Puri who abused her, too, spills the beans the night before the marriage.

Everything turns topsy-turvy. But there's the silver lining too: Vijay finds the woman of dreams in Alice.Monsoon Wedding

Aditi leaves the past behind her and is willing to give life with Hemant another shot.

Ayesha and Rahul get their first taste of romance.

Lalit and Pimmi grow stronger in the relationship they share.

Lalit stands up for his niece against Tej Puri.

And the wedding and the rains celebrate love, liberation and life anew.

Cinematographer Declan Quinn, who Mira calls Ďa poet of lightí, proves that his sobriquet is well-earned. His hand-held camera pans the Delhi landscape to capture the hustle and bustle of the streets with as much equanimity as it frames the riot of colour at the mehndi and sangeet celebrations.

The unobtrusive lens captures the tender kiss that Ayesha and Rahul share; it finds P K Dubey spying on Alice who's trying on the wedding ornaments and moves in as Lalit breaks down and seeks comfort in Pimmi. Quinn's craft makes a world of difference.

The ensemble cast puts in a spirited performance. Naseer is his brillant self. Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz (who's perfectly cast) and Tilotama Shome are exceptional.

And, thanks to a marvellous script, have well-etched characters. Lilette, Vasundhara and Rajat are pretty convincing. The remaining make the grade.Monsoon Wedding

Kudos also to scriptwriter Sabrina Dhawan, for weaving a deft tale, for staying true to herself and most importantly for imparting believability to her creations.

Mira Nair's conviction is commendable. She doesn't shy away from calling a spade a spade. She treats her subject with admirable dexterity and the final product is not as disturbing as Salaam Bombay! or as crass as Kama Sutra.

And 30 days to shoot an entire film, with a cast of close to 62, Iím sure, is no mean task. Pity then that Mira's fifth cinematic effort -- Bollywood on her own terms -- won't find itself vying for an Academy Award.

Go on, watch the film. Itís time to wake up and smell the curry!!

Also see:
Monsoon Wedding-Story in pictures
Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding premiers amidst much fanfair
The Mira Nair interview
Acting and singing is fun for Vasundhara Das
Making waves with Parvin Dabas

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