Monsoon Wedding (15)
The best film of 2002 may already be here, and this could be it.
Foreign films still get short shrift on the UK cinema circuit where mainstream movies and US blockbusters hog the majority of screens, and foreign language pictures are relegated to the smallest theatres.
All that may change, at least for a while, with Monsoon Wedding, a delicious slice of life and an affirmation of family values, love and loyalty from director Mira (Kama Sutra) Nair.
Aside from anything else, it may provide the western breakthrough for Naseeruddin Shah, a phenomenal Indian actor, contemporary of Om Puri (from East is East) and a man on the brink of great roles in English and American films.
Shah is Lalit Verma, a harassed father praying for everything to go well for his daughter’s wedding. Daughter Aditi, (Vasundhara Das), meanwhile, is unsure of the marriage and just wants privacy to do her own thing.
But the middle-class standing of her family prevents an intimate wedding. Lalit has hired Dubey (Vijay Raaz), an event organiser with an eye on the big bucks, to design and co-ordinate New Delhi’s wedding of the year.
With marriage in the air, everyone is talking about weddings. Wives and husbands remember their own. Children look ahead to the ones to come. But there is a sting in the tale as secrets are revealed, jealousies rear their heads, affairs are discovered and skeletons come tumbling out of closets.
This beautiful film, shot through with western language, oaths, jokes and one-liners, boasts all the colours of India in its mouth-watering cinematography.
It is also brave enough to consider the issue of caste in India. In one poignant scene a lowly servant girl (Tilotama Shome) wistfully tries on the bride-to-be’s jewellery. In another, and the one which leaves a brick-sized lump in the throat, a lovesick male declares his love for an unassuming girl.
A striking ensemble film in the vein of What’s Cooking? and Once Were Warriors, Monsoon Wedding lifts the lid of family tensions, suspicion, betrayal and infidelity. It also provides a comic touch, elevating the story beyond the merely standard to become a magical exploration of humanity.
Central to all of this is the extraordinary performance of Naseeruddin Shah. Dignified, graceful, vulnerable, strong, Lalit embodies all of the pre-wedding nerves of proud, desperate fathers everywhere, proving that, all over the world, weddings teeter between dreams and nightmares.
Mira Nair, working from Sabrina Dhawan’s screenplay, has delivered a superb examination of life and love. More than that, she has facilitated the western debut of Shah after more than 120 films in his homeland.
Do your best to track this one down as it hits the regional film circuit. You won’t be disappointed. Oh, better take a handkerchief…