“Monsoon Wedding” is the kind of cute culture-clash comedy that, if not for the (partial) subtitles and lack of recognizable faces, you would see as a regular March release at the multiplexes. It takes a bit of time to really get into, but once you start to feel like a part of its family, director Mira Nair is able to craft a fairly good time at the movies.
The film is set in India on the eve of a wedding for Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das), who has been arranged to marry Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas), an Indian man who now works with computers in Texas. She is already having an affair with married man at home and undoubtedly this is going to cause a conflict even as she is to be married to a man she has never met. Through the marriage event we meet entire families over the course of the film and peek into their relationships, blossoming and aged romances and ways of life.
All of the characters speak English, Hindi and Punjabi interchangeably to suggest a mixture of cultures going on within the Indian families we meet. Aditi’s groom isn’t the only man coming back to India from America, many of the characters have returned from overseas back to India for the wedding. Other young family members dream of going to America to study and become successful in the future. Mira Nair has an obvious love of India and photographs it with loving, vibrant colors and even jabs at the American way of life that is infiltrating their culture. When the goofy wedding planner P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz) hangs a white tent for the wedding party, because it is now “Y2K dot-com,” Aditi’s father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) insists that this is a silly idea and wants the more traditional colored fabrics to be hung instead.
Knowing little about the Indian culture that is so essential and emphasized prior to seeing the film I initially had a hard time getting into “Monsoon Wedding,” but by the end of it I felt like I understood most of the many characters we met and the way they live. And, for the most part, I had fun with them, except when it came to a third act revelation that Nair nearly shoots herself in the foot with. For a film filled with so much joy, love of family and culture to telegraph an eventual, disturbing blowup for the otherwise friendly conclusion was a mistake. I was dreading the moment when the film would get around to unraveling and concluding this thread and then it deflated almost all of the energy the film had built up. Suffice it to say, you get the point of the film without this particular, heavy-handed plot threat. This isn’t a film that breaks any new ground because we’ve all seen romantic ensemble pieces before, but its successes make it an enjoyable, if overlong, two hours. B