Culturally-split personality that I am, at times I watched this movie with Indian eyes, at times with western eyes.
Watching with Punjabi Indian eyes, I felt there was no acting going on at all. It's culturally up-to-date, complete with crazy cell phone interruptions, Hinglish, the family links to Australia and America, and the IIT fellow thinking he's going to get a sati savitri from Delhi - ha!
Watching with western eyes, I think it may change American perceptions of India and Indian women - hurray for that. For instance, the perception that every modern Indian woman who agrees to an arranged marriage is a passive thing led to the altar and handed over from one man (father) to the husband. The bride-to-be in Monsoon Wedding was out for "the good life" as many young women everywhere are and she recognized that the arranged marriage is the best means men have yet invented to effect business mergers and cement relationships. Speaking of Western eyes -- my blue-eyed husband had a little of the usual problem Americans have in dealing with Indian material - too many characters to keep track of. Can't be helped -- such is life when you live among a billion people. He would like to see it again, at home on DVD, though.
Halfway into Monsoon Wedding I forgave Mira Nair for perpetrating the visually gorgeous but narratively-challenged Kamasutra, as the script writer began weaving the narrative threads of this story into a cohesive whole.
I expect a good film (or book) to present situations that make viewers (or readers) discuss it. And to really engage with it: move from a discussion of the movie and its plot to question real life and explore parallel universes. Monsoon Wedding had some incredibles that seemed more a product of wishful thinking than of cultural reality -- a little incredible that an Indian man would agree to accept a non-virgin woman...the bridegroom wasn't raised in the USA. Coming out of IIT and spending only 4 years in the USA, it's possible he's only seen the inside of a computer screen all the time he was in America. People in the movie hall erupted in rueful "ouches" when he said lines to the effect - what did you think [you'd get married to a guy from America so] you'd fit right in? It was also incredible that the father broke a family friendship built on generosity after Partition -- those relationships are debts for seven generations. (Why seven? I have no idea). And for a niece, adopted daughter though she may be? Really think an Indian father would do that? Hmmmm.
The writer in me wanted to escalate the conflict, replot -- tut, tut, Shauna!. For instance, the conflict would have been real tamasha if a "girl", to use the Indian-English terminology, actually walked out of her wedding at the last minute. Do any of us know a girl who has? The sheer money and debt and social loss of face would cause women I know (American, Canadian or Indian) to go through with the wedding and get divorced a week later...And what if in fact the father had stood by the family friendship despite the revelation of betrayal, the plot would have to cover years and years and years of Punjabis not talking to one another, sulking, talking in barbed innuendos...which would make it absolutely perfectly credible, but what an awfully boring film that would be. So the movie was true to character if not societal mirroring.
My cousin, who lives in Delhi and is visiting the USA just saw the movie yesterday. She says I'm too cynical, that parents do stand up for their daughters these days. Too bad it's a little late for all the daughters over the years who have been told to shut up and be quiet. But the movie did demonstrate the possibility, an alternative way to imagine the outcome of conflict. That may be its strength over time. So here's to director and producer Mira Nair for providing plot alternatives to reality.
Afterwards, the Dancing Ganesha restaurant was offering a small taste of India -- hot gulabjamuns at 2 for $3 on styrofoam plates. We emerged -- from the warmth of the Oriental Theatre into the chilly midwestern night and with rosewater sweetness melting on my tongue, my Punjabi self agreed with Mira Nair's final epigram - "we are like that only."
As for the bridegroom's acceptance of the bride, I don't think he was the typical IIT graduate with 4 years experience in the US that you were referring to --look at his social background in Delhi. It's -- --plausible that he learned a little something about the dating scene in India before he went to the US and was therefore was able to get over his initial knee-jerk reaction and accept her. And he too was breaking out of the mold because his sense of integrity demanded it - his heart had been broken and there was no difference between what he had felt and what she was feeling now. I realize that you and I are both stereotyping IIT-graduate USA-returns but I think that who you're referring to is someone who comes from a MUCH more protected & traditional background -- possibly the type I've met here time and time again who absolutely refuse to believe that women in India even date because they simply haven't witnessed it themselves in India. Nothing in their experience would cause them to even imagine it and they are more the kind who would go back to India, get an arranged marriage, be filled with shock and horror that their fiancee has an ex-boyfriend, and end it right there.
-- Mona Oommen
-- Champa Bilwakesh
Over the next few weeks, I followed discussions about the film in several of the US based South Asian listservs that I belong to. The LGBT listserv talked at length about the younger brother, "a queer in the making," and Mira Nair's courage in addressing this issue.; the very liberal women's listserv talked ad infinitum, ad nauseam about Indian men and whether they would be willing to marry "non-virgins." No one, nowhere mentioned the story of Ria, or of Aliya, or seemingly found this part of the film disturbing, painful, or even "worthy" of mention or discussion. The silence was getting louder.
[Excerpted here with permission. Her complete article can be found at www.shaktiproductions.net which also has discussions on the issue of incestual sexual abuse.]
-- Sivagami Subbaraman
-- Bisakha Sen
In contrast I think Lagaan deservedly got the Oscar nomination rather than Monsoon Wedding. At least it is honest Bollywood entertainment and does not pretend to be pretentious like MW.
After Kama Sutra and MW, I'm getting the feeling that Mira Nair has lost her touch. In 1995 Mira Nair made an obscure film called "The Perez Family" about Cuban immigrants to the US. Although it made no waves, I found it an excellently made film.
-- Shipra Mandal
Just saw this movie last night with a couple of friends. Loved it.
I especially liked the powerful way that the sexual abuse storyline was presented. It was done on a very human scale - the conflicts each person has, and the sense of betrayal. I was disturbed (but found rather accurate), that a woman says "for something so small..." It is not something small, and I am glad that the movie put it out there for us to look at in full view, within the family context.
May we have the courage to look at situations like this with clarity and defend our children. "Even from ourselves" to paraphrase N.Shah.
-- Elizabeth Abraham
Regarding the subject of child sexual abuse, there are a couple of points I found a little disturbing. The parents of the little girl Aaliya and Ria's mother do not seem to show much reaction to the fact that their children have been abused by a senior, 'respected' member of the family. I got the feeling that if Naseeruddin Shah had not taken the stand to kick is brother-in-law out, the rest of the family would have just kept quiet about the whole thing. In the light of all the discussion about parent's roles in this matter, I feel that the respective parents (mainly them) as well as the rest of the family should have reacted more strongly to the issue. Of course, I dont want to take away from the fact that this issue has been addressed to the extent it has been and quite well at that. It is a refreshing change to see that Indian movies are willing to address such topics. I wish more mainstream cinema and the public in general address such issues more openly and protect their children from such offenders.
-- Radhika Iyengar
-- Mala Nagarajan
Film description: An arranged marriage in India brings together far-flung relatives, tradition, modernity, irreverence, innocence and sexuality in a Punjabi family in contemporary Delhi.