Monsoon Wedding – Viewing Guide
- Monsoon Wedding is a film that self-consciously fuses the conventions of Hollywood with Bollywood films (see below). Unlike the classical single- or dual-star Hollywood film, Monsoon Wedding paints on a large canvas, with lots of characters (sometimes introduced only by their nick names, and then only in passing) on the screen, similar to a Brueghel painting. This epic breadth presents difficulties to the viewer. At one point, Hemant, the bicultural groom flown in from Houston, observes, "I don't even know who is who half of the time," which may well echo the viewers' experience as well. While advance knowledge is almost always useful for a film screening, it is particularly so for this one: read carefully through a summary to familiarize yourself in advance with the characters. That will help you not lose your bearings too quickly and, once you've gotten the hang of it, stay focused without trying to workout who is who. Naturally as well, this film benefits from repeat viewings, as will your grasp of it.
Henna and Cellphones
Monsoon Wedding shows an India—a land with an old history and ancient cultures—in the throes of transition. Age-old rituals and traditions coexist, not always peacefully, with cell phones and wrist calculators, television talk shows and cooking shows, a burgeoning film industry and daily stock market quotes. Locate some of the major effects of western acculturation and discuss their significance in the film. How do the various generations deal with the dialogue of the East and the West, the Old and the New?
Gender, Identity, and Love
- The parallel love stories of Aditi and Hemant and Alice and Dubey are of course at the narrative center of Monsoon Wedding. Try to pay attention how the film engineers these parallel relationships—significantly, of different classes—and see how the film both supports and redefines traditional assumptions about gender and class. What are Hemant and Dubey's expectations about women and how do they correct these assumptions? Conversely, how do brides and mothers and fathers expect their grooms and sons to behave?
Money and Class
- Related to expectations about gender and identity (question #2), Monsoon Wedding also stages the financial expectations that come with a certain class. If Lalit frets about being able to pay for a wedding that behooves his social and cultural origins (from Punjab)—even to the point of getting a coronary—Dubey and Alice's working-class origins call for a very different kind of wedding. Identify the moments in the film when money in the widest sense is at issue. How do Lalit (and his friends) and Dubey (and his fellow workers) make a living? How do other characters in the film support themselves (and others)? To what degree (if any) is capital still tied to class, and how has it become a free-floating commodity on the world market?
The Skeleton in the Closet—Child Sexual Abuse
- Early critics of Monsoon Wedding lamented that the sudden exposure of Tej Uncle's child sexual abuse of, first, Aditi's cousin Ria, then the ten-year-old Aliya breaks with the celebratory and delirious energy of the film, and is furthermore introduced too late in the story. Yet, even during a first viewing of the film, intimations of this abuse (together with other dark undertones) are implanted in the film and seem to function, not as a sudden interruption of a joyous occasion, but as the parallel dark underbelly of healthy (and not just sexual) relationships. They also explain Ria's hesitation about relationships, her advice to Aditi, and her comments about kissing, among others. Trace the major allusions to this buildup of Ria's accusation and discuss why Nair made it coincide with the night before the actual wedding. Why does Ria not reveal it earlier? What is at stake for all the major characters in the film?
Delirious, Delicious Delhi
- Early in Monsoon Wedding you notice that, spliced into the emerging stories of the film are impressions and images of Delhi, both the Old and the New. Easily dismissible as filler to capture, in passing, the location of the film, these images also serve as important visual commentary on plot development, changing mood, and other complications. Identify these shots (often from a driving car) of Delhi and discuss how they enhance the filmic power of this film. Why the association of the weddings with the monsoon season?
- Nair once said, "I have to have that feeling of total engagement when I am filming, and to feel totally engaged, everything has to feel correct: the décor, the lighting, the way we move the camera, the lens. The balance, the rightness of things, is very important. It's an unbelievable privilege to be a director." Another way of saying this would be to say that Nair wants to maximize the medium she is working with—that is, film—to the fullest possible effect. Identify moments in Monsoon Wedding that demonstrate such balanced fullness. What do such moments achieve?
Hollywood meets Bollywood
- Monsoon Wedding is a film that self-consciously fuses the conventions of Hollywood with Bollywood films. As such it is also a film that plays to US and Indian audiences (and Nair has repeatedly noted how pleased she was that the film was well received in India). Briefly research or recap some of the conventions of Bollywood and Hollywood feature films and see how Monsoon Wedding merges those two genres. What might this cinematic hybrid, perhaps, want to say on the level of filmic form. To have a bigger market share, perhaps, but what else? — Think of the various unions going on in the film, the various languages, the various cultures. Why might this fusion of conventions and genre expectations be important?