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*Monsoon Wedding (R)
USA Films

Though this enjoyable and funny new film by Mira Nair, director of one of my favorite films, Mississippi Masala, won the Venice film festival this past year, you have to wonder if the competition was all stuck at the airport.

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty to like in Monsoon Wedding. But for everything likable, there's always a lack. While it's visually colorful, it is not colorful enough. While it is charming, it is also stereotypical, with the twist of having Indian rather than American stereotypes. While it is insightful about the issues of globalization and cross-cultural issues, it is also somewhat shallow.

Monsoon Wedding is Father of the Bride set in Delhi, India. Four days before the arranged wedding of his beautiful daughter Ria (played by the gorgeous Shefali Shetty), father Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) and his family are in the midst of a maelstrom. He's having a major cash flow problem, the wedding planner P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz) is delivering none of the promised services, his wealthy relatives are arriving from America, his lazy older son is home from Australia, and his spoiled younger son is spending all his hours watching cooking shows. Meanwhile, the bride-to-be is sneaking off to see her former lover, the married host of television talk show Delhi.com. The groom-to-be, an Indian engineer now living in Houston, arrives with his family who are slightly appalled at the boisterous opulence of the wedding.

Over the course of the four days, the bride-to-be tells her fianc that she's not a virgin, the wedding planner falls in love with the family maid, the cousin reveals a deep dark secret, and there are a few other subplots besides.

If it sounds confusing, soap opera-ish and a little over-the-top, it is. The relationships are a little confusing, made more so by the feverish mlange of English, Hindi and Punjabi, spoken interchangeably like Spanglish or Franglais. Subtitles help, but the directing was a little out of control, even for such fluent and accomplished actors. The joyous frenzy of the wedding itself beneath the rains of the monsoon, however, is infectious.

One of the biggest problems with the movie was the cinematography. Apparently it was shot in super 16mm both to save expenses and to provide some immediacy to the action. For a movie working so hard to convey the lavishness of the wedding and the chaos and vividness of the Delhi streets, the look worked against the visual goals of the work. That it was shot in some 30 days also meant that the film lacked a polish that it needed for its particular message.

No matter. Despite these issues, Monsoon Wedding still provides enjoyable theater and exposure to an aspect of Indian culture that carries its own fascination.

-- Andrea Lucard

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