Made in 2001, yet refreshingly relevant even today, Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding is one of those films that one can re-watch over and over again, each time finding something new and delightful.
This is partly due to the excellent ensemble cast, the brilliant script, written by Sabrina Dhawan, and the Dickensian nature of the story, set in New Delhi, but with characters from all walks coming together for one of the great milestones in life.
Nair is a brilliant and diverse director, having started as a documentarian and making her debut as a feature film maker with the brilliant Salaam Bombay! in 1988. Since then she has made films like Vanity Fair (2004), The Namesake (2006) and Amelia (2009) to name a few. The first two are adaptations of novels by William Thackeray and Jhumpa Lahiri respectively and the third a bio-pic about Amelia Earhart, the legendary American pilot who disappeared while flying over the Pacific in 1937 and who was never found.
Some of her films have been brilliant and others disastrous, but they've all shared a gigantic ambition and a willingness to take on diverse and difficult subject matters, a trait essential in any good director.
Monsoon Wedding's scope may seem microcosmic initially, but its genius is that it actually is able to portray a great deal of social issues inherent in Indian society. Issues that are still very much present today more than a decade after the film was released.
The story centres around the arranged marriage of young Aditi, played by the beautiful, husky voiced Vasundhara Das, who agrees to marry an NRI based in Texas, a slightly banal Parvin Dabas as Hemant Rai, in order to get away from her affair with a married man who will most probably never leave his wife.
As with all weddings, the family is slightly crazed by the preparations, each in their own way. The great Naseeruddin Shah plays Lalit Varma, Aditi's loving father who is constantly on the phone with the tobacco chewing, mobile wielding Dubey (Vijay Raaz) who is in charge of the wedding tent, ensuring there's enough ice, and being suitably sycophant-like while extracting large sums of money from the harassed father of the bride.
The Varma family is diverse and scattered all over the globe, with cousins, uncles, and aunts flying in from Australia and the US, each with their own set of issues and all having their distinct foibles. Add into the mix a dark family secret, and a delicate love story involving Dubey and the Varma's Christian maid, the shy and gentle Alice (Tilotama Shome) and you have a riveting tragi-comedy with a cast of unforgettable characters.
A word here about the importance of appropriate cinematography: Monsoon Wedding wouldn't have been as captivating without the hand of Declan Quinn the brilliant cinematographer who is able to bring to the screen the vibrant colours and grittiness of the Delhi metropolis at the height of the monsoon season.
It isn't easy to combine beauty and reality, and anyone who has ever been behind any kind of camera will know that 'point and shoot' normally produces quite hideous results. Therefore, a line of respect to the person who wields the camera and who coordinates the enormous lights and manages the numerous filters and other gimmicks that eventually create the magic that is cinema – allowing us viewers the indulgence of believing for a few short hours that we are onlookers into a window of reality.