Tales of Class and Ethnicity

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Review of 'Monsoon Wedding', director Mira Nair

Affluent Lalit Verma and his wife Pimmi welcome a mini-diaspora to their elder daughter Aditi's wedding. Husband to be Hemant is due in from Houston. But even at this stage lover and married boss Vikram is foremost in Aditi's mind. The occasion's workers, wedding contractor PK Dubey and house servant Alice, develop a romance which is more tender and genuine than the pompous gathering they are servicing. Aditi not only ditches Vikram, following a tight squeeze with the law behind a sweating windscreen, but also confesses to a baffled Hemant. His graciousness puts the show back on the road.

Lalit's niece Ria is petrified by the arrival of brother in law Tej. His subtle seduction of ten year old Aliyah sickens Ria and forces painful reconsideration of his abuse of her as a child. Meanwhile, Rahul, back from Sydney, has the hots for Ayesha, Aditi's young cousin. And that's not everything. But it is enough to give you a flavour - families in extremis, lush vegetation notwithstanding.

However, Mira Nair's film is much more than its narrative skeleton. It is a vibrantly successful comedy drama for a number of positive reasons. Firstly, a growing number of intercontinental film talents are bridging the official cultural divides to confidently tell tales of class and ethnicity. Southall's Gurinder Chadha goes from strength to strength, with her last film What's Cooking bearing close thematic resemblance to this work. For the five families preparing for Thanksgiving in Fairfax, LA, substitute Monsoon Wedding's ensemble of cut eyes, spilled glasses and sodden embraces. Secondly, there's the brashness. The in your face camerawork belies a cheap budget, but this may not be unintended.

Thirdly, there is a believable marriage between conventions of Hindi cinema - principally the prevalence of songs - and Hollywood spectacle. The music is used less to reinforce the narrative than to set a tone or mood. Also, it could well have been directed by Robert Altman or John Sayles in terms of the ear for vernacular, lengthy shots switching between conversations, and an ability to debate the general (drama) and the specific (comedy) simultaneously. A Hindi speaker tells me that much is lost in the subtitling by way of regional nuance. So that's another treat for those Hindi-speaking viewers in Britain's expanding Bollywood screen market.