- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

The comedy "Moonsoon Wedding" should blow away art-house audiences and perhaps also attract moviegoers who seldom bother with foreign-language films.

Only foreign-language part of the time, "Wedding" revolves around a large Punjabi family in Delhi whose members converse frequently in English.

The movie, a jubilant and exotic addition to the accumulation of comedies about marriage ceremonies, was made by two Punjabi Indians who came to the United States for higher education and to pursue filmmaking careers.

Director Mira Nair has been an intriguing, hit-and-miss art-house fixture since her debut feature, "Salaam Bombay," appeared in 1988 when she was 30. Last represented by the lush and erotic costume potboiler "Kama Sutra," she returns to the subject of commonplace family ties with infectious gusto.

Stylistic finesse still seems to elude her; she tends to lose confidence if not stalking the characters from close quarters with hand-held cameras.

But Miss Nair and screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan do not squander their opportunity for human interest and domestic comedy-drama. They establish a rapport with their wedding hosts and guests, even if viewers ultimately decide that trying to sort out all the relationships is futile.

"I don't even know who's who half the time," comments one of the guests. So many cousins abound and remain to be thoroughly briefed that during the wedding party one can ask, alluding to a middle-aged merrymaker across the lawn, "Who's the clown?" and be humorously informed, "That's my dad."

Far-flung branches of the bride's family arrive in Delhi for the big blowout. Incidentally, the electrical power tends to come and go in Delhi, contributing comic uncertainty about how much illumination the hosts can count on during an evening wedding ceremony that also defies monsoon season. We're definitely familiarized with a delegation from Australia. The family of the groom he and the bride have yet to meet when the plot begins has flown in from Houston, so there's an indispensable American contingent, too.

Certain casting selections make you wonder if some branches are being whimsically accounted for. The most sympathetic figure is Naseeruddin Shah as Lalit Verma, the father of the bride. He is a bundle of hopes and anxieties, which include money worries about paying for the spectacle for which he is host.

A number of deal breakers threaten the ceremony, one of which obliges Lalit to spurn an honored guest out of loyalty to an adopted daughter.

The bride, Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das), becomes the principal threat to the event. She is carrying a torch for a worthless boyfriend and obliges the attractive groom, Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas), to rise above her indiscretion. Are the filmmakers defaming their bride a bit extravagantly at this point? Perhaps. Mr. Dabas, already a dreamboat, gets to display a heroic resilience in the face of disillusionment that may surpass the example of his future father-in-law.

An appealing but inadequate subplot matches up lower-caste characters for an additional wedding. They are Vijay Raaz as a geeky wedding planner called P.K. Dube and Tilotama Shome as a shy housemaid called Alice. She is so reticent that the filmmakers need to rely on a kind of magical rapport to seal their bond, but the atmosphere of the movie grows so festive and giddy that you shrug off certain expediencies.

Miss Nair seems to have an almost divine dispensation in the musically and sentimentally exhilarating final episodes. It is as if she had been selected to remind the human race to be fruitful and multiply. She certainly embraces the privilege, and it's a kick to surrender to the embrace.


***1/2

TITLE: "Monsoon Wedding"

RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor; occasional episodes of family conflict and disillusionment; a subplot involving a case of child molestation)

CREDITS: Directed by Mira Nair and written by Sabrina Dhawan. In Punjabi and Hindi with English dialogue

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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