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Pet Sins March 2003

Movie Review: Monsoon Wedding

Mira Nair's 2001 film Monsoon Wedding revolves around a Punjabi family's boisterous wedding preparations in Delhi. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, the visually sumptuous feature was dubbed "Delhi deluge of of color and movement" in Senses of Cinema.

The titular wedding is an arranged marriage between Aditi Verma, a New Delhi woman, and Hermant, a Houston-based Indian engineer. Contrary to Western stereotypes of the virgin Asian bride who enters obediently into a loveless marriage, Aditi is a woman with a full-fledged sexuality. She remains passionately involved with her married ex-boyfriend throughout the wedding preparations, but eventually comes clean with her betrothed husband. Aditi and Hermant develop a genuine passion for each other on their wedding day.

Making movies about independent women who determine their own fates is not new to Mira Nair, but Monsoon Wedding takes a new approach with the subject matter - seriousness mixed with humour.

Nair turns male condescension towards women is on its head for comic effect. Wedding planner P.K. Dubey attempts to explain the email address on his business card to the Verma's house maid, "...the mail that comes through the computer", only to be told by the domestic help, "Email? Yes, I know...". Dubey returns home to his mother, who scolds him "I told you that stock was going to go up. You thought your old mother knew nothing about the stock market?..."

Meanwhile, Aditi's cousin Ria struggles to confront her past abuser - Varun, a close family friend who has molested her in her childhood. Ria turns from victim to victor when she bravely interrupts Varun's attempts to molest a younger cousin Alia, exposing the child molester to the family's elders.

Nair's female characters, from the bride to the house maid, are women with a mind of their own. The characters, with all their imperfections, are 3-dimensional portrayals of real Asian women, a refreshing alternative to the 2-dimensional eye-candy treatment of Asian women in Western cinema.

Monsoon Wedding's characters go beyond merely contradicting stereotypes of women. Mira Nair's new film actively challeges the assumptions often made about Asian women and Asian society. The character of Aditi shows that independent female sexuality and arranged marriages are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Monsoon Wedding also illustrates the possibility that Asian arranged marriages are not always the passionless, unromantic unions that some condescending Westerners imagine them to be.