Monsoon WeddingOverview -
Cultures and families clash in Mira Nair’s exuberant Monsoon Wedding, a mix of comedy and chaotic melodrama concerning the preparations for the arranged marriage of a modern upper-middle-class Indian family’s only daughter, Aditi. Of course there are hitches—Aditi has been having an affair with a married TV host; she’s never met her husband to be, who lives in Houston; the wedding has worsened her father’s hidden financial troubles; even the wedding planner has become a nervous wreck—as well as buried family secrets. But Nair’s celebration is ultimately joyful and cathartic: a love song to her home city of Delhi and her own Punjabi family.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Mira Nair's 'Monsoon Wedding' is the type of movie that seems almost genetically engineered to appeal to art house theater patrons. It's got an exotic location (check); a huge familial gathering (double check); a heavy emphasis on food (oh yes); dark secrets slowly revealed (definitely a plus); a wonderful soundtrack (always a plus); and a jaunty, colorful palette (bingo).
And, yet, it isn't even a little bit annoying. It is, in fact, a joyous and dramatic ode to the chaos of the wedding. Sure, it's set in India, and does take a very close look at the cultural specifics of a wedding taking place in a modern day India, but its themes are fairly universal.
The movie is about a wedding. This much is known from the title. (The wedding takes place during monsoon season, but it was filmed shortly after monsoon season ended.) And the movie sticks fairly close to the wedding - the coming together of family members (the wedding is semi-arranged), the outdoor structures are constructed, food is prepared, and everything around the event seems to buzz like some multi-colored bee hive.
Around the central wedding, there are a number of satellite stories, mostly relationship pieces. It's sort of hard to untangle, and I'd be here all day if I attempted to do so. As the groom says at one point in the movie, "I don't even know who's who half the time." But there is a really wonderful kaleidoscope of love - all types of love, as well as the darkness that occasionally creeps into those relationships.
If you love romantic comedies, if you love romantic dramas, if you love foreign films, if you love weddings, then 'Monsoon Wedding' is the movie for you. It really is wonderful. Director Mira Nair does a great job capturing both the chaos and joy that go along with weddings. Along with ace cinematographer Declan Quinn, every single color in the movie (the gowns, the marigold flowers, the sky) pops with electric power.
Nair managed to make a film that was deeply personal while at the same time achieving an almost cosmic level of universality. If you've ever been in love, been to a wedding, held a secret too long, been to India, love food, love life, then this is the movie for you. It's a wonderful story, masterfully told, and Criterion brings it to high definition with all the flair and care you could hope for.
Criterion's MPEG-4 1080p transfer (1.85:1 aspect ratio) on this 50GB disc is absolutely stunning.
To quote from the booklet that comes in the Blu-ray case: "'Monsoon Wedding' is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Director Mira Nair and director of photography Declan Quinn supervised and approved this new high-definition transfer, which was created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from the original 35 mm interpositive, blow up from the original Super 16 mm A/B negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, flicker, and X-ray damage were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction."
Whew. Well, all that hard work shows. The most shocking thing about the movie is that it was shot on Super 16 and still looks this amazing. I saw the film when it was originally released, and I don't remember the colors popping, the amount of detail, and the darkness of shadows that are present here. (Keep in mind the original DVD wasn't even anamorphic.)
Additionally, skin tones look great, and the image is just lush and full of warmth. The digital clean up never makes anything look too waxen, and it is free of any buggy technical issues. This is another wonderful transfer from the fine folks at Criterion.
Criterion has done just as wonderful a job with the audio for 'Monsoon Wedding.'
Again, to quote from the booklet: "The 5.1 surround soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using ProTools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AutioCube's integrated audio workstation."
In other words: the DTS-HD 5.1 mix (the disc's sole audio track), in English and Hindi (with English subtitles), is very, very good. The film is dialogue heavy, and for a foreign film much of the dialogue is in English. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, and when atmospherics are called for, like the sequences in the rain or showing larger urban areas of India, the surround mix kicks in beautifully, creating a dense aural sound-scape.
The music also sounds gorgeous on this mix, both the Indian traditional and pop songs and the orchestral score sound absolutely dynamite. This may not be the type of movie where your surround sound system will get a dynamic workout, but it's a surprisingly complicated mix and one that has been brought to life in a truly dazzling way.
There are also subtitles in English for the hard of hearing.
This being a Criterion release, there are a whole host of wonderful extra features. The full title for this release is 'Monsoon Wedding and Seven Short Films,' because there are seven "short" films (short being a relative word) right alongside the main feature. So I'm going to cover each short here in the 'special features' section of my review, even though they're sort of co-headliners on this disc.
- Documentary Shorts This section of the disc is composed of two short films - "So Far From India," and "India Cabaret." "So Far From India" (HD, 1982, 49:22) comes with an introduction from Nair (HD, 6:41) and chronicles the life of a newsstand employee near where Nair was living in New York City. Eventually, Nair got so enmeshed in his life that she followed him back to India to meet with his wife, who had just given birth. Nair's subject married in India before coming to America because his family didn't want him marrying an American. This is a nice little documentary, though it suffers from an overabundance of narration (from Nair herself) and seems a bit dated. Still, you can see the themes start to incubate that will carry forth throughout Nair's filmography, most notably her interest in romance and weddings. Also in the documentaries section is "India Cabaret" (HD, 1985, 59:42), which also comes with an introduction from the director (HD, 7:50), and focuses on female strippers in India. Of course, it's interesting to see the differences in the way that strippers are portrayed in American films versus how strippers are in India. But even more fascinating is how this was the seed of another future Nair project, 1988's feature film 'Salaam Bombay,' particularly in its portrayal of India's lower classes. There's another short documentary but for some reason, it's not included in the 'short films' section of this disc, but rather lumped in with the 'Monsoon Wedding' special features. Regardless, "Laughing Club of India" (HD, 2000, 35:03) is a really interesting documentary about these groups of women, all around India, who get together and just laugh. It's fascinating and funny and comes with another introduction from Nair (HD, 4:20). All of these films are very worthy of your time, especially if you're a fan of Nair's work, or documentaries in general.
- Fiction Shorts There are also three narrative short films on this disc. The first of which, "The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat" (HD, 1993, 11:21), comes with an intro from Nair (HD, 4:39) where she explains that the film was commissioned by super-producer Brian Grazer, who wanted to do a series of shorts on the human family. It's about the fallout in South Africa following Chris Hani's assassination and follows one white family as they leave the home they've always known, due to the political tumult. It's amazing how powerful the movie is, and how short it is, too. The next short, "India" (HD, 2000, 11:50), was part of the film '11'09"1,' which gave filmmakers the chance to comment on the 9/11 and its aftermath in 11 minutes, 9 seconds, and 1 frame. In the intro to this segment (HD, 3:17), Nair talks about how it was inspired by a real life Brooklyn family, whose young adult son went missing after 9/11. The short film takes the bent that he was picked up by some intelligence group and never heard from again; really powerful stuff. But my favorite short on the whole disc is "Migration" (HD, 2008, 9:07), which Nair explains on the intro (HD, 3:50) was commissioned by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to inspire education. What's so amazing is that it's a story about AIDS that isn't preachy, and that doesn't put the blame on any kind of sex (there's both heterosexual and homosexual sex presented). At the end, it's a bit of a mystery too, as you try to trace the virus from partner to partner, social class to social class. To say anymore would be criminal, but "Migration" is not to be missed. There's also a short called "How Can It Be?" (HD, 2008, 9:07), which Nair explains on the intro (HD, 5:04) was based on a series of U.N. Global Initiatives. Nair's film is about the woman's right to express oneself and this is probably the weakest short of the bunch, bogged down by dreary politicizing as a woman makes a decision to live for herself. Again, these are all great little films and are highly recommended.
- Commentary by Director Mira Nair Mira Nair is an incredibly strong and intelligent personality, and she's all over this disc. (By the time you're through, you'll feel like you know her.) Her commentary is just as warm and bright as all of her other appearances on this disc, and she goes into real detail about virtually every aspect of this film - it's inception, shooting, casting, post-production, and release. You can tell that there was no way that she could have known that this was going to be on one of the top 10 foreign films of all time. Nair currently teaches film at Columbia while still directing (her mediocre biopic 'Amelia' just came out), and her staggering wealth of knowledge is evident here. This is just a wonderful commentary and is a must listen for any fans of the film and pretty much anyone else. Also, it should be noted that she sat next to me at a recent Film Society of Lincoln Center screening. So there's that too.
- Interview with Naseeruddin Shah (HD, 21:24) This is a recent interview with one of 'Monsoon Wedding's' stars, conducted by Nair herself (in what looks like her Columbia office). It's a really great conversation, with the two talking about 'Monsoon Wedding' and Shah's lengthy career as an actor in India. He even talks, briefly and disparagingly, about his one experience with Hollywood. For those of you who watch this and are curious what that movie was, it was none other than Stephen Norrington's disastrous 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' adaptation, where Shah played the wizened Captain Nemo.
- Interview with Declan Quinn and Stephanie Carroll (HD, 10:35) This is an interesting, but all too brief interview with 'Monsoon Wedding's cinematographer (Quinn) and production designer (Carroll). The two reminisce about the pre-production and production of 'Monsoon Wedding,' like how they had to race out to India before principle photography began to get shots of the monsoon, which were later interspersed into the body of the film. They both are dazzlingly intelligent and, if Carroll wouldn't talk over Quinn so often, this would be a flawless piece. Still, highly recommended.
- Trailer (HD, 2:22) Pretty standard art movie trailer stuff (and so long). If you missed this, it wouldn't kill you.
- "A Marigold Tapestry" Essay by Pico Iyer This is a nice little essay, filled with pictures. I love that Criterion keeps putting together these outstanding liner notes.
'Monsoon Wedding' is a wonderful film and Criterion has delivered an outstanding disc. With first rate A/V, seven fascinating short films (which could warrant a release all on their own), and a host of great special features, 'Monsoon Wedding' is highly recommended for both longtime fans of the movie and those interested in unique, warmhearted foreign films.
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