An Appreciation – Monsoon Wedding
Another major character is Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah), Aditi’s father and the host of the wedding. Shah plays Lalit like he is barely wading above water, trying to keep everything afloat as the pressure of the wedding weighs on his shoulders. He stresses over giving Aditi the wedding she deserves. The reunion of his family is also of concern. Lalit loves his family dearly, and in a quiet moment with his wife Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), he confesses that he will do anything to keep everyone together. This tension hits particularly hard when Lalit finds out that he is unable to afford the wedding and shamefully asks his friends for a loan. Shah’s performance gives Lalit various different shades. He can be impatient, temperamental, and loving all at once, but there isn’t a moment where Shah delivers a wrong note.
Lalit’s devotion to his family is put to the test when – the night before the wedding – it is discovered that his brother-in-law, Tej (Rajat Kapoor), molested Lalit’s niece Ria (Shefali Shah) when she was a child. This comes when Ria – now an adult – finds Tej grooming an even younger family member. Nair drops subtle hints of this leading up to the discovery, but it is at this moment when everything explodes out into the open. It’s surprising, given that the movie has such a delightful spirit up to this point, that Nair would include a story so dark and disturbing. But perhaps that is reflective of real life. Sometimes moments of happiness are undercut by family secrets that don’t simply go away.
Ria confronting her uncle and the resulting aftermath with Lalit works in two ways. First, it gives Ria’s character the strength and bravery to face her abuser knowing full well that she maybe ridiculed for it. It also shows Lalit’s compassion for Ria. He sees her as another daughter, and the fact that he confesses that he wants to help but doesn’t know how to console her is heartbreaking. Lalit is placed in between Ria and Tej. He loves Ria but has a sense of obligation to Tej, who helped Lalit in the past and is seen as the head of the entire family. In the most dramatically powerful moment of the film, Lalit ends his relationship with Tej and sides with Ria, because he knows that is the right thing to do. The way the climactic scene plays out is utterly devastating.
It’s almost a miracle that Nair and her team can pull the narrative out of the depth a bleak storyline to keep things energetic and fun. There are many times where we see characters amid a romance straight out of a screwball comedy. If there is a lead character here, it is Vijay Raaz’s Dubey. Dubey is the head wedding planner, who is an outsider to the rest of the family. And yet, he is the one that we attach to the most. Dubey is a slick operator, who has an answer for every problem, can wiggle his way out of any situation, and is probably the most responsible for Lalit’s money woes. When confronted about the quality of his job, Dubey uses non-answers like, “exactly and approximately.” However, when we dig deeper, we find that Dubey is the beating heart of Monsoon Wedding.
Like the other characters, Dubey is in search of a connection. He finds it in the Verma’s housemaid, Alice (Tillotama Shome). Dubey and Alice’s small courtship is easily the sweetest love story of them all. It plays out like a classic rom-com, with Dubey coming up with any excuse to see Alice – like asking for a glass of water. Their back and forth also moments of pure absurdity, such as when he sneaks a glance of her through a window only to turn around and find his workers doing the same thing. The peak moment between them is undoubtably the scene in which Dubey surprises Alice with a bouquet of marigolds shaped like a heart. It is the single biggest expression of love and will likely cause some viewers to reach for the nearest tissue.
Nair ends Monsoon Wedding with a dedication to her own family. Throughout the runtime, there is a constant uplifting feeling – a sense of optimism in the face of sorrow. The tragedy that we witness gets overpowered by the bounce and rhythm of celebration. There is never a moment where things drag or slow down, even scenes of quiet reflection display a forward momentum. Nair borrows heavily from Bollywood, in which characters will sometimes burst out into song for no reason other than they feel like it. Others will join in just to be part of the fun. No matter the problems, whether it be a potential rainstorm or power outages, Nair shows that the strength of this family remains. Song and dance acts as the binding force. It’s not a surprise that the final scene features everyone dancing together in the middle of the rain. Characters get soaked and their clothes get muddied, but no one cares. All the planning and worry melt away for this one perfect moment. The film is an ode to love, in all its messiness and bliss. It respects the past while embracing the hopes and possibilities of the future.