10 THE LIST 17—31 Jar: 2002
It’s a Delhi love story, but it’s not just a Bollywood crowd pleaser. Monsoon Wedding deals with slum life, adultery and paedophilia and, says MIRA NAIR, it was nearly destroyed by x-rays.
Words: Jason Best
ira Nair is radiant. The Indian director may be nursing an injured shoulder as she reclines. ‘like a maharani‘. on a plush. plump sofa in London’s Soho House. but she is. in her own words. ‘absolutely euphoric' about the response around the world to her new lilrn. rWrmsoon Ilia/(ling.
Nair’s exuberant ensemble drama has already won acclaim in the West — it received the Golden Lion award at last year's Venice Iiilm Festival — but it’s the enthusiastic reaction to the film in her native India that pleases the director the most.
Her lilrn. however. is far from being a crowd-friemlly Bollywood romance. Monsoon Ilia/(ling is a complex. multi-layered portrait of contemjmrary India that centres on a last-minute arranged marriage in an upper-middle- class Punjabi family living in Delhi. There are ()8 characters and live plot lines. each illustrating a different aspect of love. from the mature. ‘old—shoe love‘ of the bride’s parents to the blind. magical love between the upwardly mobile wedding organiser and the family‘s naive and innocent maid.
But Nair"s 'love song to my home city‘ has its darker side. The reluctant bride is having an affair with her married boss: another sub-plot involves child molestation. Nair is proud that Monsoon Illa/(ling casts
light on subjects that others in India would prefer to keep in darkness. Indeed. she believes her film is performing a valuable social service.
‘We don‘t have an Oprah Winfrey in India.‘ she says. ‘We don‘t have the forum to discuss the taboo subjects — especially when it comes to the farnily.‘
This isn't the first time that Nair has tackled sensitive issues on screen. Her debut film. Salaam I)’()HI/)(l_\'.'. which won the (‘amera d‘()r at (‘annes in 1988. took an unflinching. compassionate look at Bombay"s street children. while Kama Sana. released in 1996. ran into censorship problems in India because of its frank depiction of lesbianism.
But Nair wasn‘t simply setting out to shock when she made Monsoon Ilka/(ling. Above all. she wanted to capture the ebullient spirit of her fellow Punjabis and their huge appetite for living. ‘We are known as a hearty. unpretentious people.’ she says. "I‘he joke is that a Punjabi embraces you before he knows your name. Weddings. of course. are where it all hangs loose.‘
Nair“s film captures the vibrancy and colour of a traditional Punjabi wedding. That much of the film was shot in her family home only adds to its authenticity. as does the fact that almost her entire family appears. from walk-on parts to the significant minor role played by her nephew. ‘The idea was that you the audience would feel you were sitting at my dining table for two hours.‘ she says.
But .l/Ionsomz Ilka/(ling does not limit its focus to Delhi's upper-middle class: the film moves beyond the elite golf clubs and chic boutiques to show the city’s slums. Throughout the film. cinematographer Declan Quinn’s hand-held Super lb camera moves seamlessly between the city‘s many layers. revealing. as Nair intended. their interconnections. 'I felt that the fluidity could really negotiate these many worlds.‘ says Nair.