Monsoon Wedding

Mar 13, 2002 at 12:00 am

Monsoon Wedding steadily blows the melodrama of an upper-middle-class Punjabi family circle through romance, comedy, tragedy and irony, rustling and rattling the clashing cultures of old and new India on the way.

The wedding of Lalit Verma’s (Naseeruddin Shah) daughter, Aditi (Indian pop singer Vasundhara Das), has put a lot on his head. It seems that a Punjabi wedding without the planning, execution and almost the budget of a Bollywood musical spectacular would be a family shame. Lalit has all the trappings of wealth. But even a man of means like him must humble himself to borrow money from his golfing buddies in order to finance the lavish ceremony.

And of course weddings draw family and friends. Among others, Lalit finds himself playing host to “the idiot,” as he calls his rap-loving son, Rahul, as well as Lalit’s sexy teenage niece, Ayesha (Indian TV personality Neha Dubey). All of this is on top of Lalit’s worries over his young teenage son, Varun (Ishaan Nair, director Mira Nair’s nephew). The boy loves to cook and dance so much that Lalit sarcastically wonders to his wife, Pimmi (Lilette Dubey), if they should find a husband for him as well.

Though Monsoon is mostly Lalit’s melodrama, the tragic and ironic weight, light or heavy, falls on the shoulders of the bride and her cousin, Ria (Shefali Shetty), respectively, while the wedding planner, P.K. Dube (Vijay Raaz), carries much of the romantic comedy. Both women are burdened with the requisite secrets of melodrama. But where Ria’s is grave and disturbing, Aditi’s is soap-opera weak. Only comical Dube’s scenes recall the visually poetic moments of Nair’s breakout film, Salaam Bombay! (1988).

Like a gluttonous reception guest, Monsoon Wedding bites off more than it can chew. It attempts to show us three sides of love in today’s India: obligatory in Aditi’s arranged marriage, purely chaste in Dube’s courtship, and erotic in Rahul and Ayesha’s amorous cat-and-mouse game. But only Dube’s love story is truly developed.

Filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and his unlikely disciple Woody Allen have pulled off this kind of Shakespearean, three-ring romantic comedy, but Nair comes up short. The plot becomes a tangle of family relations worthy of a Brontë sisters novel (you can’t tell who some of the players are without the press kit). As the tablas thump, cell phones ring and the guests order rum and Cokes in a subtext of classical Indian culture clashing with the modern. Monsoon Wedding is an overly ambitious feast with too many dishes — their quantity degrading their quality.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].