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Henna & Hip-Hop
India hits the 21st century in Mira
Nair's technicolor culture clash.
By Sean Axmaker
MONSOON WEDDING. Directed
by Mira Nair. Written by Sabrina Dhawan. Produced by Caroline Baron,
Mira Nair. Executive producers, Caroline Kaplan, Jonathan Sehring.
Cinematography, Declan Quinn. Production design, Stephanie Carroll.
Editor, Allyson C. Johnson. Costumes, Arjun Bhasin. Music, Mychael
Danna. Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Vijay
Raaz, Tilotama Shome, Vasundhara Das, Parvin Dabas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda,
Kamini Khanna. USA Films/IFC Productions, 2001. Rated R. 114 minutes.
wedding party in Monsoon Wedding is full of sparkle and
Imagine Father of the Bride by way of Robert Altman's A Wedding transplanted to modern Delhi, a world where marriages are arranged by cell phone and young Indian women tenuously strike a balance between cultural expectations and professional careers with the help of advice from Cosmopolitan. Yet for all of its infectious energy and passionate splashes of glowing color, the busy spectacle, melodramatic subplots, and driving pace of Monsoon Wedding has more in common with Hollywood's Technicolor movie fantasies than the so-square-it's-hip Bollywood musical Nair claims to be taking into the 21st century.
Bride-to-be Aditi (pouty, dewy-eyed Vasundhara Das) has agreed to marry a nice Indian boy (Parvin Dabas). Torn between fears of the future (a husband she hasn't met who has made a home in Houston, Texas) and frustrations of the past, Adita impulsively tries to squeeze in one last clinch with her married, TV-producer lover, a selfish careerist who has no intention of leaving his wife.
Meanwhile father Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) is practically tearing out his hair as he juggles the flood of family and friends who converge on his opulent estate home and argues over spiraling costs with wedding contractor Dubey (Vijay Raaz), a double-talking shyster whose big-shot facade slips away when he falls in love at first sight with Lalit's dreamy, shrinking violet maid Alice (Tilotama Shome).
Nair weaves a bustling set of subplots through their stories. The most interesting involves Ria (Shefali Shetty), an older single cousin whose repressed emotional wound is torn open when she spies an old family friend getting uncomfortably friendly with a little niece. The undercurrent of abuse is muted (to keep it from overwhelming the lightweight framework around it, perhaps) but the issue builds to the film's most moving dramatic moment. Far less serious strands follow a westernized son from Australia whose hip-hop ways get a jolt from a gorgeous family friend who tries to teach some local moves, a tubby young son more interested in cooking shows and Bollywood dance numbers than sports and schoolwork, and more. Perhaps too much more; the sprawling extended family becomes a confusing tangle of relationships difficult to grasp.
Blushing bride Aditi and long-suffering dad Lalit get swamped by the livelier cast around them, in particular Vijay Raaz's Dubey. The hustling businessman who distractedly munches on the marigolds when he's not barking into his cell phone (in three languages, no less) reveals his hidden loneliness and disappointment in a delicate scene at his urban apartment home. He starts the film as the hyena-like comic relief and ends up its most romantic figure.
Spread thin across the two hours, Nair and screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan sacrifice depth of character for breadth of cast and substitute busyness for complexity. The weave jumps with color, but the designs are awfully familiar and the material threadbare. Yet Nair shines in her confident control of the colors: the smooth, super-saturated photography by American Declan Quinn, the jumping, high-energy music by Mychael Danna, the vibrant art direction and costumes (and the lovely henna web painted across the hand of the bride), the mix of technology and tradition. Even the dance numbers worked into the film create a portrait of another culture both foreign and familiar.
Perhaps it's not so far from the innocence of Bollywood's simple, sprawling melodramas after all. There's more plot crammed into this two hours than any three-hour Indian musical I've ever seen, but even in the age of the Internet, satellite TV, and the international export of American culture, the modern flair of Nair's characters is just their way of preserving their heritage in the bustle of 21st century.
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Sweetest Thing, The: Looking for love on the road, Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate star in this romantic comedy. Thomas Jane stars as Mr. Right, directed by Roger Kumble. R. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Beautiful Mind, A: Inspired by the true story of a mathematical genius whose great discovery came early in his career, Ron Howard's film stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly. Won Academy Awards for supporting actress, directing, best picture, and writing. Highly recommended. PG-13. Cinemark. See review.
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Clockstoppers: Johnathan Frakes directs this teen movie about a boy who finds a way to stop time. Starring Jessie Bradford, French Stewart and Paula Garces. PG. Cinemark.Cinema World.
ET, The Extra-Terrestrial: 20th Anniversary: Beloved classic story of a boy and his alien friend, with subtly new footage and digitally remixed music. PG. Cinemark. See review.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Utterly faithful to J.K. Rowling's book. Stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane and more. Directed by Chris Columbus. PG. Movies 12. See review.
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Ice Age: Chris Wedge directs the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, and Goran Vizjnic in this digitally animated story of prehistoric creatures trying to save a human child. PG. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius: Animated tale of an inventive 10-year old boy and his robot dog who live in a world where wishes come true. Jimmy wishes his parents would disappear. When all the parents disappear, Jimmy and his pals have to bring them back. G. Movies 12.
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Lantana: Anthony LaPaglia plays a cop with a midlife crisis in this Australian film about middle age and alienation. Also Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey and Kerry Armstrong. R. Bijou. See review.
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Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring: The first book in J. R. R. Tolkien's literary trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee. Academy Award winner for cinematography, makeup, and visual effects. Highest recommendations. PG-13. Cinemark. See review.
Monsoon Wedding: As a Punjabi family in Delhi gathers for a wedding celebration, traditional and contemporary culture mix. Created by Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!), staring Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey and others. R. Bijou. See review.
Monster's Ball: Marc Forster's highly acclaimed, powerful drama about a prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) who falls in love with the widow (Halle Berry, Academy Award winner for Best Actress) of a recently executed Death Row convict. Filmed on location at infamous Louisiana penitentiary in Angola, picture also stars Heath Ledger and Peter Boyle. R. Cinemark.
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Rookie, The: Dennis Quaid stars as baseball coach who makes a deal with his team and ends up trying out for a minor league contract. Also with Rachel Griffiths. G. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Royal Tenenbaums, The: Wes Anderson directs this critically acclaimed film that looks at a family of geniuses who turn out to be simply neurotic. Stars Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover and Bill Murray. AFI Award: Hackman. Academy noms to Anderson and Wilson's screenplay. Much sweeter on second seeing. Highest recommendations. R. Movies 12. See review.
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Walk to Remember, A: Shane West and Mandy Moore star in this adaptation of a best-seller. Directed by Adam Shankman. PG. Movies 12.
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Deep End, The: Scott McGehee and David Siegel's excellent thriller stars the fabulous Tilda Swinton as a resourceful suburban housewife. Jonathan Tucker plays her gay son, whom she's trying to protect, and Goran Visnjic is a blackmailer who falls for her. Highest recommendations. R.
Paragraph 175: Opening film at UO Queer Film Festival, now is your chance to catch it on video. NR.
Next week: Behind Enemy Lines, Novocaine,
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