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— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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This summer’s biggest surprise is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. After months of release, it keeps climbing the box office charts, defying the laws of gravity and Hollywood. It uses a formula that works with just about any ethnicity.

Garnering less notice this year, but having more style and flair is Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, about a Punjabi family coming together for the big event.

Big Fat Punjab Wedding

New DVD highlights the color and sound of Nair's WeddingThe wedding in the title belongs to Aditi, (played by a very pretty Vasundhara Das). She has a lover who hosts a television program, but he is married and she refuses to wait for him. So instead she will have a wedding that has been arranged by her parents, which makes the coming big day seem even more nervewracking. As the movie opens, she hasn’t even met the man yet (both will get the chance to veto the wedding).

She has a big fat Punjabi family. Father and mother, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties and on and on and on. The film allows them each a piece of screen time. Some of them even get subplots, like the little brother, modeled after Nair’s own nephew, a couch potato who wants to be a dancer and a cook. Another important character is a cousin who wants to go to America and become a writer.

The movie also follows P.K. Dubey, an “event coordinator” from a lower class than Aditi’s family. Dubey is a skinny annoying fellow who has pulled himself up by the bootstraps. While getting things ready for the wedding, he falls in love with a servant of the bride’s family. Nair tells us that romance across religions (he’s Hindu, she’s Christian) is still frowned upon in India, so their budding illicit romance adds a nice harmony to Monsoon Wedding.

All this and more is stirred together in a big, colorful, chaotic film that gives American viewers a taste of India (and Indian viewers a taste of home).

DVD Extras

The Universal DVD has only a few extras. There is a commentary track, a short “making of,” and a theatrical trailer.

The commentary track features director Mira Nair. As commentators go, Nair is somewhere above average. She doesn’t too often make banal comments like “I really like this scene” or “I remember the weather that day,” and when she does say something to that effect, she explains its significance. For example, the wind came up during a tense moment, which added a lot to the scene. Nair explains how she enhanced the sound of the wind in post production and repeated it through the length of the movie as a leitmotif.

Nair talks much of shooting the film as an experiment. She limited herself to 30 days and a small budget. A cast of 68 characters makes this endeavor particularly ambitious. I gained new appreciation for the film, knowing this. It became more clear how close these people were, how familial they felt on screen. In light of the tight schedule, which required extensive rehearsal and occasional ad-libbing, the closeness of the actors makes a lot of sense, and comes across more vividly.

A short “making of” featurette produced for the Independent Film Channel doesn’t shed any new light on the film. Everything in this fetaurette is also included on the commentary track, and in more detail.

Picture and Sound

Nair shot Monsoon Wedding with a color scheme of vivid orange and blue and red. She even discusses it briefly on commentary track when she talks about the great-looking op-art titles that introduce us to the color scheme. Once the movie starts, the fields of color jump to life with bright orange marigolds and rich beautiful saris. DVD is a the best medium for color reproduction on home video, and this widescreen DVD looks great.

The sound in Monsoon Wedding is equally important and equally well presented. The movie is encoded in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and in DTS. The opening song sounds like a New Orleans jazz marching band, but with just a hint of Indian flair, and it fills the room beautifully. Elsewhere, funkified traditional Indian music does the same, thanks to Nair’s insistence on catchy, yet traditional, music.

Monsoon Wedding may not have as much gusto as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but it has more refinement and flair. It also has more color, energy and music, which makes it just as fun. If you missed in theaters, this DVD is almost as good. And if you still haven’t had enough, watch it again with Nair’s smart, interesting commentary track.