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March 21, 2001

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Mira Ashok Banker

Mira Nair's wrapping up her wedding.

Mira Nair After dealing with 68 'guests' and a gruelling start-to-finish shooting schedule, the acclaimed director's almost ready for her bidaai.

"It's called Monsoon Wedding," she says, effervescent as a fizzing cola despite her sleepless schedule. "It's about this big Punjabi wedding in Delhi which turns into a circus. There are 68 actors, headed by Naseeruddin Shah; and it's got songs and lots of music. It's like nothing I've done before. Monsoon Wedding is a truly Indian film."

Dilwaale Dulhania Mira Nair Le Jaayegi? She laughs. "Exactly! It takes the Hindi filmy shaadi genre and turns it on its head. It's hilarious!"

Okay, so it's a spoofy, madcap comedy with a big, talented cast.

Monsoon Wedding is an Indian film produced by Mirabai Films, Nair's own production company. And for once, it is not one of her US-funded, US-targetted multicultural films.

In fact, if you look back at Nair's filmography, Monsoon Wedding comes like a bolt out of the blue. Nothing else Nair has ever done even remotely resembles this sort of film.

Kamasutra The acclaimed director who cut her teeth on gritty, critically acclaimed documentaries like Jama Masjid Street Journal (about a community of Muslims in old Delhi) and India Cabaret (about ageing strippers in a rundown strip club in Bombay), then shot to international acclaim with her feature film debut Salaam Bombay, Nair is still best known for her controversial, steamy Kamasutra.

Between her debut Salaam Bombay and her controversial Kamasutra, Nair made Mississippi Masala and The Perez Family, both films set in immigrant communities in the US and relatively unfamiliar to Indian audiences.

Kamasutra won Nair far larger audiences here, but that was due to its sexy content and the censor controversy.

So Monsoon Wedding comes as a surprise.

Nair shows her obvious enthusiasm for the subject, rubbing her palms with glee at the way the film has turned out. "I'm really not ready to talk about it but, believe me, it's worth waiting for!" Her drop-dead exhaustion suggests she's put much more on the line than just audience expectations.

For one, she's eschewed the usual Hollywood route. The road taken by the Shekhar Kapurs and Night Shyamalans after their first flush of success.

After a film like Kamasutra, Nair could easily have moved out of the midlist film bracket and gone onto larger things. Like what? Well, maybe taking on bigger-budget projects like Alien XII or Night Eyes 23!

Mira Nair Instead, she chose to stay true to her own integrity as a filmmaker and her inner vision as an artiste.

Originally supposed to start filming a short story, A Temporary Matter, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection by Jhumpa Lahiri, ("I read it before it won and knew I had to make it," she said at the time in another interview), she took time off to make Monsoon Wedding based on an original screenplay.

It was a great decision. While A Temporary Matter is set in Boston and deals with a relatively quiet reconciliation between an estranged couple dealing with the death of their unborn child, Monsoon Wedding sounds like the rambunctious mayhem that Mira Nair would pull off with great Úlan.

She's gone on record several times, admitting that she's not one for soulful silences and vast empty frames. That breed of arty cinema is not her cup of tea.

A truly Indian director at heart, despite her repeated shifts of residence from India to the USA to South Africa and God-knows-where- else, Nair is like any Indian film lover. She likes her screen filled with colour and energy. Her breathtaking celluloid mastery is evident in Kamasutra coupled with the organic, street-savvy earthiness of Salaam Bombay.

Nair isn't ready to divulge the details of the film, promising that only when she returns in May to release the film, will she be 'on display' again. But her frantic dashing from the recording studio to the dubbing studio and meetings with distributors, producing shows to produce her own film places greater budgetary constraints than a purely US-marketed venture.

If word about the 'highlight' track recorded by the inimitable Naseer himself is to be believed then this is going to be a zinger of a viewing experience for Indian English movielovers.

Mira Nair While a whole generation of young brash filmmakers have sprung out of nowhere in recent years, none of them have the mastery of the medium or the artistic vision of a Mira Nair.

Despite this, audiences have been flocking to even dismal attempts like The Inscrutable Americans and kitschy cutups like Bombay Boys, proving that there's an audience hungry for 'different' Indian cinema in Hinglish.

And in the absence of directors of the level of Mira Nair, they'll see anything just for a change from the caramel popcorn sweetness of the usual Bollywood love stories.

All that Nair lacked until now was a subject with which these new young audiences could connect.

Monsoon Wedding sounds like it might be just what the viewer ordered. Keep your umbrellas ready, gang!

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