Review: In ‘Monsoon Wedding,’ an Arranged Marriage of Musical Styles (2023)


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Mira Nair’s 2001 movie about a couple brought together by their families becomes a song-filled pageant, with mixed results.

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Review: In ‘Monsoon Wedding,’ an Arranged Marriage of Musical Styles (1)
(Video) MONSOON WEDDING Trailer (2001) - The Criterion Collection

Monsoon Wedding

In musicals, the marriage of elements is everything. A story that’s too thin will dissolve when mixed with the songs. A story that’s too heavy won’t let the songs lift off. To get the right fizzy blend, the balance must be perfect.

That is not yet the case with Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding,” which opened Monday in an always busy, sometimes touching, but strangely mild production at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Its shambolic plot lines (drawn from Nair’s 2001 film of the same name) and Indian-pop-meets-marching-band songs, though full of interest individually, fail to build on themselves or one another, leaving the intertwined tale of love and obligation to unravel as fast as it spins.

Not that the movie was a landmark of pith. The arranged marriage of the rich “South Delhi girl” Aditi Verma (played here by Salena Qureshi) and the U.S.-raised Hemant Rai (Deven Kolluri) was but one strand of a multifamily, multigenerational tale arranged in a riotous collage of small, colorful scenes. It didn’t matter how many went nowhere; the editing was all.

The musical tries to maintain that quick-cut effect while also squeezing the material into a traditional musical theater format. Nair told The New York Times she’d been inspired by the example of “Fiddler on the Roof,” a classic that, like “Monsoon Wedding,” encompasses one family’s marital chaos as part of a community’s encounter with tradition and change.

But “Fiddler” was adapted from a collection of short stories about a strong central character, not from a movie about many. The difference shows. The musical’s book, by Arpita Mukherjee and Sabrina Dhawan, is all over the place, and as staged by Nair on an abstract courtyard set by Jason Ardizzone-West, you rarely know where that is. The production seems to think in camera terms, as if a lens were still directing the audience’s attention when in fact nothing is.

(Video) Cinemoments: Monsoon Wedding


I’m not sure anything could. Along with the frenzy of assembling the enormous celebration, the musical, like the film, encompasses a secondary comic romance between Dubey, the wedding planner, and Alice, the Vermas’s put-upon maid. The marriage of Aditi’s parents (Gagan Dev Riar and Palomi Ghosh) also gets a look, as do the romantic ideas of a tweenish cousin and a gayish brother, would-be in-laws, other relatives, local workers and (it sometimes seems) all of Delhi.

Nair does create musical-like texture by pulling some of these stories forward while pushing others back. The problem that threatens Aditi’s marriage — she is not yet over her affair with a married man — is recessed so far it essentially disappears upstage, depriving the crisis of serious tension. In its place we get the milder problem of deracination, since she will have to move to Hemant’s home in the States: Can she learn to love New Jersey?

The problem that threatens the marriage of Dubey (Namit Das) and Alice (Anisha Nagarajan) has on the other hand been upgraded from almost indecipherable in the movie to very serious indeed: In a country born in bitter partition, ethnic or religious divides of any sort — he’s Hindu and she’s Christian — can be harrowing. The resolution is facile (“the heart never tells a lie”) but at least it’s in a song.

That song, sung by Dubey’s mother (Sargam Ipshita Bali) to her overwrought son, is lovely, one of the few with a clear personality among 22 in a score that too often feels like a collection of snippets. In one, the gorgeous “Madhaniyan,” Aditi’s father bids her farewell on the eve of the marriage, pulling the same strings as “Far From the Home I Love” in “Fiddler.” (Well, not quite the same strings; the excellent eight-person band is highlighted by a sitar.)

But gorgeous or not, the score (music by Vishal Bhardwaj, lyrics by Masi Asare and Susan Birkenhead) is, like the script, all over the place. When the style, whether American or Indian, occasionally matches the characters and situation, the alignment makes the moment pop. An absurd production number called “Chuk Chuk” (for the sound a train makes as Dubey chases one to win Alice) sounds straight out of Bollywood, and with its cinematic projections (by David Bengali) and frenetic choreography (by Shampa Gopikrishna) it fits the dramatic moment in a way that excuses its utter lack of logic. A white horse is involved.


Otherwise, the musicalization feels both too assertive and too inconclusive, like a parade passing by. (There are rarely buttons on the songs to tell you they’re done, leaving the audience wondering whether to applaud.) Only in one song is there a concerted approach to the dramatic experience. The song involves Aditi’s orphaned cousin Ria, raised with her as a sister. Serious and studious, Ria (Sharvari Deshpande) plans to attend New York University, mostly as a way of escaping the marital expectations that Aditi, a pampered princess — “even your panties are ironed” — is all too willing to meet.

That Ria is also escaping a social atmosphere that tolerates the sexual abuse of girls is a theme that Nair emphasizes much more strongly here than in the film. But powerful as this is, especially in Deshpande’s performance, it is also destabilizing. It’s hard to make the leap from her late-Act II outcry, “Be a Good Girl,” to the happy ending, complete with exquisite saris (by Arjun Bhasin), a celebratory remix and the requisite double wedding.

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How Ria became the central figure here — hers is the only solo number in the show — is a bit of a mystery, as if “Fiddler” decided to put Chava, the disowned daughter, above the title. Longer scenes (some are just three lines) might have helped explain the change, or shift our expectations in a show called “Monsoon Wedding” to the character who specifically doesn’t want to get married.

Still, you have to be grateful that Ria has elicited from the authors their most powerful writing. In “Leaving Means Returning,” sung to her by Aditi’s father, a lyric encapsulates in a beautiful phrase the tempting if ambivalent embrace of family: “We are your comfort and your courtyard.” Just so, genre is a place of safety but also a kind of prison. “Monsoon Wedding” does not quite escape either.

Monsoon Wedding
Through June 25 at St. Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn; Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

A correction was made on

May 23, 2023


An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the character who sings “Leaving Means Returning.” He is Aditi’s father, who raised Ria, not Ria’s stepfather.

How we handle corrections

Jesse Green is the chief theater critic for The Times. His latest book is “Shy,” with and about the composer Mary Rodgers. He is also the author of a novel, “O Beautiful,” and a memoir, “The Velveteen Father.” @JesseKGreen

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What happens during the wedding in monsoon wedding? ›

The Monsoon rains begin as Aditi and Hemant are married in an elaborate wedding, while Dubey and Alice simultaneously wed in a simple ceremony, and later celebrate with the Vermas. Ria moves on from her past life, and is finally able to freely enjoy the festivities.

What yellow item does Dubey the event planner manager eat in monsoon wedding? ›

Theirs is the only pure and completely unexpected love story in the film, echoed by their bizarre shared habit of eating the core of marigolds - the Indian wedding flower" ("Monsoon Wedding, A New Film by Mira Nair").

What does the rain represent in monsoon wedding? ›

Nair says in an interview, "I gave the film the simple and beautiful name of Monsoon Wedding because it is about how rain brings liberation to a wedding.

What type of wedding is taking place in monsoon wedding? ›

Nair had conceived “Monsoon Wedding” as a low-budget attempt to capture the raucous joy of the Punjabi weddings she experienced as a child growing up in India, and audiences around the world responded in kind.

What does Dubey give to Alice? ›

Courtesy Mirabai Films. The marigold flowers with which Dubye decorates the Verma mansion aren't merely decorative. Dubey loses his heart to live-in domestic worker Alice, and begins to absently nibble on the flowers whenever he thinks of her. He has had his first taste of love.

Where does Hemant live in Monsoon Wedding? ›

There is of course the potential love between the bride, Aditi Verma (Salena Qureshi) and Hemant Rai (Deven Kolluri.) Both seem unlikely candidates for an arranged marriage, yet here they are. Hemant graduated from Princeton, works for Morgan Stanley, and lives in Hoboken, N.J.

Why does the bride wear yellow? ›


The auspiciousness of this ingredient and its colour ushers in a life of prosperity for the couple, who are starting off their new life together. This is why in many cultures, the bride and groom wear yellow clothes on their wedding day as well.

Who is Alice in monsoon wedding? ›

Monsoon Wedding (2001) - Tillotama Shome as Alice - IMDb.

What type of irony is rain on your wedding day? ›

Even within the constrained definition of situational irony, rain on a wedding can be considered ironic: a wedding is a happy and cheerful occasion, and rain is gloomy and sad, thus providing an ironic contrast with the event (just like sunshine would at a funeral).

What does it mean if it rains the day after your wedding? ›

Rain is good luck because it signifies that you will have children, be cleansed of the sadness and tough times from your past and be given a new chapter in your life. It also symbolizes that your marriage will last, something that we all hope for.

What type of ritual is a wedding? ›

Marriage ceremonies include symbolic rites, often sanctified by a religious order, which are thought to confer good fortune on the couple.

What are the four categories for four weddings? ›

On Four Weddings, the bride-judges use words like "traditional," "unique," and "simple" to describe weddings that are "good," while "bad" weddings are "cookie-cutter," "tacky," and "selfish." All these adjectives reflect the culturally determined expectations of what a wedding should and shouldn't be.

What are the 2 types of wedding? ›

In general there are two types: civil marriage and religious marriage, and typically marriages employ a combination of both (religious marriages must often be licensed and recognized by the state, and conversely civil marriages, while not sanctioned under religious law, are nevertheless respected).

What usually happens during a wedding? ›

"There is typically a welcome or introduction by the minister, followed by the exchange of vows. The couple then exchanges rings, and after the couple shares a kiss, the minister announces them for the first time as a married couple," says Miller.

What happens during an Indian wedding? ›

Indian weddings are traditionally multi-day affairs, and involve many intricate ceremonies, such as the painting of the hands and feet of the bride called a mehndi. Garlands are presented to guests of honor instead of corsages, and lots of flower or rose petals are thrown for good luck.

What happened during a wedding? ›

Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of marriage vows by a couple, presentation of a gift (offering, rings, symbolic item, flowers, money, dress), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or celebrant.

What does the wedding party do during the ceremony? ›

Religious ceremonies may have other titles. The primary purpose of the wedding party is to assist the couple with wedding plans, help them get ready and keep calm on the big day, and be supportive throughout the marriage.

What are the 4 things at a wedding? ›

The tradition is based on an Old English rhyme that dates back to 19th-century Lancashire. It describes the items a bride should have on her wedding day: "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe."

What happens at the end of a wedding? ›


The last step that signifies the end of the traditional wedding ceremony order is the recessional. Generally, the recessional follows the reverse order of the processional, which means the couple leads the way and the officiant is the last to leave.

What is most important in a wedding? ›

When planning an unforgettable wedding, you will need to think about the reception hall, your dress, the music, photography, etc., but what might surprise you is that the most important element that contributes to the success of a wedding reception is actually the food!

Why do Indian brides wear red? ›

The Secret and Symbolism behind Red for Indian Brides

Red symbolizes the Hindu deity Durga, who signifies new beginnings and feminine strength. Indian saints and holy men in the 3rd millennium B.C. were the first to wear red, but Indian brides embraced it only during the Mughal Era.

What should a non Indian guest wear to an Indian wedding? ›

Traditionally, Indian wedding guests cover their shoulders, legs, and sometimes arms. If you're not going to wear an authentic Indian outfit, your Western clothes should be just as modest. This means no cleavage, mini dresses, or revealing clothing that clings to your body.

Can you wear black to a Indian wedding? ›

Color means everything at Hindu wedding celebrations, but never wear black and don't show up in red out of respect for the bride. 2. Choose comfort above all else. Indian wedding ceremonies and receptions are typically several hours long and can go late into the evening.

What is the first thing to do for a wedding? ›

1. Set a Wedding Budget. It's critical that setting your budget be the first step in planning your wedding. It might not be the most fun part of the process, but it's a task that really needs to be completed first because it sets the rest of your wedding planning process into motion.

What are two things that happen at a wedding? ›

Answer: family gathering and traditional rituals.

Who pays for the wedding? ›

Traditionally, the bride's family pays for the wedding, but that custom is rapidly changing. Couples are increasingly choosing to handle at least half of the wedding expenses on their own. Early planning and a written budget can help avoid miscommunication when deciding who pays for what.

Who greets guests at wedding ceremony? ›

At a traditional ceremony, the usher is the one to greet guests upon their arrival. That being said, it's important that the usher is well mannered, cheerful, and hospitable.

Who pays for drinks at wedding after party? ›

Because wedding after-parties are a relatively new wedding trend, there isn't one person who "traditionally" pays for the party. But since a wedding after-party is an event typically hosted by the couple, it's generally expected the couple pays for any food, drinks or entertainment at the celebration.


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