Monsoon Wedding has just released, and the world is enchanted by Mira Nair’s spun story of marriage, reunion, healing, and love. The wedding of Aditi Verma and Hemant Rai is magnetic: it brings together family from abroad, connects new lovers, and surfaces inevitable darkness that may reside in all family relationships. Written by Sabrina Dhawan, who met Nair during her MFA at Columbia, Monsoon Wedding was a ‘turn of the century’ film which reflected the socio-economic landscape of its setting, Delhi. A mix of modern and tradition; vibrant culture and sleek modernity. It is this magical India that surrounds the mayhem of the marriage and the audience in the theatre.
I’m in the audience of the Roundhouse Theatre, London. We are miles away from Delhi but still amidst exuberant chaos and excitement. This was preparation for a play; a play about the preparation of a lavish Indian wedding. Just as the movie delivers a necessary message of celebration and family within a globalizing India, the musical continues the chaos and joy, with music from award-winning composer Vishal Bhardwaj. Nair talks about the longevity of the film - audiences would go to watch it again and again, to bond with a Punjabi family, as she dubbed “[Punjabis are] the party animals of India”, live life to the fullest. It seemed that there was a need, if not high demand, to bring the joy and vicissitudes of family life to theatre. She explained, “I thought to myself, in the West they have Fiddler on the Roof. We naturally have so much gaana bajaana (music and dancing), so why can’t we have our own version of Fiddler on the Roof for the world stage? That was the moment we wanted to bring it to theatre, almost 10 years ago”
I had the opportunity to interview Mira about underrepresented narratives, her advice to young creatives, and why we still adore universal stories of family and marriage. Whilst London had its own monsoon of heavy rain and grey skies outside, we sat inside in the Roundhouse before the screening of the film Monsoon Wedding.
Image: Monsoon Wedding in Delhi Credit Kaveri Set 2
I grew up watching your movies, like Salaam Bombay, with my parents. What really resonated with me was your ability to shed light on underrepresented narratives. Why is it so important to display the darkness, the sub-plots?
Mira: It’s all about a point of view, isn’t it? It’s like, in a mainstream western culture we are considered minorities, but in my world, I am not a minority. In that sense, I will make stories of people, our lives, and the complexities in each one of us. What I don’t believe in is having actors or characters on stage or on screen who don’t have a three-dimensional life; who don’t have enigma; who don’t have irreverence. Because, we’re all human, and we all have reverence. So, I suppose I don’t think about it as a list of people who have not been represented – and then I’ve got to make a film about them.
What was your creative process behind the film version of Monsoon Wedding?
Monsoon Wedding came out in a time where Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994) which was a 21-23 song Bollywood rendition of a wedding, which was great fun and all but had nothing to do with the madness of an actual Punjabi wedding. There was no reality check. So, I thought, let me do my own version - what I’m used to, which you never see. Also, I was influenced by the Danish Dogma method, of making something out of nothing. How to make something without so much, but the imagination. And so, we made it very close to home – practically in my own house. We used our own cutlery, crockery, paintings, and even my whole family acted in Monsoon Wedding because they were free. We sought to bring people together to make something that is real, powerful, and complete fun. But in fun, there is of course, darkness. I wanted to do it in a way that would do justice to all of it, not just one part or the other.
On the topic of weddings: the concept of family and marriage has fascinated us from Shakespearean comedies to present day. What do you think is so timeless about these stories of togetherness?
I think love is always baffling - when you find it, or when you least look for it. Even the notion of an arranged marriage is interesting because it is easy for us to say now, “Oh how can you just do that?” I have seen my parents, who have lived that way, alongside many others. We can ask them these questions now, like “how did it feel like to marry a stranger?” and so on. There is something very hypnotic about two families who seem to think they know the best for each other’s kids, and I wanted to look at this. But mostly, I wanted to look at the dynamics of family life: what does it feel like to be Ria, who is thirty years old and not married. What does it feel like to be a young girl who is having an affair with a married man and is getting married as a rebound to forget him? These are real stories, but we don’t see them. They are universally relatable because these are dilemmas across whatever colour you are, or whatever class you come from.
I also wanted to ask for advice. As young people, wanting to enter the creative industries such as film or theatre, rejection seems almost inevitable. Speaking from your own experience, what has been your advice to overcome such barriers?