This is another outstanding film by director Mira Nair, who has previously directed such wonderful films as Academy Award nominee "Salaam Bombay", the lush and erotic "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love", and "Mississippi Masala". This is a director whose very touch turns all her films to gold. She is truly an artist, and her films are palpable with feeling and emotion that move the storyline.
Though a low budget film, it features high budget, quality acting, as well as an absorbing story and world class direction. It focuses on the arranged marriage of a young, upper class, Punjabi woman in Delhi, India, which is a mecca for Punjabis. It offers a bird's-eye view of a family in transition, one that is ringing in new values, while maintaining the old ones. Moreover, as in all families, there are many joyous moments, as well as troubling ones.
While the focus is on the wedding celebration and all the preparation and rituals surrounding it, there are five subplots in the film, all of which are interesting, but it is the acting by the ensemble cast that makes the film so memorable. Naseeruddin Shah gives an award calibre performance as Lalit Verma, the financially strapped patriarch who wants all to go right with the wedding, but who, at the eleventh hour, is forced to confront a secret tragedy from the past and make a decision that shows his sensitivity and love for his family. His is truly a magnificent performance.
Shefali Shetty, with her large, expressive eyes, is superb as Ria Verma, Lalit's dead brother's daughter, who is forced to reveal a terrible secret from her past in order to prevent a tragedy from taking place in the present. She gives a performance so soulful that the viewer cannot fail to be moved. Aditi, the daughter who is to be married, is a walking paradox, agreeing to an arranged marriage, while simultaneously having an affair with a married man. The role is beautifully played by relative newcomer, Vasundhara Das, who in real life is an Indian pop star. Her prospective bridegroom, Hemant Rai, is played with modern sensiblility, by the very attractive Parvin Dabas, a real life, male fashion model, in his first silver screen role.
Vijay Raaz, in a breakout performance as P. K. Dubey, the wedding events coordinator, adds a deft comedic touch. It is his poignant wooing of the Verma family's maid, Alice, that nearly steals the show. Look for the nighttime marigold scene in which Dubey puts Shakespeare's Romeo to shame. Tilotama Shome, in her first silver screen role, brings a subtle, sensual shyness to the part of Alice that is touching. Theirs is an interesting coupling, as P. K. Dubey personifies the new India, with his cell phone, his entreperneurial flair, and his email address, while Alice, the shy servant girl who is always dressed in a sari, seems to symbolize a more traditional India.
The film is a polyglot of languages, with English, Hindi, and Punjabi spoken at different times by various family members. I confess that I found it a little confusing to have the subtitles crop up, on and off, and I also found the English spoken a little difficult to understand, at times. So, thanks to DVD technology, I was able to watch the film with English subtitles on the entire time, so as not to miss a thing. The cinematography is beautiful in this film, with lush, vibrant colors throughout. The occasional use of handheld cameras throughout the film gives it the feel of a docudrama, at times, which is very effective, as the film is a voyeuristic look into a family. Moreover, this filming technique adds to the cacaphony of feeling and emotion that abounds in this film.
The DVD offers a limited number of features, the most interesting one being the director's commentary, which is an insightful look into the making of the film, as well as the backround and reasons for each scene. It is clear that for the director, who is herself Punjabi, this film was a labor of love. Bravo!