Cultures and families clash in Mira Nair’s exuberant Monsoon Wedding, a mix of comedy and chaotic melodrama concerning the preparations for the arranged marriage of a modern upper-middle-class Indian family’s only daughter, Aditi. Of course there are hitches—Aditi has been having an affair with a married TV host; she’s never met her husband to be, who lives in Houston; the wedding has worsened her father’s hidden financial troubles; even the wedding planner has become a nervous wreck—as well as buried family secrets. But Nair’s celebration is ultimately joyful and cathartic: a love song to her home city of Delhi and her own Punjabi family.
For their Blu-ray edition of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding Criterion presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The picture is presented in 1080p.
The same high-definition transfer used as the basis for the DVD edition looks to be the same one found here but not downscaled of course. It offers an improvement over the DVD in all areas one would expect for a Blu-ray, though it still has some issues. The film was shot on Super 16mm and this seems to limit the transfer in some regards, specifically in detail. Grain is certainly more natural looking here in comparison with what’s on the DVD, and detail overall is sharper in comparison, but there are still instances where the image looks a little soft around the edges in the same places the DVD does. The film is bright and vibrant and colours do look quite a bit better here, specifically reds, oranges, pinks but there are still some blocking issues, noticeable more during the opening credits. But other than this I didn’t notice other artifacts of any kind.
And again, just like with the DVD, the print looks flawless and I can’t say I noticed any blemish showing up throughout the film.
Not Criterion’s strongest Blu-ray transfer, containing a few transfer problems and limited a bit by the source, but the film still looks very good on the format, the bright, colourful nature of it still making use of Blu-ray’s capabilities.
Criterion includes a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Surround track. It’s sharper than the DVD’s Dolby Digital track, and a lot louder with more distinct bass, though I think it still let me down a little. Like the DVD’s track it still focuses its efforts to the fronts with some music and effects filling out the rears. Audio quality is excellent, with crisp and clear dialogue (though I admit accents could be an issue for me at times.) Music is sharp, though there are a few instances where the music obviously comes from degraded sources and they lack much in the way of fidelity, but these instances are few and far between.
The film does have a fairly lively soundtrack so I guess I was expecting a little more in this regard. But it still works and serves the film fine enough.
Being released simultaneously on DVD and Blu-ray by Criterion, both editions present the same supplements (not counting the Blu-ray’s Timeline feature) though Criterion packs them on to one disc here, where the DVD has the supplements spread over two discs. In the end they both showcase Mira Nair’s short films, seven of which have been included here.
The fly out menu is divided in to two sections. The first section is devoted to Monsoon Wedding while the second section is devoted to the Short Films. From the main fly out menu you select one and then another fly out menu presents you with the options for that section. I’ll cover the supplements found under Monsoon Wedding first.
First up is an audio commentary by Mira Nair. The notes for the commentary state it was recorded in 2002 and has no mention of the track being exclusive to Criterion so from this I suspect this is the same commentary track that appeared on the original 2002 DVD release. While it’s just Nair and does have its share of dead space I did enjoy the track overall. She begins explaining the purpose of the film was to “make something from nothing” meaning make what would look like a big budget film on next to nothing (depending on who you ask, because the numbers differ throughout the supplements, the film was made for some amount between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.) She talks about how the production came to be and how she managed with the limited resources, but spends most of her time talking about casting (professionals, locals, friends, family) and praising various members of the cast. While she’s obviously pleased to have worked with Naseeruddin Shah and has plenty to say about him, she spends a lot of time praising Vijay Raaz, who played the wedding planner Dubey, even comparing him to Jacques Tati. I think where the commentary really shines, though, is when she points out all the cultural details that otherwise would fly right over my head (I missed some key details about the relationship between Dubey and Alice.) It’s a strong track so I’m glad they preserved it for their release.
The rest of the supplements are found under the “Supplements” section of the fly-out menu.
Most of the short films are found in the second section of the disc but for some reason Criterion has placed her short film The Laughing Club of India with the Monsoon Wedding supplements. A short 4-minute intro by Nair sort of explains this decision as she claims the editing to this film led to the editing for Monsoon Wedding. The documentary itself, running about 35-minutes, is a charming little piece following a group of people who have joined a club where all you do is laugh out loud. It gathers together various people who talk about the club, how one participates, its origins, and just how it’s helped them in their lives. I enjoyed it and it was interesting to see the style from the main feature applied here. One thing to note is that the subtitles are present for both Hindi and English dialogue.
Next is a 21-minute interview between Mira Nair and actor Naseeruddin Shah. I found it an absolutely wonderful interview as the two reflect on how Shah came to join the cast (Nair, a huge admirer of Shah, always envisioned him in the role) and reflect on the shoot and other members of the cast. They also talk about his career, how he decided to get into acting, and also talk a bit about the film industry in India. He’s a great interview subject and its an intriguing conversation. Well worth viewing.
Not as good is the 10-minute interview between cinematographer Declan Quinn and production designer Stephanie Carroll who talk about creating the look of the film. More anecdotal it doesn’t really offer much as insight as the two talk to each other. There’s some behind-the-scenes footage mixed and the mention of a sheet used to show cast members the appropriate colours for their outfits, but beyond that I didn’t get much out of it.
The supplements for the film then close with a 2-and-a-half minute theatrical trailer, which is basically a montage of clips from the film.
The real draw for this release, though, will probably be the short films. One of them (The Laughing Club of India) is found in the first section of the disc but the remaining short films are found under the second section, Short Films. It’s further divided into two more sections: Documentary Films and Fiction Films. The films have also been restored and look surprisingly good as a whole, presented in high-definition, though are limited in some areas because of the source materials or the age.
(While the Blu-ray doesn’t share this problem I should mention that the DVD presents a problem with the subtitles. The films have English, Hindi, and Urdu dialogue and English subtitles are supplied for non-English dialogue (and in some cases English dialogue.) But the DVD has a glitch where you actually have to go to the main menu, turn on the subs, and then go back to the short film. You can’t turn on the subs using the “subtitle” button on your remote. The Blu-ray doesn’t have this problem and the subtitles come on automatically or you can use the fly-out menu to turn them on or off.)
Documentary Films presents two, first up being So Far From India from 1982. The 49-minute documentary focuses on a man who has left his newly married wife (which was arranged so he would hopefully not marry an American) for America where he works as a newspaper vendor. The first half of the film examines his life there and the effects of this move on his family back in India, specifically his wife and newborn son. He then goes back to confront the issues he left behind. I can’t say I was all that fond of this one. It’s dry and I can’t say it was all that surprising, plus the last half is primarily made up of family and friends saying why leaving for America is such a bad idea, a lot of the reasons ringing incredibly ignorant in some cases (though probably spot on in others.) Drawn out and dry it’s an interesting idea but I can’t say I was all that surprised by it.
The final documentary film is India Cabaret from 1985, a 60-minute documentary about a rather seedy looking strip club and a couple of girls that work there. I found this one a little more interesting as it exposes some of the prejudices about the women that have chosen this career path (basically these women are seen as bad.) It exposes some of the hypocrisy found in men, the double standards, and it addresses some of the stereotypes. Again maybe a little drawn out but worth viewing. This documentary also comes with an English track, with Nair translating the spoken Hindi, and then the original Hindi track.
Both documentaries are presented in a 1.33:1 standard aspect ratio and presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono.
Under Fiction Films you will find the remaining four films.
First is The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat from 1993, an 11-minute film that was originally made for a project that Brian Grazer was working on. The film takes place in Johannesburg following the murder of South Africa’s Communist Party leader, Chris Hani, and focuses on a white family (one of many apparently) that decided to flee out of fear. It’s an interesting piece but I have to admit I’m not completely sure what to make of it as I don’t know if it really caught the atmosphere of the moment. This film is presented in 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital mono track.
Next is Nair’s contribution to the film 11’09”01 – September 11 (Segment: India) from 2002, which presents the true story about Salman Hamdani, a Pakistani American, who was accused of being a terrorist after disappearing that fateful day. The film focuses on his family, specifically his mother, who are searching for him and looking to clear his name. Unfortunately it’s probably too short (each segment in the final film had to be 11-minutes, 9-seconds, and 1 frame long) but Nair still manages to pack a lot into it and creates an effective piece. This film is presented in 1.78:1, has been enhanced for widescreen televisions, and is presented in Dolby Surround.
2007’s Migration may be the most disappointing short on here. This 19-minute piece sets out to address the AIDS epidemic that has gripped India. It focuses on a man who leaves his village for the city only to have an affair and contract the disease. This one is well shot and looks good, and has an energy and passion to it, but it teeters dangerously close to the side of an after school special (though I guess one scene that talks about the use of condoms fully crosses that line.) Plus I have to admit I question the use of a closeted homosexual character and how he fits into spreading the disease. I guess the film means well, though. This one is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and also looks the best of the bunch. It’s also presented with a fairly active Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track.
Finally we close with How Can it Be? from 2008. This 9-minute short was made for a compilation film commissioned by the United Nations, with Nair’s focusing on the issue of gender equality. In it a woman decides to leave her family to go after what she thinks is right for her. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, and I wondered if Nair had maybe failed in presenting her case of women equality since it appears that the woman in question seems selfish, foolish, and, well, just awful, but the more I think about it the more I realize that this isn’t the case and it may actually be my favourite short on here. It appears to be rather simple but it’s actually a little more complicated underneath with many shades of gray, and all this despite its very short length. This one is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Each film also comes with an introduction by Nair, who talks about the genesis of each film and what she hoped to accomplish with each one. I think I found I liked watching the introductions after watching the actual films but it probably comes down to preference. Each interview varies in time, ranging from 3-minutes to 8-minutes.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release (and all Blu-ray titles from Criterion) is the Timeline. You can open it from the pop-up menu, or by pressing the RED button on your remote. This is a timeline that shows your current position in the film. It lists the index chapters for the film and the commentary track, and you can also switch to the commentary track from here. You also have the ability to “bookmark” scenes by pressing the GREEN button and return to them by selecting them on the timeline. You can also delete bookmarks by pressing the BLUE button.
And finally we get a booklet featuring a nice essay by Pico Iyer (who has written books on globalism) that offers a nice analysis of the film and its presentation of old and new clashing. It’s a actually a pretty thorough analysis, though he admits it took him a few viewings to appreciate it (and I also must admit it’s weird reading a Criterion essay that mentions the film Love Actually.) The booklet also includes brief notes on the seven short films that appear on this disc.
I know that the previous Universal/USA Films DVD contained an audio commentary and I suspect the same track appears on here and the new Criterion DVD, so on that basis people who own the old DVD looking at supplements that focus only on the film may not feel the need to upgrade, but I think the real selling point (forgetting the high-def transfer of course) are the seven short films. Not all of them are great but I still found them interesting works, certainly worth checking out.
Like the DVD it’s a solid release. The transfer is not Criterion’s best Blu-ray transfer (though thankfully not like The Last Emperor) but the format does serve this bright, colourful film quite well. The supplements are also excellent, the short films being a real selling point to this release. For those that enjoy the film and/or are interested in Nair’s work should look no further than this nice release.