A viewer's guide to "Monsoon Wedding"

Punjabi wedding rituals, reggae bhangra mixes of old Bollywood hits and other esoterica from the season's most unlikely hit film.

By Adrienne Crew

Published March 13, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

The fictional Verma family of "Monsoon Wedding" originally lived in the north Indian state of Punjab, but probably joined the mass migration of people across the border to Delhi after the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan. The Punjabi middle class has the reputation for being boisterous and fun-loving. Weddings are the most prominent occasion for exhibiting the culture's love of song, dance and elaborate decoration. Here are some of the traditional elements of the Punjabi wedding ritual depicted in "Monsoon Wedding":

Chunni Chadana The engagement meeting between prospective bride and groom.

Mehendi The bride's female relatives gather to adorn her and paint a pattern on her feet and hands with henna dye; the bride's family gathers to perform traditional Punjabi wedding songs and dances.

Sangeet (also spelled "Sanjeet") An occasion for both sides of the couple's families to meet and dance to traditional folk song. Often the families develop a rivalry and try to outdo one another in the singing and dancing.

Chuda A ceremony on the morning of the wedding in which the bride's maternal uncle places a set of cream and red ivory bangles on her wrist. The bride does not see the bangles until after the ceremony, but the guests touch them as a blessing.

Sehrabandi The groom's father ties a sehra, a garland of flowers, gold thread and beads, on the groom's silk turban, which is often pink, saffron or white.

Baraat A procession of the groom and his family as they march from their house to the wedding venue.

Milni The formal introduction of the groom and the bride. The respective parties' close male relatives greet one another with a hug and a garland of flowers.

Varmala The bride and groom garland one another after the wedding ceremony. Everyone congratulates the newly married couple.

After the ceremony, the wedding party and guests gather for an elaborate dinner. Generally, the couple may participate in the actual Hindu ceremony at a time determined by a variety of factors involving their astrological signs but this custom may vary. Usually, the ceremony may be held after dinner and the groom arrives first to recite a few mantras. The bride's family may try to steal his shoes while he chants (he must buy them back after the ceremony). The bride arrives with her parents and, with both couple's parents, the bride and groom perform a puja (or prayer). The bride's father gives the groom a ring symbolizing giving away his daughter. At some point in the ceremony, the couple are physically tied together with a cloth called a "chunni." Linked together, the couple circles a sacred fire for a specified number of times. After they make the specified number of rounds, they are officially wed.

Much of the music in "Monsoon Wedding" is drawn from current and classic Indian pop. For more on this, read Hansada Shekhar's review of the original soundtrack album on Freshlimesoda, a Web site for Indian youth.

"Aaj Mausam Bada Beimaan Hai (Today the Weather Plays Tricks on Me)" is a song from a 1973 Bollywood film called "The Loafer" that stars Dharmendra and Mumtaz. This song, written by Anand Bakhshi, plays in the scene when Alice drops the green glasses near Dube.

"Chunari Chunari," by Abhijeet AnurdhaStiram is a "reggae bhangra mix" of two earlier Indian hits. This is the song cousin Ayesha dances to at the sanjeet in the film.

"Fabric," performed by Midival Punditz, is a techno remix of an older pop song called "Ras Se Bhare Tore Nain" originally sung by Hira Devi Mishra.

"Aaj Janne Ki Zidd Na Karo," a classic song by Farida Khanum, plays quietly on the radio while Aditi, the bride-to-be, and her married ex-boyfriend park in the rain (and are apprehended by the police).

Then there are all the film references in "Monsoon Wedding." The 1994 Bollywood film "Hum Apke Hain Kaun," for example, is a typical Indian wedding genre film. Nair and her screenwriter wanted to create a kind of real-life version of this story, which eventually turned into "Monsoon Wedding."

Other references include "Pyaasa," or "The Cursed," a 1957 classic, directed by Guru Dutt, about a poet in search of selfless love in a material world. (It could be argued that this film influenced "Moulin Rouge" as well.) The heroine is played by the major Indian star Waheeda Rehman, whose iconic image with windswept hair is mimicked in "Monsoon Wedding" when Alice the maid acknowledges Dube the tent wallah's message of love.

Finally, there is Raj Kapoor's 1951 "Awaara," or "The Vagabond," a landmark of Indian cinema. It focuses on a wanderer or tramp named Awara, who arrives in Bombay searching for an honorable life but becomes mixed up with the city's underworld, where he finds love and happiness. The film is notable for its extraordinary cinematography and a dream sequence portraying the hero's conflicting loyalties toward his mentor -- a criminal who has brought him up -- and his beloved. Songs from the movie became pop hits throughout the East. Nair specifically references "Awaara" in "Monsoon Wedding" with her beautiful scene of Dube and Alice under the marigold umbrella in the rain.

Adrienne Crew

Adrienne Crew is Salon's Content Licensing manager and subscribes to too many fashion magazines.

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