In Delhi, the wealthy father of the bride (Lalit, played by N. Shah) prepares an elaborate wedding. We meet his extended family, arriving from as far as America for the wedding, beginning with a formal engagement party 4 days before. Several subplots are followed: Additi, the bride, has chosen an arranged marriage instead of waiting for her married lover to leave his wife. Ria, her cousin, has never married and is being pestered by all concerned. We learn that Ria's father, Lalit's big brother, has passed away and so Lalit is her father-figure as well. Dubey, the wedding organizer, becomes smitten with Alice, Lalit's maid. As the days pass, family joys and family secrets are revealed.
I cannot praise this movie enough. First of all, kudos to N. Shah for a sensitive, complex portrayal that never, for a moment, feels like acting. Without hand-held camera pretensions, Monsoon Wedding nonetheless feels more like meeting a family at a big affair than watching a movie. It is real and intimate, yet magical. All the performances are good; Rajat Kapoor as an uncle with a secret is particularly powerful, and bears a striking resemblance to a younger Donald Sutherland.
We see Indian society as India sees it. My coworker, Sreeman, tells me that everyone attends neighborhood weddings; that an average wedding has 800900 guests, and his had 1200. Traditionalism matters, but modernity matters as well. At one point, Lalit and Dubey argue over the wedding tent; should it be white, the modern (Western) way, or should it be colorful? Lalit demands color and Dubey orders "the old kind." The struggle between modern and traditional ways is one of the primary undercurrents of the film, embodied by Additi's choice, in fact, we meet her married lover as the host of a TV talk show discussing traditional versus modern ways.
Another undercurrent is finding love, impediments to love, and choices about love. Additi, Dubey, Ria, and another cousin, Rahul, all have barriers to overcome before they have a chance at happiness.
But the main theme is family, and this huge, chaotic family is a wonder to behold. You can't always tell who's related to whom, but you get the sense that they can't either, and coming from a large, extended family myself, I know that's how it is. Family is everything to Lalit, yet he communicates harshly with a son he doesn't understand, and calls nephew Rahul "idiot." Yet his love and devotion are clear, and he is the real hero of this film, coming through for everyone and stretching himself to the limit.