The first time I watched Meera Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, I was maybe 15, and my instant and most visceral reaction was to Shefali Shah’s Riya and her suppressed history of sexual abuse at the hand of a “trusted” relative. A beloved and revered uncle played to perfection by a young Rajat Kapoor masquerading as an old man, a quirk I noticed even back then.
Recently, I was influenced by my partner raving about the movie, and ended up re-watching it so many years later. To my surprise, the film and its themes presented itself somewhat differently to me upon this rewatch. No, not the usual “I know better now” feeling we all harbour when we watch classics we loved once and cringe at now, I found myself enamoured with with Nair’s vision of the upper class Delhi household in the throes of a celebration all over again.
What changed was the characters I empathize with the most. While on the first watch, it was without a doubt the “unmarried” and somewhat shunned Riya, on the second run, Naseeruddin Shah’s Lalit blew me away. What Nair has given us is a modern day parallel of the “kanyadayagrastha pita” of our texts and tradition. The father “burdened with the responsibility of a daughter”, saddled with the need to marry her off, and all the baggage that comes with it. He can throw all the cocktail parties he wants, but at the end of the day, Lalit will still have to sit down with a wad of bills to keep track of the budget, squabble with Dubey the event planner to make sure the set up is perfect, and ask his business partners with lowered gaze for a grant to ease his cash flow. Yet marry off his daughter he must, and with all the pomp expected of him.
The pathos of a man whose life has become about appearances shines through in Shah’s portrayal of the character. His chemistry with Lillete Dubey is perhaps my next favourite thing about this film now. I love Pimmi in all her regalia, and in her petticoat, surreptitiously smoking a cigarette on the pot. She is the empathetic, connected half of that couple, only lacking that intimate connection with her husband. In the moment that Lalit finally breaks down, the burden of the fact that he might not have been able to protect one of his children from a predator posing as a benevolent patriarch, he turns to Pimmi, clinging to her for comfort and assurance.
In that one ephemeral moment, the spark of their cooling intimacy is reignited. To me, it is a glimpse into how men’s emotions and sexuality are intertwined in some covert but undeniable way. Both taboo in their own way, and supposed to be kept behind closed doors. Perhaps their spouse is the person in most men’s lives whom they can show this vulnerability to, but even then, it is couched in ego and shame, and just the slightest edge of violence.