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MONSOON WEDDING – Mychael Danna

February 22, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

monsoonweddingOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Bollywood. Even today, in this enlightened age, the term conjures up hackneyed images of bad acting, bad dubbing, cheesy dance routines, and actors and actresses bursting into song at inappropriate moments, accompanied by a cast of thousands in tracksuits. In reality, the Indian film industry is the strongest and most successful on the planet, with the city of Bombay releasing more motion pictures in a year than anything from a Hollywood studio. But as well as the singing and dancing, India has real pedigree in “proper” drama, with films like Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen and Santosh Sivan’s recent Asoka proof of the sub-continent’s increasing aptitude for epics on a grand scale. Director Mira Nair, while not exactly a household name, has nevertheless become India’s top female director, with Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, The Perez Family and Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love to her name. Her current film, Monsoon Wedding, is possibly her crowning glory to date.

Monsoon Wedding is a film about a changing country and culture; in which both modern and traditional sensibilities combine and clash during the course of an arranged marriage wedding ceremony. Aditi (Vasundhara Das) reluctantly accepts the marriage suggested by her parents – even though the groom lives half way across the world in Texas and works for a major IT company. As the big day drawns nearer and relatives from both families travel across the globe to gather at the Verma family home in New Delhi during the monsoon season, it can surely only be a matter of time before long buried family tensions and frictions begin to rear their heads. And what tensions: the brother of the bride has become a beach-bum after emigrating to Australia, the wedding planner falls in love with the family’s maid and – to make matters worse – Aditi decides that the eve of her betrothal should be the day when she finally tells her family about the dark secret she has been keeping from them for months. Why do skeletons in closets start to clatter at the most inappropriate times? The film stars Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz and Tilotama Shome, and is written by first-time screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan.

The one thing all Indian films have in common is music. It is an absolutely integral part of Bollywood film culture, and its leading practitioners – composers such as A.R. Rahman, Anu Malik, Jatin Lalit, Sanjeev Darshan and Ilayaraja held in as much esteem there as rock stars are in the West. Somewhat surprisingly, Nair did not approach a Bollywood composer to score her film, but went instead to Canadian Mychael Danna – who, of all the Hollywood composers working today, is probably the only one who could ever write this authentic a score. Danna is steeped in the musical culture of India, and has embraced its traditions in several of his past works, notably Exotica, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, The Sweet Hereafter and parts of 8MM. His wife, Aparna, is of Indian extraction herself, and the two shared a traditional Hindu wedding in 2001, before he was asked to write Monsoon Wedding.

The original Hindi songs are all exotic concoctions, all in the great Bollywood tradition. Aaj Mausam Bada Beimann Hai (Today the Weather Plays Tricks on Me) has a hypnotic vocal performance by Mohammed Rafi that sounds like a cross between a lover’s lament and a muezzin’s call to prayer. Aaja Savariya (Come to Me My Beloved) and Aaja Nachle (Come on Dance!) are both songs which you could feasibly hear on MTV India, and further illustrate the recent Indian tendency for mixing traditional motifs with modern synthesisers. Even the late, great Qawwali performer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan gets a cut, with the wonderfully rhythmic ‘Allah Hoo’. My favourite, however, is the infectious, high-energy ‘Chunari Chunari’, in which Danna’s themes are adapted and beefed up by the legendary Anu Malik and performed with gusto by Abhijeet and Anuradha Shriram. One can almost visualise the dance routine as you listen to it…

Danna, as well as arranging all the songs and performances, also wrote a delicate underscore to lend Monsoon Wedding an appropriate dramatic tone. In stylistics, its closest cousin is probably his gamelan score for The Ice Storm, and the gentleness and restraint of that score permeates here. The best of Danna’s nine cues is the raucous dance piece ‘Baraat’ – the Indian name for India – which is about as far removed from the minimalist tones of his earlier work as it is possible to be. Combining many authentic Indian instruments into one vivacious, loud, potent, captivating whole, the track simply overwhelms with its life and ebullience. The melody in ‘Baraat’ forms the thematic basis for many other parts of the score: it is restated on a much more reserved bass flute in both ‘Your Good Name’ and ‘Banished’, and with the familiar strains of a sitar in ‘Fuse Box’ and its two remixes. Alternately, the culture clash of modern India and traditional India is captured in the clever but brief ‘Delhi.com’, in which an ancient wailing vocal is brought bang up to date with a pulsating dance music beat.

Western scoring techniques enter the fray in ‘Good Indian Girls’, in which Paul Intson’s bass guitar and the piano percussion briefly make the music veer off into a wonderful combination of spaghetti western and American Beauty. The western element continues in ‘Hold Me I’m Falling’ and the gorgeous ‘Love and Marigolds’, both of which feature a more familiar string orchestra and a heightened emotional content. Yes, Danna can write the heartbreaking, tear-jerking stuff when he wants to as well.

As much as I personally enjoy Monsoon Wedding, I can nevertheless see it having limited appeal amongst the traditional film score fraternity unless – like me – you already have a bit of a guilty appreciation for Bollywood and its unique style of musical expression. Danna’s score is charming in its own right, but if songs performed in Hindi by women with unfeasibly high voices turns you off, you may consider parts of Monsoon Wedding to be intolerable and/or unlistenable. What Monsoon Wedding does unquestionably, however, is further illustrate Mychael Danna’s versatility and excellence as a composer. To be able write scores as varied as 8MM, Ride With the Devil, Girl Interrupted, Bounce and this one in a matter of three years proves beyond doubt that he really is at the top of his game. And remember – he’s following this one up with The Incredible Hulk in 2003!

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Feels Like Rain (0:28)
  • Aaj Mera Jee Kardaa (written by Sukhwinder Singh) (5:11)
  • Baraat (2:10)
  • Aaj Mausam Bada Beimann Hai (written by Laxmikant Pyarelal, performed by Mohammed Rafi) (3:20)
  • Your Good Name (3:36)
  • Delhi.com (1:40)
  • Fuse Box (2:29)
  • Mehndi/Madhorama Pencha (performed by Madan Bala Sindhu) (3:24)
  • Banished (0:50)
  • Good Indian Girls (3:40)
  • Fabric/Aaja Savariya (performed by Midival Pundtiz) (3:01)
  • Allah Hoo (traditional, performed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) (4:37)
  • Hold Me, I’m Falling (2:55)
  • Love and Marigolds (2:42)
  • Chunari Chunari (written by Anu Malik and Sameer, performed by Abhijeet and Anuradha Shriram) (4:07)
  • Aaja Nachle (written by Bally Sagoo and D. Khanne Wala, performed by Bally Sagoo featuring Hans Raj Hans) (3:36)
  • Aaj Mera Jee Kardaa – Zimpala Remix (written by Sukhwinder Singh) (4:54)
  • Fuse Box – Alex Kid’s Dub Remix (6:13)
  • Fuse Box – Julio Black Remix (3:03)

Running Time: 62 minutes 24 seconds

Milan 74321-89824-2

Music composed by Mychael Danna. Conducted by Andrew Lockington. Orchestrations by Mychael Danna and Andrew Lockington. Featured musical soloists Ulhas Bapal, Rakesh Chaurasia, Sunil Das, Selva Ganesh, Paul Intson, Aruna Narayan Kalle, Liyaqat Ali Khan, Ramzan Bachu Khawra, Brij Narayan, Nilesh and Mychael Danna. Special vocal performances by Devika Pandit. Recorded, mixed and edited by Tanay Gajjar, Ron Skinner and Mychael Danna. Mastered by Chab. Album produced by Mychael Danna.

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