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Past Article

A Particular Sensibility
By Nina Rehfeld
September 25, 2002 - 2:40 PM PDT

"Frankly, I don't give a shit about weddings."

The main marriage is a marriage of convenience, not a marriage of love. Is that still all that common?

Very common, very common. You know, the difference is that, in India parlance, it's called a semi-arranged marriage because the woman and the man both have a chance to reject each other. They can meet and say yes or no.

Is that the most common kind?

I would say, yes. Absolutely normal.

Upper or middle class background?

Everywhere. In the more rural areas, there's less dating and all that. There's more of the old-fashioned way, which is like my mother's way. You practically meet at the altar. It's more directed. But middle class and urban India is like this. And it is a gamble, but like the groom says, any marriage is a gamble. I tell you, in my family, it's common. And the marriages work sometimes. In my view, it's the same as the other kind. I've seen it! I have not done it. My marriage wasn't like that at all. I haven't done a statistical analysis, but I would be surprised if it were any different.

Monsoon Wedding

But won't things change with the sexual revolution?

Oh, yes.

Will completely destroy this unique idea of marriage?

Except, you see, what is happening -- it's like in the film, the bride is doing outrageous things. I mean, to go out with her lover the night before her marriage and then to even come clean to the groom though there's no necessity. It's extraordinary, but it happens. I don't know, I think it's a very interesting time. You can get married this way, and you can also do everything else. That always happens. Extramarital affairs? All the time. It's also possible that you can find love in your marriage. I've seen it often.

You feel very much the pressure of society, for example on the unmarried woman.

Yes, but that's another movie. I mean, that's there, but that's another movie. I wasn't making that movie. Frankly, I don't give a shit about weddings. Really.

But that's what the film's about!

No, in a sense, the film's about the family. The film's about today's India. I'm saying, personally, I have chosen a wedding because, in a wedding, everybody comes home. That is the premise. Shakespeare uses the wedding and Chekhov uses the wedding and Bollywood uses the wedding, everyone uses the wedding. It's not new, you know. That is why. It's high drama in any case! [laughs]

In India, what is very interesting is now is that every middle class family -- and we're talking millions of people; this is not some rarefied strata -- every middle class family has at least one member of the family abroad. It's completely common. So the wedding was a premise to get everybody back home and to see what happens. It's very interesting to see and that is why. I don't give a shit about weddings. This movie... I cut it first without the ceremony. Until the last cut, when I put the ceremony back in during the credits because I wanted people to sit and watch the credits because I love the design. It's not anthropological. Oh, God, I hate anthropology. I'm not going to go, you know, oh, here we are in Berlin, let me tell you how we get married!

There's a double-marriage in the film --

Yes, that's the interesting marriage.

Did you do that on purpose, that comedy pattern, the servants getting married as the masters get married?

No, I actually hadn't thought of it in a deeper way. For me, that was the pure magic love marriage. That was the blinding love. For me, that was the real marriage. Because I come from and affectionately portray this bourgeois material culture -- and it's so material, as you see, with the jewels, all that stuff -- for me, it was really beautiful that they made their marriage of love. That's what I wanted. That's the kind of marriage I actually had, my second marriage.

But it's not all happy and wonderful.


Is the child abuse story there to calm down all the happiness?

You know, the film was from the beginning always an experiment. I was going to make a down and dirty movie, you know, lean. It was a self-conscious decision. At this stage of my career, I could raise more money, there would be no problem. But I wanted to make an inventive movie, a playful movie that would make me happy. Because the stakes are so low, I don't have to please anybody. That was the imperative. To make a movie for myself that would not require much. Thirty days, eight people on the major crew, any actors I wanted, no big stars. Just to make something out of nothing and to be able to go back to being that kind of rigorous filmmaker, despite having access to many millions before. You know what I mean? To not get complacent, essentially.

So, Sabrina [Dhawan], the writer, and I talked about making a meditation on love. I wanted to tell a multi-layered tale, because India is multi-layered. To tell different aspects of it. In that idea of intermixing all these stories, teenage lust and this wild sexual revolution, and for me, most beautifully, the marriage of the parents of the bride -- there was also this creepy love, this twisted love. Which is a kind of love. I mean, I hate to say it, but it's true. And it's not something that's unique to our culture or any culture. It exists in all its darkness. And when people come together for a marriage, drama like this happens. Anywhere. And this aspect, you see, we don't talk about. It's so totally taboo.

We don't have forums in India, thank goodness, we don't have talk shows. We don't have these kinds of western things. This becomes a kind of dialogue. But we were worried. We were very worried about this because the film was about this joy, and I didn't want to trivialize this kind of thing. Until the last moment, I was actually working on a draft without this theme. Just to see, because I didn't want to trivialize it, but it didn't work. Because it was integral to our organic idea, our first idea. It wasn't imposed upon it, it came from within. I trusted it.

Is the father's choice realistic or is it something that you would like?

What is realistic? I hope that I never make a film in which I'm generalizing about a people or a society. I just don't believe in it. For me, it's about this character and his dilemma. You know, as he steps into the father's position because his older brother died and he's looking after the niece as a daughter, I think that a guy like that would almost go much further for Ria than he would for his own daughter. Because of the responsibility of taking his brother's child with him.

I think it is realistic. Obviously, or else I wouldn't have done it. It does come from the kind of man he is, for whom family comes first. Like he says, I'll protect them from myself if I have to. I believe that he would do that. As you see in his dilemma, he doesn't come to it easily. He agonizes over this. But there is something in him that he cannot accept at that time. Especially because the family goes into complete denial about what this man has done. The next day.

Why did you shoot in the monsoon season? Is there a metaphor there?

I chose that time because that is when my son is home on vacation from school. I wanted him to be with me. But I love the monsoon visually. It is the time when, after three months of heat, and we're really waiting for it, and then, when the rain comes, there's a kind of catharsis about it. That was the metaphor. But we used it. Usually, weddings don't happen during the monsoon. They happen in October or December. I just loved the feeling, and visually, I love the flavor of what happens on the streets. I love the actual embrace of the element.

next >>>

"...but it works."
"I'm not from Bollywood, really."
"Frankly, I don't give a shit about weddings."
"What have you seen of Africa on film?"

back to past articles


Nina Rehfeld
A freelance journalist based in Berlin, Nina Rehfeld's reviews, interviews and articles have been published in several major German papers and magazines. For more info, see the Kulturbotschaft.

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