Criterionís two-disc set presents a wealth of supplements, showcasing seven short films by director Mira Nair.
The first disc is devoted to material that has to do with Monsoon Wedding.
First up is an audio commentary by Mira Nair. The notes for the commentary state it was recorded in 2002 and has no mention of the track being exclusive to Criterion so from this I suspect this is the same commentary track that appeared on the original 2002 DVD release. While itís just Nair and does have its share of dead space I did enjoy the track overall. She begins explaining the purpose of the film was to ďmake something from nothingĒ meaning make what would look like a big budget film on next to nothing (depending on who you ask, because the numbers differ throughout the supplements, the film was made for some amount between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.) She talks about how the production came to be and how she managed with the limited resources, but spends most of her time talking about casting (professionals, locals, friends, family) and praising various members of the cast. While sheís obviously pleased to have worked with Naseeruddin Shah and has plenty to say about him, she spends a lot of time praising Vijay Raaz, who played the wedding planner Dubey, even comparing him to Jacques Tati. I think where the commentary really shines, though, is when she points out all the cultural details that otherwise would fly right over my head (I missed some key details about the relationship between Dubey and Alice.) Itís a strong track so Iím glad they preserved it for their release.
The rest of the supplements are found under the ďSupplementsĒ menu item.
Most of the short films are found on the second disc but for some reason Criterion has placed her short film The Laughing Club of India with the Monsoon Wedding supplements. A short 4-minute intro by Nair sort of explains this decision as she claims the editing to this film led to the editing for Monsoon Wedding. The documentary itself, running about 35-minutes, is a charming little piece following a group of people who have joined a club where all you do is laugh out loud. It gathers together various people who talk about the club, how one participates, its origins, and just how itís helped them in their lives. I enjoyed it and it was interesting to see the style from the main feature applied here. One thing to note is that the subtitles are present for both Hindi and English dialogue.
Next is a 21-minute interview between Mira Nair and actor Naseeruddin Shah. I found it an absolutely wonderful interview as the two reflect on how Shah came to join the cast (Nair, a huge admirer of Shah, always envisioned him in the role) and reflect on the shoot and other members of the cast. They also talk about his career, how he decided to get into acting, and also talk a bit about the film industry in India. Heís a great interview subject and its an intriguing conversation. Well worth viewing.
Not as good is the 10-minute interview between cinematographer Declan Quinn and production designer Stephanie Carroll who talk about creating the look of the film. More anecdotal it doesnít really offer much as insight as the two talk to each other. Thereís some behind-the-scenes footage mixed and the mention of a sheet used to show cast members the appropriate colours for their outfits, but beyond that I didnít get much out of it.
The first disc then closes with a 2-and-a-half minute theatrical trailer, which is basically a montage of clips from the film.
The real draw for this release, though, will probably be the short films. One of them (The Laughing Club of India) is found on the first disc, but the remaining short films are found on the second dual-layer disc. This disc then divides the films into two sections: Documentary Films and Fiction Films. The films have also been restored and look surprisingly good as a whole, though are limited in some areas because of the source materials or the age.
I should first mention a somewhat annoying feature here. The films are a mix of English, Hindi, and Urdu (though primarily English.) The problem is with the subtitles. Before watching a film with a language other than English you actually need to go back to the main menu and then manually turn on the English subtitles. You cannot, for whatever reason, turn on the subtitles using the button on your remote.
Documentary Films presents two, first up being So Far From India from 1982. The 49-minute documentary focuses on a man who has left his newly married wife (which was arranged so he would hopefully not marry an American) for America where he works as a newspaper vendor. The first half of the film examines his life there and the effects of this move on his family back in India, specifically his wife and newborn son. He then goes back to confront the issues he left behind. I canít say I was all that fond of this one. Itís dry and I canít say it was all that surprising, plus the last half is primarily made up of family and friends saying why leaving for America is such a bad idea, a lot of the reasons ringing incredibly ignorant in some cases (though probably spot on in others.) Drawn out and dry itís an interesting idea but I canít say I was all that surprised by it.
The final documentary film is India Cabaret from 1985, a 60-minute documentary about a rather seedy looking strip club and a couple of girls that work there. I found this one a little more interesting as it exposes some of the prejudices about the women that have chosen this career path (basically these women are seen as bad.) It exposes some of the hypocrisy found in men, the double standards, and it addresses some of the stereotypes. Again maybe a little drawn out but worth viewing. This documentary also comes with an English track, with Nair translating the spoken Hindi, and then the original Hindi track.
Both documentaries are presented in a 1.33:1 standard aspect ratio (also window boxed) and presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono.
Under Fiction Films you will find the remaining four films.
First is The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat from 1993, an 11-minute film that was originally made for a project that Brian Grazer was working on. The film takes place in Johannesburg following the murder of South Africaís Communist Party leader, Chris Hani, and focuses on a white family (one of many apparently) that decided to flee out of fear. Itís an interesting piece but I have to admit Iím not completely sure what to make of it as I donít know if it really caught the atmosphere of the moment. This film is presented in 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital mono track.
Next is Nairís contribution to the film 11í09Ē01 Ė September 11 (Segment: India) from 2002, which presents the true story about Salman Hamdani, a Pakistani American, who was accused of being a terrorist after disappearing that fateful day. The film focuses on his family, specifically his mother, who are searching for him and looking to clear his name. Unfortunately itís probably too short (each segment in the final film had to be 11-minutes, 9-seconds, and 1 frame long) but Nair still manages to pack a lot into it and creates an effective piece. This film is presented in 1.78:1, has been enhanced for widescreen televisions, and is presented in Dolby Surround.
2007ís Migration may be the most disappointing short on here. This 19-minute piece sets out to address the AIDS epidemic that has gripped India. It focuses on a man who leaves his village for the city only to have an affair and contract the disease. This one is well shot and looks good, and has an energy and passion to it, but it teeters dangerously close to the side of an after school special (though I guess one scene that talks about the use of condoms fully crosses that line.) Plus I have to admit I question the use of a closeted homosexual character and how he fits into spreading the disease. I guess the film means well, though. This one is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and also looks the best of the bunch. Itís also presented with a fairly active Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track.
Finally we close with How Can it Be? from 2008. This 9-minute short was made for a compilation film commissioned by the United Nations, with Nairís focusing on the issue of gender equality. In it a woman decides to leave her family to go after what she thinks is right for her. I wasnít sure what to make of it at first, and I wondered if Nair had maybe failed in presenting her case of women equality since it appears that the woman in question seems selfish, foolish, and, well, just awful, but the more I think about it the more I realize that this isnít the case and it may actually be my favourite short on here. It appears to be rather simple but itís actually a little more complicated underneath with many shades of gray, and all this despite its very short length. This one is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Each film also comes with an introduction by Nair, who talks about the genesis of each film and what she hoped to accomplish with each one. I think I found I liked watching the introductions after watching the actual films but it probably comes down to preference. Each interview varies in time, ranging from 3-minutes to 8-minutes.
And finally we get a booklet featuring a nice essay by Pico Iyer (who has written books on globalism) that offers a nice analysis of the film and its presentation of old and new clashing. Itís a actually a pretty thorough analysis, though he admits it took him a few viewings to appreciate it (and I also must admit itís weird reading a Criterion essay that mentions the film Love Actually.) The booklet also includes brief notes on the seven short films that appear on this disc.
I know that the previous DVD contained an audio commentary and I suspect the same track appears here, so on that basis people who own the old DVD looking at supplements that focus only on the film may not feel the need to upgrade, but I think the real selling point are the seven short films. Not all of them are great but I still found them interesting works, certainly worth checking out. 8/10