Monsoon Wedding and A Suitable Boy set to charm audiences

By Amit Roy

MIRA NAIR looks set to usher in an Indian summer with a musical version of her 2001 film, Monsoon Wedding, while BBC One will show the filmmaker’s sixpart adaptation of Vikram Seth’s magnum opus, A Suitable Boy, at around the same time.

“The story of Monsoon Wedding the musical is very, very close to the film,” the Indian-American director confirmed.

Nair shot the film in New Delhi in 2000 and premiered it at Cannes in 2001. Made on a relatively modest budget of $1 million (£763,057), it took $30m (£23m) at the box office. The movie told the story of a boisterous Punjabi wedding, where the bride was from Delhi and the bridegroom, also Indian, was from America. However, Nair gave the tale a dark twist by introducing sexual abuse into the other joyous celebrations.

At a press event in London last week, Nair said the musical would take its cue from the film, which was about several kinds of love, starting with “the love of a couple married for 25 years”. This was a reference to Lalit and Pimmi Verma, played in the movie by Naseeruddin Shah and Lillete Dubey.

She added: “There is falling in love for the first time. And then love that is not material – the love of the maid (Alice, played by Tillotama Shome) with the tent man (Vijay Raaz played the character of PK Dubey) who fall in love over a marigold flower.

“And there is also twisted love – the sick love – that was 20 years ago never even spoken of.”

Nair, who lives in New York, talked about the genesis of the musical 10 years ago. “My agent at the time, the legendary Sam Cohn in America, said to me one day, ‘Why not make it a musical for the stage?’ I thought the white folk have their Fiddler on the Roof (a Broadway musical from 1964) and we have so much gana bajana (music), so why can’t we have our own Fiddler on the Roof?”

Monsoon Wedding the Musical will be staged at London’s Roundhouse from July 17 to August 29, after a run at the Leeds Playhouse from June 17 to July 11.

“I consider the Roundhouse to be the world premiere,” said Nair, who was at the north London venue last Thursday (5) to talk about her theatrical debut in London. “Once we do it right here, we can take it to the world.”

She is currently casting for the musical and expecting to recruit most of the company from the UK.

The book for the musical has been written by her former student from Columbia (university), Sabrina Dhawan, who did the film’s screenplay, along with Arpita Mukherjee. The musical director is Vishal Bhardwaj, a distinguished Bollywood director in his own right. The lyrics are by Masi Asare from New York, while the orchestrator will be Jamshied Sharifi, a Tony award winner.

“We now have a new show with close to 20 songs. It’s all about the songs and the music leading the story rather than dialogue and then song,” said Nair.

She first put the musical on in 2008 for 99 shows over four months at the Berkeley Theatre in California, but now refers to that piece as “a good first draft – it needed some revisions”.

Mira Nair with the Golden Lion award she received for “Monsoon Wedding” on September 8, 2001, at the 58th International Film Festival in Venice (Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images).

Nair admitted that recruiting the cast in the US was not easy. “We had a very tough time in north America. It took me three years to cast the musical properly because we don’t have enough opportunities as south Asians to really get on stage. Now it’s a little bit better.”

Nair has also done a workshop at a New Delhi factory.

“We are casting now all over England,” she said. “The cast (for the musical) is very different from the film as it has to be. It is 20 years later and it is musical theatre. People have to sing and act and dance – it is very different from having Naseeruddin Shah, aged 69, prancing about on stage.

“We have updated our musical to 2020. It is about a globalising India but is equally about the dream of the west – America, in this case, because the groom comes from America. It is very much reflecting the politics of now. It is ridiculously and painfully timely because of the whole Me Too sexual abuse coming to life. Then it was a complete taboo.”

Both the Leeds Playhouse, which has just completed a £16m renovation, and the Roundhouse, intend using the musical for a wider promotion of British Asian culture – as happened in the halcyon summer of 2002 when Andrew Lloyd Webber broke the mould of West End productions with Bombay Dreams.

Marcus Davey, artistic director of the Roundhouse, said the venue would be “projecting the south Asian community in London and further afield. We want the Roundhouse to be at the crossroads of many different cultures.”

The Leeds Playhouse will also be decked out in festive colours.

Hannah Hughes, director of marketing and communications at Leeds Playhouse, said: “Monsoon Wedding embraces international collaboration and reflects the global perspectives of the world. Monsoon Wedding – wow! – one of the most successful international films of all time, introduced a worldwide audience to Indian culture.”

Nair also revealed that when A Suitable Boy was published in 1993, she tried but failed to get the film rights. So she made Monsoon Wedding eight years later as a sort of child of the film.

She said: “Now I am specially moved to have the child, Monsoon Wedding, open in the same month as the maa-baap [mother and father], which is A Suitable Boy, open for BBC One. Both the maabaap and the baccha, the parents and the child, will be opening to the world in the same month after years of work.