Monsoon Wedding is an important film, and in it, one can see a number of important themes relating to Indian culture. The film offers a critique on what it means to be a “good” Indian, and it can provide a serious picture of the inner workings of Indian culture for any person willing to engage with the characters and situations described in the film. According to this film, various characters meet and others fail to meet the standard of “good Indian” based upon whether they adhere to societal customs.
In Monsoon Wedding, a good Indian is a person who adheres to the traditions and institutions of Indian society. Some of these rules are written down, but a great many more are the kinds of unspoken rules that are passed down over time through cultures. A good Indian will follow these social rules, especially in regard to marriage. This is one of the sacred institutions within society, and a person who is not married in the proper way in a person who does not fit the bill as a good or model Indian. Aditi, for instance, provides an example of a person who starts off as something less than a good Indian, but she later morphs into a good Indian. In the beginning, she is not married, and this means that she is defying the social customs around her. She is disrespecting the family, a serious no-no in Indian society. In addition, she is even engaged in an affair in which she is seeking out a relationship for love rather than for the normal conventions placed upon her by society. Later, she gets married following the social conventions dictated by her faith, and while the act of marriage itself is not enough to pin her as a good Indian, her willingness to follow social conventions is enough. She is painted as a model Indian because her choice to get married shows respect for family and culture, the two most important things in her particular community.
A good Indian, as well, is a person who is willing to keep with Indian culture despite pressures from the outside. The entire family’s experience is an exercise in walking the cultural tight rope. They are living an upper-middle class type of existence, but they are doing so right in the middle of India. They are constantly pulled between the new and the old. Hermant provides an excellent example of a character that measures up. Even though he lives in Texas, he does not give completely in to American traditions, opting instead to honor the legacy of his old Indian ways. This capacity to maintain Indian culture in the face of the pressure of globalization and modernization is one of the marks of a good Indian.
The Australian idiot is another who makes a transformation over time. At first, he defies social customs by refusing to dance, and because of this, he is a bad Indian. Over time, he gives in more to the social customs around him, and as a result, he is a better Indian. In the character of Varun, one can see some of the conventions that define what it means to be a “good” Indian for a male. Varun does not have the typical masculinity that is expected of him, and this keeps him from being fully accepted as a good Indian man. His father struggles in some instances to reconcile what appears to be his homosexuality with the normal conventions expected of men in that particular culture.
More complex is the situation of Dubey. He does choose to get married, which is within the conventions laid out for him by the people within his culture. He chooses, however, to get married in a way that is different than most. He marries for love, and he marries a girl who is Christian and has a “gringo” name. While one might think that he measures up well as a good Indian because he was able and willing to get married. His mother, however, shows that this is not all that is needed. Marriage itself is an important institution, but more important is that the rules of marriage are followed. When one marries for love rather than in an arranged marriage setting, one defies many social conventions. For this reason, Dubey appears to be an enigma. On the surface, he is a man who should be in the good graces of his mother and others within his society. In truth, however, Dubey’s decision to marry in a non-traditional way puts him outside of the typical purview of his society, and for that reason, he can easily be tagged as a bad Indian.