'Monsoon Wedding' drops alcohol, kissing for Qatar run

A musical adaptation of "Monsoon Wedding" starting Thursday in Qatar had to remove alcohol and kissing, but the hit film's director Mira Nair insists it has not lost its "soul".

One of the biggest made-in-India international hits, the 2001 film recounts the chaotic preparations for the Delhi wedding of an Indian girl to an Indian-American man.

The musical version of "Monsoon Wedding" has already played in Broadway and London.

But just as its plot exposes cultural clashes when an extended Indian family comes together, bringing an adapted version to Qatar on the margins of the football World Cup has also meant some upheaval.

"With respect to Qatari society, we have made some adjustments that are superficial because we do not mean to offend anyone," Nair told AFP in an interview ahead of opening night.

Alcohol is largely banned and public displays of affection are also forbidden, leaving viewers in Islamic Qatar without some elements of a typical Punjabi celebration.

"But at the core, what you are seeing in the musical is what it is," the award-winning director said.

"The soul is there. I will not touch the soul."

- 'Elegant' romance -

Nair, 65, said that in her family, alcohol is "very ordinary for us, it is part of life. It is not in Qatar".

So it had to go.

"We have just not made it the centre of attention, and it never was in the play. It's just that we live with it," said the director.

Actors will say "give me an orange juice" -- instead of something stronger.

"The whole joie de vivre that we want to have in this mad, crazy family is completely unaltered, but we are respectful to the place we are in," Nair stressed.

The hugging and kissing that was seen in Broadway has also been toned down.

"There is romance," said the director. "But romance can be done in several very elegant ways, and very artful ways. The film is about love, and love comes with romance."

Performances will go on until November 27 -- a week after the World Cup kicks off in the tiny Gulf country.

"Monsoon Wedding", winner of the Golden Lion top prize at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, is now 21 years old and few Indian movies since have come close to touching its popularity abroad.

Nair did not want to discuss why, but said she was proud the screenplay written by Sabrina Dhawan has retained its universal appeal.

"I never expected it to be so popular, to win the Golden Lion... and be in the pantheon of cinema, and also be popular from the streets of New York or Delhi to Belgium" and elsewhere.

- Universal challenges -

Nair said it told "the eternal story" of "how we navigate this challenge of love... the desire for it, but also how we keep secrets around it."

That delicate balancing act, she added, "is always something that erupts when a family gets together or two families get together in their wedding."

Nair had been a sought-after director before "Monsoon Wedding", but it has certainly boosted her reputation.

She was asked to direct the film adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" that came out in 2007, but refused the offer to concentrate on "The Namesake", a story about Indian migrants struggling in New York.

"No regrets, my dear, no regrets," she said. "I turned it down because I was making my own very personal film."

Her son, then 14, had learned to read with JK Rowling's Harry Potter book series, Nair recounted, and she had told him, "I should do this for you".

But his response made her change her mind: "Mama, many good directors can make Harry Potter, but only you can make 'The Namesake.'"

"I was so liberated by his words and I made 'The Namesake', which is a film that really speaks to immigrants around the world," she said.

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