Seeing Bollywood-inspired films make their way into American theaters is a refreshing thing. I was relatively unfamiliar with Bollywood until I saw Edward Jordon and Donald Farmer’s highly enjoyable Bollywood and Vine. Bollywood is a region in India that produces about three times the quantity of cinema product that Hollywood does. Compared to American films, Bollywood films tend to be overwhelmingly positive with spirited dance numbers and a combination of genres in the same film. Bride & Prejudice is no exception. While the film is slightly flawed, it is impossible to outright dislike it.
The film is an update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Director Gurinder Chadha, most well-known to date for the popular Bend It Like Beckham, gives this new incarnation lots of color, beautiful people, and a very sunny disposition. Even when the characters are angry they still seem somewhat happy. And who wouldn’t be if they were arguing in the palatial estates seen in this film?
Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar) really wants her four young daughters to get married. Ideally, they will marry rich men who have ventured over to America and made their fortune. Our heroenne, Lalita (Rai) is much more interested in sticking to her roots and marrying a native Indian who’s going to care about her instead of money. But, the women live in a culture of arranged marriages, and we learn early on that Lalita has been arranged to marry Kohli (Nitin Ganatra), a total goof ball, but he has an estate worth $900,000 in Los Angeles. Mrs. Bakshi can see the dollar signs across the ocean.
Will Darcy (Henderson), the son of very wealthy European hotel owner parents, is in India with his friend, Balraj (Andrews), who’s getting married. Darcy is to serve as the best man. He is immediately lovestruck when he meets Lalita, but she sees him as another American snob without his priorities straight. She instead opts to court Johnny Wickham (Gillies), a European backpacker who’s a smooth operator. So let’s take a tally; Lalita is arranged to marry the obnoxious Kohli, but Will is interested in her as is Johnny. But she only has interest in Johnny. Exotic!
There are no mysteries in Bride & Prejudice, but that does not deplete the entertainment value of the film in the slightest. The formula is to have scenes of dialogue with eccentric characters in between extended musical numbers. Surprisingly enough, Chadha and company pull this off, but not perfectly.
The musical numbers do present a problem because they are not filmed that efficiently. Chadha elects to use an abnormal abundance of closeups, which doesn’t make for the best experience. We need wide, open shots of large numbers of people singing and dancing. The best musicals I’ve seen are large in scope, as to show off just how great the actors in them are. Chadha doesn’t give Bride and Prejudice that vibe, and although several of the musical numbers take place in confined areas, we the audience never quite get a grasp of the scope of the talent involved.
Another problem lies within the performance of Martin Henderson, who was clearly chosen for the role because of his appeal and little boy face. He could have easily been replaced by a scarecrow with little difference made. He never seems to have a firm grip on the character he is depicting. He’s just too unemotive and crucial scenes, particularly toward the film’s climax, do not have the power they should because of Henderson’s bland take on the role.
Despite these gripes, there is a whole lot to like about Bride and Prejudice. The film has a constant manic energy that we rarely seen in Hollywood films, and it is infectious. There are several memorable characters to be taken away from the film, particularly Kohli, whom we all feel like poking in the eyes Three Stooges-style, and Mrs. Bakshi, played to perfection by Nadira Babbar. Furthermore, this is just a beautiful film to look at in terms of color and locations.
Perhaps the true revelation the film offers is Aishwarya Rai, whom I was unfamiliar with prior to the screening. She is a good actress and has the kind of beauty that will leave most guys wiping drool off the seat before exiting the theater. Upon further inspection on the IMDB I found out that Rai is a Bollywood goddess of sorts, as she already has a lengthy resume. I would be on the lookout for this woman, because she has the talent and the looks to really make a splash here in the States.
Bride and Prejudice is a familiar story that is given an interesting and successful update. The film possesses the kind of energy and good cheer that will leave only the most sour of moviegoers devoid of a smile. Funny, charming, and filled with spirit, Bride and Prejudice is a great date movie.
Studio: Miramax Films
Length: 111 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references.
Theatrical Release: February 11, 2005
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Written by: Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chadha. Inspired by the novel “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.
Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Daniel Gillies, Naveen Andrews, Marsha Mason, Alexis Bledel